49ers CB Josh Norman Fires Back at PFF Critic, Leads NFL in 1 Category

Josh Norman

Getty Josh Norman (No. 29) forces the ball to come loose while Deommodore Lenoir also wraps up Aaron Jones during the 49ers' Week 3 game versus the Packers.

Josh Norman has spent 2021 as, arguably, the most criticized member of the San Francisco 49ers secondary.

But on Sunday, November 21, he entered TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida calling himself a “squirrel” in his tweet on Twitter before proving his true value to the 49ers.

Before the road contest against the Jaguars, Norman has endured the following to give others fuel in their criticism: He was penalized for taunting against the Arizona Cardinals two weeks ago, has surrendered the most touchdown passes on the team via Pro Football Focus and lastly, has been labeled as the worst coverage cornerback by one writer of PFF.

One reason for that label is below:

But Norman fired off this response to PFF’s Sosa Kremenjas:

Through it all, Norman has remained loyal and, no pun intended, faithful to the Bay (also the 49ers’ hashtag acronym).

And before the interconference road matchup, Norman shared a picture flashing a squirrel pin on his suit — letting it be known what his mindset is versus the Jaguars.

Now, Norman not only walked away a 30-10 winner with the 49ers to even their record at 5-5, but increased his lead in one notable category that’s rarely been talked about on the ‘Niners.

What Norman Leads the NFL in

No, Norman isn’t tops in interceptions on the 49ers. Nor is he the team leader in pass deflections — as he’s seven behind the leader Emmanuel Moseley.

However, Norman pulled up in his suit with the squirrel attachment with this league-leading stat:

Then, near the 11:20 mark of the second quarter, Norman forced someone to slip out the football:

Off of Norman going into squirrel mode, one Pro Bowl linebacker on the 49ers pounced on the takeaway opportunity.

That pop now gives Norman a commanding lead in the forced fumble category.

Former 49er wide receiver Torrey Smith, who also shares a Carolina Panthers connection with Norman as an ex-Panther himself, used this gif to describe Norman’s swiping ability.

Norman, now 33, may be far removed from his days as a shutdown cornerback. But he’s found a way to attack the ball, plus stay on the field for San Francisco.

‘Trench Monster’ on the Field

Norman’s first question in front of the media following the ‘Niners 20-point win: Do you look for those opportunities on film where you can do what you did today as far as creating that turnover?

Norman insists he doesn’t look for the exact opportunity. But acknowledges his game has changed.

“My game kind of evolved,” Norman said to the media. “I’m not just playing the outside role of just being a cornerback. You’ve got to put a little bit more into it. You’ve got to be a trench monster as we call it.”

He did reveal when he began to focus on the “punch,” the skill used to knock the football loose.

“Probably toward the end of last year,” Norman said. “I knew that as long as you keep playing this game, you never seem to keep learning. More and more comes to you. I thought that it was something in my tool belt that I could use at any given moment if a situation occurs. But it seems to be one of the strengths now.”

What’s the secret?

“Every time the ball carrier is carrying the ball, I’m not watching him, I’m watching how the ball actually moves,” Norman described. “And I see it as an opportunity to work on my precision and work on my eyes — keying my target and then that maximum opportunity to make a perfect punch.”

Norman still has his critics, even after punching the ball out. And he’s clearly not the four interception threat he once was in Carolina. But he’s shifted focus in how he attacks the ball by channeling his inner squirrel.

“It’s kind of cool how you can see it from the time that you played in this league beginning as a rookie, then third year or fourth year just going for interceptions. Now, towards the back end like this, 10th or ninth year, you’re looking at it as a forcing fumble machine,” Norman said.

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