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The Film Room: Andrew Norwell

Let’s get to the bottom of it.

Carolina Panthers vs  New York Jets Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Sometime this week, maybe even as soon as today, and hopefully not before this gets published, Andrew Norwell will be making a lot of money to play football for a team other than Carolina. When this happens a fan base, most likely New York (G), is going to be partying like a bunch of sewer rats. Their favorite team is going to get a great player, one of the best guards in the game, a real plug in and play player.

But how do they know this? How do they, or anyone else, know that Norwell is any good? Well for one, he was a first team All-Pro player last season. That’s as good a sign as any. Yet, this decision is based on the votes of 50 media members, the same media members who don’t know anything, and have never played professional football before. Nobody cares about their expertise until accolades get attached to it.

The rest of it comes from the tidbits of information everyone is constantly bombarded with. To be a sports fan today you’ll probably want to reach outside your immediate reality and interact with the rest of the sports loving world. In this noble pursuit of intellectual discussion among those who have the same interests and passions, you’ll be bombarded with short paragraphs, clips without context, and statistics, some objective, some subjective attempted to become objective, that don’t provide anything more than a cardboard morsel.

During this constant interaction, scrolling without direction, constant consumption, clicks transformed into targeted marketing, hitting ‘z’ to see the newest, you’ll learn lots of pieces of things. Something interesting pops up. You’ll remember it. Keep it. Hold onto it. Save it for future conversation for reinforcement or argument. But, in the end, there is no real cohesive thought. It’s just scraps and thoughts that never fully get worked out into something that means anything.

As for Andrew Norwell, I’ve been told he’s good, everyone says he’s good, and he’ll get paid a bunch of money, but it doesn’t mean anything to me. I haven’t watched him play in depth. All of it is gossip. I assume he’s good, but I really have no idea if he actually is or not. These are two different things. My remedial knowledge is based around emails desiring him, and tweets that I have mindlessly consumed like 3 a.m roadtrip Porkrinds to stay awake.

I don’t know what this means. I have no idea what a pass block grade is, or what the difference between 90.9 and 80.8 is. I can tell that whatever it is, it’s the best out of all guards since it’s a larger number than the other ones. How it transfers to the construction of an offense, and the pocket itself, I don’t know. No one knows.

Brian Baldinger is an ex-player and television guy. Here are two 45 second clips. It’s 2 of the 1,079 snaps Norwell played last year, and after a minute and a half of content it’s safe and easy to say that Norwell is worth $12 million a year and is one of the best guards in football.

Hey, PFF. Norwell did in fact give up a pressure last year.

I don’t know what this means. No one knows that this means. There is an infinite amount of content, but the majority is quick and empty. And these specks are what compose the well known knowledge of this game. Toss in a bit of box score looking and Wikipedia reading and it leads to confident analysis. He’s a high quality player. He’s 26 years old. He’ll keep getting better. He started 45 out of Carolina’s 48 games these last three years. He’s one of the best players at his position.

I now know three things. Norwell is one of the best interior pass blockers. Norwell got hip to hip on a double team with Matt Khalil on one play against Minnesota and dug out a defensive tackle on a down block. This is all I know to be excited about Norwell possibly playing for MY team.

But, really, all it means is that I don’t know anything at all. I just sat hunched over my phone and happened to come across something twice. I’m just like all of us. Gathering our news, making decisions, and having conversations about something I saw online, without ever diving into it, or actually reading. Sitting. Scrolling. Parsing through. Getting bored and looking for the next thing.

I’m tired of it. I’ve had enough. So let’s really find out, what is this Norwell business all about?

During Cam Newton’s last spat of years the Panthers have been able to get by without great exterior blocking. They did this by running zone reads and option run plays, which they threw play action passes off of. This made defensive ends pause to think and limited their ability to freely rush the passer. They put tight ends in the slot to stick a knife into the ribs of wide nine defensive ends. They have a quarterback who is monstrous, can step up and bounce off expected tacklers, and rumble through the center of the pocket to create something out of nothing. And they also had great interior pass blocking.

For the last three and a half seasons the Panthers have had Andrew Norwell at left guard, Ryan Khalil at center, and Trai Turner at right guard as their primary starters. During this time Norwell and Khalil were named to All-Pro teams and Turner has been a Pro Bowler the last three seasons.

Of the three, Norwell is their best pass blocker. He doesn’t give up zero pressures, but consistently he keeps the integrity of the pocket and holds onto his block, which allows Newton to run onwards.

It can also allow Newton to hold onto the ball forever in a pocket expanding like the universe to find a patient backyard football receiver downfield.

With a creative quarterback who can do things outside the pocket, it’s important to not only pass protect well, but to hold onto the block. By doing this, Newton can run freely without worrying about anyone dragging him down from behind. Norwell is an excellent pass blocker, and excels at sticking to pass rushers because of his hands.

This is Carolina’s death rattle touchdown to Christian McCaffrey in last year’s postseason. The Panthers are shifting one gap over on the right side, and playing man to man on the left side. Pre-snap, Norwell has the defensive tackle, and Khalil has the swashbuckling Cameron Jordan.

This is line of scrimmage awareness. Norwell doesn’t leap out of his stance right away. Because he’s quick laterally he can take his time out of his stance to read the defense in obvious blitz situations. He sees the defensive tackle step inside, and right away he ignores him. His attention instead looks to the left for oncoming rushers.

Jordan slants inside too. The strong safety blitzes. This little hesitation puts Norwell in perfect position to make this block.

There’s no free path here. Jordan doesn’t get any advantage on this rush attempt. There’s no turned shoulders or narrow base to devour. The defensive end immediately attempts to swim with his inside arm to get around the block.

Norwell slides one step over to the right, and prepares his punch. With Jordan’s arm high, now is the time to strike. His entire torso is open.

Norwell is able to get his right hand on Jordan’s inside and stun him, and gets his left hand on the chest. Jordan is done. There’s nowhere to go. Nothing for him to do.

In this position, with Jordan’s momentum going inside, Norwell squats and blows wind into Jordan’s sails.

From there Norwell takes Jordan all the way inside. He even shoves him off and releases him to the right guard in case another rusher loops back inside. Newton has plenty of time. There’s zero interior pressure. He gets the ball out before Norwell can make another block.

This same foundation makes Norwell excellent against inside rushes and stunts in general. He’s perfect at keeping his head on his aiming point, staying square, hitting the numbers, and taking the defender back inside.

Norwell does exactly this against Timmy Jernigan, and in addition, he baits Jernigan into using an inside move.

Jernigan is an outside shade.

Norwell snaps out of his stance like some strange hairy snake and sets to his left. This quick outside movement pulls Jernigan inside. Norwell is quicker than Jernigan. He’s slides back inside in front of him and takes advantage of Jernigan’s open chest by plopping his hands right there. There’s nothing to say or do other than wait for Netwon to toss the ball.

His hands allow him to stifle the initial hammer of a stunt, and pass defenders off to teammates in a controlled manner. This, plus his rapid lateral quickness, puts him in position to pick up the looper. Add all this to some big brains, and you get a guard who is a master of picking up stunts and blitzes.

Here he casually makes four blocks. He takes the defensive tackle inside and shoves him into Ryan Khalil.

He sits and bats away the looper.

He looks inside and sees the free blitzing safety. He peels off and ensures the inside rusher doesn’t go free.

And quickly backs out once he feels McCaffrey there next to him, to go back and devour the previously blocked defender.

His ability to help, and quickly react, is most helpful for left tackle Matt Khalil. Carolina’s left tackle was the monstrous off-putting fish in a shallow tackle market last year. He’s whatever. He’s like Anthony Castonzo, he’s as mediocre as an offensive tackle can be.

As stated before, his alright alrightness isn’t as detrimental as it would be for other teams. With friends like these it’s ok to not be perfect.

This is play came in their Thursday Night Football loss to the Eagles. The left side of the line is sliding over one gap to their left. Norwell has the ‘B’ gap. When the defensive tackle sheds inside he opens the door for him. Norwell staves him off enough to give Khalil a softer catch. From there he looks inside. Matt Khalil is flipped around by a despicable Derek Barnett spin move. It doesn’t matter. Norwell is right there.

These plays are what pops from the comfort of watching play after play. The majority of his pass protections go like this. He rips out of his stance, slides over, snags the numbers, and sits. It’s perfect. It’s beautiful.

Nobody knows what a 90.9 pass block grade is, but we now know Norwell is a great pass blocker. Strong enough to stomp out the bullrush, quick enough to slide into inside rushes. A master of shutting down inside moves and stunts, and can even trick defenders into stepping their paws into this trap. His pass blocking was critical for Carolina’s offense. It made up for Khalil’s mediocrity, and gave Newton time to craft long winded stream of consciousnesses masterpieces by some university furnace.

His hands are also the foundation of his ability to move defenders in the run game. It’s no different as the pass game. He clamps and locks on. Except here, he delivers a potent punch, and looks to knock the defender off the line of scrimmage. Norwell is one of the best first level blockers in football.

This is some next level stuff. Norwell publishes some post doctorate work on this play. The Panthers are in the redzone and running a zone read play spiced with tumeric instead of salt. Rather than read the outside defender, they are reading the inside defensive end Vinny Curry (#75). Carolina’s offensive line is blocking one gap inside, and the right tackle and tight end are blocking man on man to seal the edge. Pre-snap, Norwell is sliding into the ‘A’ gap and looking to block the inside linebacker Jordan Hicks (#58).

A life is millions of different micro decisions compounded over time. Norwell is forced to make one in an instant. He takes his slide step, a perfect one by the way. Curry slants inside to his gap. Rather than try to slither past him to his pre-destined block, he makes the correct decision and blocks Curry instead. If he doesn’t, Curry can get in the backfield and hit Newton before he can even make his own decisions.

Since Curry is a 4i, his slant doesn’t take him anywhere close to Norwell’s ‘A’ gap. Norwell can’t get beat. There are supposed to be holes in the ‘A’ and ‘B’ gap. If the read defender flows into the ‘A’ gap Newton keeps it, if the opposite happens, the back gets it.

Currently, Curry is on Norwell’s inside shoulder. This position has to change, or it’s going to end in a loss.

Like a Laconian, Norwell pulls out a shield. He anchors on his back foot, and uses his arm and left shoulder to suck in Curry’s punch.

Norwell is able to hold it all in and not get driven back. But now he needs to drive the defender out of the hole. He opts to take him back inside. He uses his outside (left) arm and shoves Curry back inside. With one arm, and an anchor deployed, Norwell completely changes the dynamics of this block.

Now he’s squared up with Curry. There’s no longer an outside advantage.

In this even position Norwell can drive Curry. From here he’s able to take him back inside.

Curry is an above average defensive lineman. Norwell makes him look less than this by using an arm to manufacture him back to his assigned gap. A surprise, an immediate post-snap advantage, quickly becomes a lost opportunity for the Eagles.

This is another first level block where his hands are integral to the success of it. Carolina ends up scoring a touchdown on an option. First, Newton reads the defensive end. If he crashes, he keeps, if he sits, he hands it off to McCaffrey. Then he pulls the ball out and reads the alley defender. If he gets wide and follows Curtis Samuel, Newton will cut upfield and keep it. He’ll pitch it if the defender comes after him.

Norwell and M. Khalil have a ‘Duece’ block to the inside linebacker.

The first level defender punches Norwell and sheds to his outside shoulder, taking him right into M. Khalil. Despite this, Norwell doesn’t leave to the linebacker right away. He’s patient. This first level defender has to be driven inside for this play to work. Norwell is able to keep his hands inside on the defender’s chest even when he shoves wide.

With his hands inside he’s able to hold on and ride the wave, and stay on the block after M. Khalil’s punch detonates the defender to the shore.

Once M. Khalil finishes off the linebacker, and each read defender gives Newton the path to keep it, Newton scampers in his Blue’s Clues onesie to score.

At the first level Norwell is also a great down blocker. This block is critical for teams who do any sort of pulling. The center is forced to block down to allow the backside guard to pull freely, and the playside guard is forced to down block to allow the center to. It’s offensive line dominoes. Any penetration electrocutes the play dead.

Here he lifts Linval Joseph out of the mud like he’s a northern American folk hero rescuing his drowning Babe.

Here, he lifts the defensive tackle up onto one leg.

In double teams Norwell is just as good on the first level. His head is almost always on the correct half. His hands allow him to stay on the block when his teammate leaves, and they also allow him to stay on the block until the whistle blows.

Carolina ran for 216 yards against Minnesota in week 14. This is an easy run for McCaffrey. The Panthers are running lead. R. Khalil and Norwell have an ‘Ace’ to Anthony Barr (#55).

Because the defensive tackle is a 2i, Norwell takes a slight slide step to his left. This gives him the outside placement he needs, but won’t take him too wide.

His second step is a short vertical one.

His third one creates contact and puts his head on the outside shoulder.

R. Khalil and Norwell become one. Solidarity. They drive the defensive tackle upfield. This block has to get vertical movement, and they do it.

At the top of the block, R. Khalil shoves the defensive tackle all the way over to Norwell. This way he can easily leave, and Norwell can easily take over the entirety of the block. It’s a human passing of the baton.

What a shove.

From here Norwell sticks and buries the defender. McCafferey has a maze to run through.

Even when Norwell’s teammate let’s him down, and he doesn’t run a perfect double team, Norwell can make up for it on his own. He still has the strength and ability to drive the defender out of the hole by himself even when the help isn’t there.

This is a ‘Duece’ block on counter where R.Khalil doesn’t come into the double team square and works against Norwell. It doesn’t matter. Norwell takes this tooth out of line and yanks it out with a pair of rusty sticky trap pliers.

It’s not 100% perfect in the run game. Norwell has two flaws that hold him back. The first is Norwell’s inconsistent first step when pulling.

Against New Orleans he pulls on power. The problem is he doesn’t gain ground with his first step.

His first step doesn’t isn’t deep enough to come around M. Khalil, and it’s merely a turn of the foot. This step must be deeper and further towards the play.

This step should also allow his second step to be down the line of scrimmage. It should be step, and go. Not, step, turn, and go.

This hesitation leads to him getting nowhere close to the linebacker.

When Norwell makes this step correctly, he’s usually able to get to the second level. This is the same play, except now he takes a correct pull step. With this correction he pops the linebacker.

He’s quick laterally, but he isn’t quick vertically. He struggles some at getting to the second level. Just because the steps are right doesn’t mean he’ll get there. It just means he probably will. When the steps aren’t perfect, he doesn’t stand a chance. Norwell can pull to the first level and clear multiple blockers out of the hole at once, but struggles some when pulling to the second level.

The second problem Norwell has is chasing down linebackers. Unlike the first level where he demolishes defenders, the second level he looks to do just enough. Getting in the way, or making contact, is a win for him.

This outside zone play against Minnesota has him taking too short of a first step, and running at an elongated angle just to get a piece of the the linebacker.

For future teams thinking about signing him they would be better off keeping or changing to an inside zone and power scheme. He can block the outside zone at the first level. His first two steps get his head in the correct spot. Norwell overwhelms defenders at the point of the attack. The problem is you want to limit how often he’s chasing linebackers in space. Instead the outside zone should be a change of pace. It should be an opportunity to knock forward driving defensive linemen off guard.

So, yes, Norwell is a an excellent player, but he’s not the guard in football. Marshal Yanda, Brandon Brooks, Zach Martin, and David DeCastro are all better. He’s excellent, but is just outside this top tier. Norwell will get paid, not because he’s worth $12 million a year, but because it’s going to take $12 million to bring him in. Regardless, there are worse ways to spend free agent dollars. And maybe over enough time, and a slight change in footwork and a bump in second level mobility, he can make this little leap into the top tier.

Knowledge is bliss. It feels so good to finally know.

UPDATE: Andrew Norwell has decided to sign with the Jaguars.