When the topic turned to how often Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton is targeted a game, Panthers cornerback Josh Norman was all over it Thursday like an underthrown pass in the flat.
“Twelve,” Norman said. “I do know that.”
Norman was a little off. Hilton is averaging 10.6 targets a game for the Colts (3-4), who come to Charlotte on Monday night looking to snap a two-game losing streak.
But the message was clear: Norman is ready for some action after two games in which quarterbacks gave him the cold shoulder and refused to throw his way.
Other than a couple of behind-the-line throws to running backs, Norman had only one pass come at him in wins against Seattle and Philadelphia. Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford tried to zip a throw to tight end Zach Ertz in the end zone near the end of the first half, and Norman knocked it away to force a Philadelphia field goal.
At least Bradford went at Norman once; Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson didn’t challenge Norman at all.
But Norman thinks Colts quarterback Andrew Luck will throw at him.
“I don’t see why he wouldn’t,” Norman said. “I don’t see why he wouldn’t come at me.”
Norman usually covers the opponent’s top wide receiver. And though he wouldn’t say whether he’s going to shadow Hilton, Norman might have provided a clue Thursday.
“T.Y. has 12 targets or something a game, so I don’t see them taking that away from what they like to do,” he said. “But if so, if not, just got to be on top of everything and be mindful of certain situations and what they like to do and just try to shoot it down.”
Hilton, 5-9 and 180 pounds, has 37 receptions for 606 yards, good for sixth in the NFL. That’s where he finished last season when he racked up 1,345 receiving yards and went to his first Pro Bowl.
Norman, who has locked down the likes of Atlanta wideout Julio Jones, said Hilton compares favorably with the other receivers Norman has faced.
“I’d put him up there. His skill set is definitely at the top, I’d say top two,” Norman said. “So he’s pretty darned good, man. Hat’s off.”
But the Colts have other receiving options.
Second-year wideout Donte Moncrief has pulled down 34 catches for 381 yards and five touchdowns. Longtime Texans receiver Andre Johnson, 12th on the NFL’s all-time receiving yardage list, has been less effective in his first season in Indianapolis, with 20 catches for 207 yards.
Tight end Coby Fleener has been a favorite target of Luck’s dating to their days at Stanford.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said all are dangerous.
“I like their three wide receivers. Johnson and Moncrief also do a nice job,” Rivera said. “The tight ends are guys that can create some problems for you.”
Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano said the Colts will adjust depending on how the Panthers use Norman.
“We’ve got a couple tight ends obviously that can make plays for you. So depending on how they decide to play us and if they’re going to match or shadow Norman on T.Y. and give him help over the top, it’ll be an adjustment come game time to see how they play us,” Pagano said. “They have to pick and choose and we have to pick and choose.”
Norman is just hoping to see the ball in his vicinity. After he intercepted four passes and returned two for touchdowns in the first four games, Seattle and Philadelphia decided not to take any chances.
“At first I was kind of like, eh. But now I want to get involved, I want to do something. I want to get in there and feel like I’m making the play or helping the team out,” Norman said. “It’s kind of frustrating to me when it’s like, ‘Come on J-No, make a play.’ Well, can’t really make a play if ain’t really coming to me.”
Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said Norman, besides taking away half of the field, has been effective in other ways.
“Josh is playing extremely well. The biggest part of Josh’s game over the past two weeks – because he hasn’t seen the ball thrown his way – is the run support,” McDermott said. “That doesn’t show up in the stat sheet quite as much because he’s taking on blockers or he’s making a tackle.”
Norman is tied with Colts strong safety Mike Adams for the league lead in interceptions (4), and he shares the lead in interceptions returned for TDs (2) with Denver corner Aqib Talib and Miami safety Reshad Jones.
He’s itching to get his hands on the ball again.
“Anything I can do to just help out. I feel like I’m not doing anything, but in actuality I am because I’m taking away their guys,” Norman said. “But at the same time I’d like to earn it and have fun doing it. We’ll see.”