The only way the Houston Texans were going to score against the 49ers in the second half Sunday was by hitting on multiple passes down the field. Kyle Shanahan understood that which is why he pulled cornerback Josh Norman after one pass interference call.
We can debate whether or not it was a penalty. But, when you have Norman’s reputation, you’re not going to receive the benefit of the doubt. Norman has a team-high six defensive pass interferences on the season.
He’s allowing 62.2% of his targets to be completed for an average of 9.7 yards per target. That’s the third-highest number among cornerbacks in the NFL. Forced fumbles are great, but Norman hasn’t caused one since Week 12 against the Vikings. When that’s all you’re bringing to the table, it’s difficult to keep you on the field. The juice isn’t worth the squeeze.
Monday, Kyle Shanahan confirmed he decided to pull Norman mid-game and answered if Norman would be the starter moving forward:
“I think it’s up in the air right now. Especially with Dontae going on COVID, hopefully all the protocols will go right and we can get him back here in five days. But Josh has held up throughout the year. Dontae went in and did a good job and I think [CB] Ambry’s [Thomas] been doing really good, once he got his opportunity. And we’ll see where Emmanuel’s at this week, so hopefully we’ll end up having four good options.”
Shanahan went on to say that Johnson would have been the starter after the last Seahawks game and how he’s been playing well. The team went into the game with a plan for Norman: So if we were struggling with P.I.s or anything like that, we were going to give Dontae a shot.”
Norman is the biggest liability at cornerback between the “four good options.” Deommodore Lenoir must be struggling in practice since he’s not cracking the two-deep depth chart. You know what you’re getting in Johnson, for better or worse. Thomas has rebounded from a slow start, but neither of these guys should be your CB1.
Preparing for the Rams, who have Cooper Kupp, Odell Beckham Jr., and Van Jefferson — three wideouts who win at all three levels of the field — the 49ers cornerbacks will have their hands full.
Matthew Stafford is sixth in the NFL in average air yards per attempt. The Rams are going to test the Niners' secondary. Ideally, Emmanuel Moseley plays alongside Thomas. To me, that’s the best duo for the 49ers. They’re best in coverage, tackling and can turn and run with each wideout without conceding underneath routes.
The pass rush can only hide the 49ers' secondary so much. The decision to bench Norman was the correct one. I imagine we’ve seen the last of Norman. To be fair to him, San Francisco never envisioned Norman as their starting cornerback heading into Week 17. He lasted much longer than anybody anticipated.