Inside the Eagles: Asomugha targeted more by opponents this season

Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha has been targeted 15 times in 137 snaps played. MATT SMITH / (Easton) Express-Times
Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha has been targeted 15 times in 137 snaps played. MATT SMITH / (Easton) Express-Times (MATT SMITH / (Easton) Express-Times)
Posted: October 05, 2012

Even though he missed nearly half the game, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha was targeted seven times by the Giants' Eli Manning on Sunday night, the most passes that have come his way since he joined the Eagles.

With Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie playing the opposite corner, Asomugha is likely to see more action this season than he did in his first season in Philadelphia and significantly more than he saw in Oakland.

Asomugha, 31, has been under the spotlight's glare since he signed a five-year, $60 million contract with the Eagles in July 2011. But his play has come under increasing scrutiny in the last three games for completions he either has allowed or seemingly allowed.

Three weeks ago, he was covering Baltimore receiver Jacoby Jones when Jones caught a 21-yard touchdown pass. A week later, Asomugha was on Larry Fitzgerald when he caught a 37-yard touchdown. He handed off the Cardinals receiver in a zone defense, but no one was home.

And then on Sunday, after returning from an eye injury that sidelined him for nearly two quarters, Asomugha was involved in two big fourth-quarter completions that set up a go-ahead touchdown for New York.

In both cases, Asomugha was playing press coverage at the line of scrimmage on the intended receiver, and in both cases the receiver caught a long pass with the cornerback trailing him. That didn't necessarily mean Asomugha was burned, Eagles coach Andy Reid said Monday.

"When you have help over the top and you're in a trail position," Reid said, "sometimes it looks like you might be getting beat down the field."

On the first play, Asomugha tried to bump Ramses Barden at the line, but the receiver got behind him. Ideally, Asomugha would have had safety help there, but Kurt Coleman bit on a play fake and was late to recover.

Coleman said his priority on that play was a "run-first read." So while it was preferable for Coleman not to bite, it was still Asomugha's ultimate responsibility to defend Barden, who pulled in a 31-yard pass down the sideline.

"For him, he sees a pass play because a wide receiver is running deep," Coleman said. "But if I'm reading something different, I don't always see it as fast as him because I'm looking at something else."

A play later, Manning went back to Asomugha's side. This time, the cornerback was on Domenik Hixon. Asomugha did not try to get his hands on the receiver, however, and appeared to be passing him off to the safety.

Coleman, reading run first, ran almost all the way to the line when Manning play-faked again. Nate Allen, though, was in center field, and when he bit, Manning threw to a wide-open Hixon over the middle for 41 yards.

"Sometimes you're not on the same page, and you have a blown coverage, but that's football," Coleman said. "There's a lot of times when we do it right, but people don't see it because the ball's not thrown that way."

The Eagles' pass defense for much of the game had success against Manning. Asomugha, when he was in, appeared to play well. Despite the high-profile plays in which he has had a part, Asomugha has been solid this season, according to Pro Football Focus.

In 137 snaps played, he has been targeted 15 times. Of those 15 pass attempts, Asomugha has allowed six completions for 134 yards and one score. Rodgers-Cromartie, by comparison, has surrendered eight passes for 142 yards and no touchdowns when he was targeted 20 times.

Rodgers-Cromartie intercepted three of those passes, though. Asomugha has zero interceptions. He has yet to drop a sure pick, but Asomugha's strength isn't reacting to the ball in the air. He had only 11 interceptions over eight seasons with the Raiders.

Asomugha's greatest strength has always been his ability to disrupt receivers off the line with his long arms. In Oakland, he played almost exclusively man-to-man defense. Because the Raiders did not have two strong corners, opposing quarterbacks shied away from Asomugha.

From 2008 to 2010, he was targeted an average of 29 times a season. Last year, Asomugha played both man and zone, outside and in the slot, and even as the occasional safety, and he was targeted 47 times. He is on a pace to see 60 passes thrown in his direction this season.

That projected number could change as soon as Sunday. The Eagles travel to Pittsburgh, and Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie will face arguably the best receiving tandem in the league in Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown.

What isn't likely to change is the microscope that Asomugha is under. When the Eagles signed the prized free agent, he was billed as a shutdown corner in the Darrelle Revis mold. He has not lived up to those expectations, realistic or not.

One thing appears certain: Asomugha should have plenty of opportunities this season to prove otherwise.


Contact Jeff McLane at jmclane@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_McLane.

 

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