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Philadelphia Eagles: What's Wrong with Nnamdi Asomugha?

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Philadelphia Eagles: What's Wrong with Nnamdi Asomugha?
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I understand that the Philadelphia Eagles' pass rush has been lacking a bit early on this season, which in turn puts extra pressure on those responsible for covering opposing receivers.

But somewhat surprisingly, the oft-criticized Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has risen above and played extremely well early in 2012, while four-time All-Pro Nnamdi Asomugha has struggled rather mightily. 

Before breaking down some selected plays to determine what's happening with Asomugha, let's look at some of the numbers. 

Thanks to our BFFs at Pro Football Focus, we can compare what Asomugha did during his final three years in Oakland (when he was named All-Pro in each season) to his first two seasons thus far in Philadelphia, where he's being paid like a king to cover like a queen. 

Here's a chart I made that combines those final three seasons with the Raiders and matches them up with what he did last season and what he's done thus far in 2012. Where applicable, his ranking among cornerbacks during that time frame is in brackets. 

* Rankings for 2008-2010 are based on the league average from those three seasons.

A few key notes from the chart:

  • Between 2008 and 2010 in Oakland, Asomugha was only targeted every 14.6 snaps. Now, he's allowing a reception every 14.6 snaps. He's being targeted twice as often as he was in his Oakland days.
  • After surrendering only one touchdown in 45 games during that stretch with the Raiders, Asomugha has been beaten for five scores in only 21 games with the Eagles. That's a rise from touchdowns in two percent of the games in which he played to touchdowns in over 20 percent of the games in which he's played.
  • His overall per-game receptions-allowed rate has risen over 100 percent, as has his per-game target rate. 
  • Even when they did throw his way between 2008 and 2010, opposing quarterbacks put up a rating of 72.6. That rose to 88.6 last year and has risen to above 90 this season.
  • Asomugha himself was responsible for giving up only 0.47 yards per defensive snap between 2008 and 2010. That number has climbed to a pedestrian 1.10 this season.
  • It's hard to relay how dominant Asomugha was in terms of touchdowns allowed, yards per snap, snaps per target and snaps per reception allowed, but between 2008 and 2010, nobody was even remotely close to him in those categories. Even last year, he was very strong in the latter three categories, but he's dropped off dramatically early on this season.

Asomugha only gave up one catch against Brandon Weeden in Week 1 and had no issues against Kevin Kolb in Week 3. He did give up two catches and a touchdown against Joe Flacco in Week 2, but he was only targeted on those two occasions, which is at least a positive. In Week 4 against the Giants, he wasn't bad, but he also wasn't especially good. He injured his eye during that game and struggled late.

But against Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers this past Sunday, Asomugha had one of the worst performances of his career. Stack that with mediocre-to-subpar efforts against the Ravens and Giants, and you begin to wonder about him.

After experimenting with zone coverage quite often last season, the Eagles have gone back to the basics with press-man in 2012. With that transition, Asomugha was supposed to regain his former glory. He was always a press corner in Oakland and seemed out of his element in 2011.

But instead, the numbers and anecdotes above indicate he's taken a step backwards, which has me wondering if the 31-year-old has simply lost a step or two. And when you're a cornerback, a step or two can be the difference between elite and washed up. 

Asomugha was never a speed guy. He's always been one of the most technically sound and disciplined defenders in the game. In Oakland, he was rarely beat on double-moves and was considered one of the smartest defensive players in football. He anticipates what receivers are going to do like a champ. 

So in an attempt to determine just how far Asomugha has fallen, let's break down his inability to stay with Antonio Brown in Week 5 and take a look at what happened on that Jacoby Jones touchdown in Week 2.

 

Trouble against Antonio Brown, Week 5

I took a look at two Brown completions on one drive in the second quarter. On the first, Asomugha just gives Brown too much cushion after following him in motion before the snap. It's an easy completion for Roethlisberger on an out pattern.

It's a fairly harmless six-yard completion, but Asomugha usually puts up more of a fight. Still, he protected against something deep. Was he overdoing it? 

The Steelers would methodically march down the field in this manner and end up scoring a touchdown on this drive. They got early momentum from that play, and then more from this one, also against Asomugha later on the same possession.

In this case, Asomugha makes what looks like a half-hearted effort to jam Brown at the line of scrimmage, which doesn't do much, giving Brown a little space. 

Asomugha's coverage isn't bad from there, but he simply can't get back with Brown on a dig route and gives up an 11-yard completion for a first down.

Trouble on an island

Asomugha was also beat for what was nearly a touchdown from Brown late in the first half Sunday. The Eagles left him on an island with Brown, which is something they should be able to do from time to time with the one of the highest paid players in the game.

You can tell by Asomugha's positioning that he's anticipating that Brown is going to cut outside on a deep out:

But instead, Brown keeps racing straight on a go route and Asomugha has to regain himself. He does get back with Brown but remains a step behind.

He was also on an island back in Week 2, when he was beat for the only touchdown he's given up this season. In that case, facing Jacoby Jones, Asomugha's coverage out of the gate is again solid.

But this time he falls victim to a double-move. Look at his feet here after he bit on what appears to be a hitch from Jones. There's little chance for a 31-year-old to recover against a speedy receiver like Jones at that point.

And with no safety help, he can't keep pace.  A very un-Nnamdi-like touchdown allowed.

Of course, it's the fact that he's being targeted much more often that is truly concerning.

Before, Asomugha didn't get beat because he was rarely tested. Now, quarterbacks are seeing opportunities and taking advantage of them. It's not as though they're that much better when throwing his way, but they're able to do so much more often.

In the past, I don't know that Roethlisberger or Flacco would have thrown on all four of the examples cited above. When Asomugha was younger, he could recover when he guessed wrong. Now, he's paying for any initial errors in his decision-making. I don't think he's gotten any worse at identifying what his opponent is going to do, but he's no longer as capable at relying on his physical attributes to adjust.

I think the Asomugha we knew in Oakland is long gone. The Eagles can't take a stubborn approach; they have to give him more safety help. I realize that's frustrating because he was paid to come in and relieve the rest of the defense of having to worry about providing support to both corners. But the best thing to do now is to take solace in the fact that you still have two top-15 or even top-10 corners.

It could be a lot worse.

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