It is a game within a game.
Football has always been the ultimate “team” game. Not that basketball and hockey aren’t among other sports, but football has always been about the offensive line playing as a unit. The timing of the quarterback getting the snap and everyone doing what they’re expected to do on the right count. The ability of the receivers to run their routes with precision and the running backs to hit the correct hole opened up by the line.
Same for the defense. The coordination of the front seven and the play of the secondary. It is practiced over and over, rep after rep, until it is like clockwork.
In this framework there is the strategy of matchups. Teams never talk about it to the media, but it is what football and of course the NFL is all about. Teams analyze tape and go into games ready to take advantage of an edge they may have in positions on the line of scrimmage and elsewhere.
This is the game within the game!
Nowhere is it more apparent than the battle between wide receiver and cornerback. It’s out in the open for all the see, and it’s obvious to even the novice, who is winning each confrontation.
That brings us to Odell Beckham, Jr. and Josh Norman.
That mano a mano battle turned ugly in the Panthers-Giants game Sunday. The game is different now because these struggles have become personal and prideful.
Receiver/cornerback matchups no longer wait until game day. There are declarations, predictions, and warnings long before the game is played on twitter, in daily interviews of players after practice, and the hundreds of talk shows on radio and television.
The gauntlet is thrown down in the days leading up to the actual game and the drama is heightened as the kickoff nears.
Whether it’s Dez Bryant against Darrelle Revis going at it in the Cowboys-Jets contest Saturday night, or the explosive Beckham-Norman showdown Sunday or countless other similar man-on-man duels, the results are apparent, regardless of the game’s outcome.
It was never that way before the advent of social media and wall-to-wall blanket coverage of the sport.
But that’s the way it is now and will always be. And the shock and perhaps distaste of what transpired in the Giants-Panthers game may become something that becomes more frequent.
We hope not.