Asomugha – Philly’s Charles Woodson?

| August 6, 2011

Nnamdi Asomugha is one heck of a cornerback. There’s no denying this, and that’s why the prospect of him teaming up with Darrelle Revis for the New York Jets was so mouth watering. As it turned out though, that didn’t materialize and instead the Eagles ended up with free agency’s biggest prize, along with pretty much every other free agency prize it seems.
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Asomugha is thrown at significantly less than any other corner in football. Last season he was targeted just 29 times in 441 snaps in coverage. That’s a target in just 6.6% of snaps in coverage, which is by far the best mark for any corner.

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He’s also stingy with the receptions he gives up, allowing just 13 receptions last season. Think about that for a second – receivers will get 13 receptions in a game, and Asomugha only gave that up over fourteen weeks. His percentage of receptions per coverage snap is also far better than any other cornerback last season, and those numbers have been at a crazy level for a few years now.
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As great as Asomugha is though, his greatness has always come with something of an asterisk, a footnote if you will, illustrating how his role differs to that of Revis, the game’s other great corner.
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Revis, as we know, is integral to what the Jets do, because he allows them to take away the opposition’s best receiver, and to concentrate on the other weapons on offense and roll coverages toward them. Revis does that because he tracks receivers from one side of the field to the other, and even to the slot. Asomugha doesn’t. In fact, Asomugha not only doesn’t track receivers, but he lines up on the right hand side of the defense, the ‘easier’ cornerback position. It’s easier because most passers in the league are right handers, and so naturally throw more to their right, to the left cornerback’s coverage. The only right handed quarterback to pass equally to the left as well as the right is Peyton Manning, everybody else attacks the left cornerback more often.
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In 2010, Darrelle Revis lined up for 204 snaps at right cornerback, 442 snaps at left cornerback, 116 snaps in the slot, and 77 in the middle of the formation as some variety of safety. Asomugha, by contrast, was on the right for 643 snaps, the left for just 43, slot 73 and 27 at safety. 81.8% of Asomugha’s snaps were at RCB, compared to just 23.4% from Revis, who spent no more than 52.7% of his snaps in any one position last season.
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This season was actually the most Asomugha had played in positions other than right cornerback – in ’08 and ’09 he was even more exclusive to that position. Obviously that doesn’t define him as a player, he still does a great job in coverage regardless of role. The point I’m making though is that with weaker players on the other side, and playing the side traditionally targeted less by a passer, his numbers could appear more skewed than his ability dictates. Are they throwing away from him because he’s really that good, or are they throwing away from him because why the hell would they bother throwing at him?
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The difference between Revis and Asomugha so far is that Revis forces teams to throw at him, or to ignore their best receiver, Asomugha just forces them to stick to the right side of the field.
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That’s why it was something of a surprise when Asomugha reportedly talked to the Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo about the role Charles Woodson plays for the Green Bay Packers. As we know, Woodson moves around perhaps more than any other corner, enabling him to be a playmaker and get his hands dirty. Mr Sheil Kapadia did a nice piece talking about the differences in how the two players lined up, but we’ll look at it as well.
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While Asomugha plays over 80% at RCB, Woodson played just 48 snaps there last season. He played 327 at LCB, just under a third of his snaps, and 540 snaps in the slot, or just over 53% of his total snaps. He spent another 97 snaps at safety, often in the box. Woodson was second in the league in defensive stops – a tackle that constitutes an offensive failure. Only Antoine Winfield topped the 40 stops Woodson racked up.
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Woodson managed to tally 12 missed tackles over the season, but because he attempted so many, his ratio of misses to attempts isn’t horrible, and he was making his attempts against bigger bodies inside and through traffic far more often than a cornerback usually has to. Asomugha, by contrast, only missed five tackles, but his ratio of misses to attempts was far poorer, and over the past three seasons the former college safety was the 4th poorest tackler among NFL CB’s, missing a tackle every 5.45 attempts.
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So what conclusions am I working my way towards? Well, for all the eye popping coverage numbers that Asomugha has put up over the past few years, nothing in his game suggests that he has the versatility to do what Charles Woodson does for the Packers, and he has never even had to prove that he can do what Revis does for the Jets, which is why it is so interesting that he himself was the one that brought up the idea to the Eagles.
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Maybe he was being held back by the Raiders’ defensive schemes, and maybe we’re about to see the full scope of Nnamdi Asomugha’s talents. With the defense the Eagles are putting together, it could be fun to watch next season.
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Follow Sam on Twitter: @SamMonson … and be sure to follow our main Twitter feed as well: @ProFootbalFocus
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  • jshalk123

    I had always wondered why the Raiders would keep him in one pre-determined spot. Routt picked his play up last year but prior to that its not like their other corners were that great. If i’m an OC playing the raiders why wouldn’t I line my best WR up on the right side of the field and continue to attack that side? I like Namdi but I have a hard time considering someone a shut down corner when they aren’t always going up against a teams best player.

  • jebbs

    This article just put me back on team Revis for best corner in the league. Great read.