Where have you gone Nnamdi Asomugha? Eagles Nation is asking that question.
You remember Nnamdi Asomugha. He is the All-Pro cornerback the Eagles signed to a five-year, 60 million contract in July. He is considered one of the best players at his position, maybe the very best.
Yet, through three games with the Eagles, Asomugha has looked anything but special. He is part of the reason the team is a perplexing 1-2 heading into Sundays home game against San Francisco.
So what gives?
Why is a cornerback who played great for a lousy team in Oakland now missing tackles and giving up big plays with the Eagles? How is a player with his skills getting burned for touchdowns by guys just called up from the practice squad?
There are two factors: one, Asomugha is still adjusting to this defense, which features more zone coverage than the man-to-man coverage he played in Oakland. After playing in one system for eight years, it isnt easy to just step into another defense. It takes time to get comfortable even for an elite player.
Secondly, it appears the coaches and this goes directly to defensive coordinator Juan Castillo have not yet figured out how to best utilize their abundance of coverage talent. They have Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, all Pro Bowl corners, yet it doesnt appear their roles are very well defined. They look a little lost.
Some of the coverages being called may contribute to that. In many cases, whats coming in from the coaches doesnt make much sense.
Here is a perfect example from Sundays 29-16 loss to the New York Giants
With less than four minutes to go, the Giants had third-and-nine at the Eagles 29. They led 22-16 and a field goal would put them up by nine points and effectively end the game. The Eagles could not afford to give them an inch, yet they played a soft zone coverage.
Im sure Eli Manning is looking at this and licking his chops, said NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger, stopping the tape and pointing to the open space underneath. The Eagles are giving them this whole area.
Asomugha was giving a sizable cushion, something he never would have done in Oakland. There he would have been in press coverage on Hakeem Nicks, the Giants' best receiver, taking him man-to-man at the line. Here, he was five yards off. Nicks had a free release and was wide open for a seven-yard reception. The closest Eagle to Nicks when he caught the ball was Joselio Hanson.
The seven-yard gain moved the ball to the 22 and set up an easy field goal try for kicker Lawrence Tynes. As it turned out, Jason Babin jumped offside so the Giants got a first down. Three plays later, they scored a touchdown on a screen pass to Ahmad Bradshaw, but thats all academic.
If you look at the defense on the earlier third down play, it made no sense. It was much too easy for the Giants to complete a pass, pick up those additional yards and set up Tynes for a chip-shot field goal. At that point, it is all the Giants needed to ice the victory.
The Eagles allow this to become a two-score game, Baldinger said. I dont understand this (defensive) call at all.
The point of signing Nnamdi Asomugha was what? To make plays in these situations, right? So why isnt he lined up right on top of Nicks? Let him use those long arms. Jam him. Disrupt the timing. There is none of that.
There was so much talk about the three great cornerbacks, Baldinger said, rerunning the tape, and here you are with the game on the line and you have Joselio Hanson covering their best receiver (Nicks). It is that kind of stuff that has this team where it is right now.
It is fair to question the strategy, but that doesnt totally excuse Asomugha. Some missteps were his alone, notably the play on which he was beaten for a touchdown by Victor Cruz, a free agent, who was only in the lineup because all the other New York receivers were hurt.
You are paying (Asomugha) millions of dollars to make this play, Baldinger said. The Eagles have bracket coverage with the safety on the other side, but it is Nnamdis play.
He should be looking for the ball but hes not. Cruz is looking for the ball. His head is up, his eyes are up. Nnamdi should see that and realize, The balls in the air but he doesnt react fast enough.
By the time he looks up, Cruz has position on him and is going for the ball. But still there is no way Nnamdi should let him catch it. Youve got to strip it, knock it out of his hands. He lets (Cruz) take it away. Its a nice play (by Cruz) but come on. This is Nnamdi Asomugha.
Asomugha also missed a tackle on Cruz when he broke free on a 74-yard touchdown.
Clearly, he is a much better player than he has shown. Baldinger believes (and I agree) that Asomugha will find his stride, but he would find it faster if the coaches allowed him to play more of his style, that is, man-to-man defense.
Its like a basketball team that wins playing man-to-man defense, Brian said. If they switch to a zone, its totally different. Guys are getting boxed out, not getting position. They lose that aggressiveness. I see some of that in what Nnamdis going through now.
NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger and Ray Didinger break down each Eagles game in Under Review every Thursday, Friday and Saturday on SportsRise and SportsNite on Comcast SportsNet.
E-mail Ray Didinger at email@example.com.