All-22: Nnamdi Asomugha vs. Megatron

Rich Schultz

To further understand the potential of Nnamdi Asomugha in a 49ers uniform, we break down some footage of him against Detroit's Calvin Johnson via coaches film.

Last week, we went over Nnamdi Asomugha's potential fate in San Francisco.

The original diagnosis, from my perspective, was bleak but hopeful. Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio has a knack for getting the best out of his players through proper preparation and by putting them in positions to succeed. He utilizes their strengths and adapts his scheme accordingly.

Combine that with Asomugha's recent career-low tenure in Philadelphia, and you get people who question Nnamdi's abilities, but who also believe that Fangio can bring out the best in the once-dominant defender.

Then some comments in the above post brought new light to things.

user: Ryanco

"If anybody wants to watch a good game of his go watch the Eagles vs Lions game from last year. He was locked up in press man coverage on Calvin Johnson 90% of the game and I counted only 2 completions he gave up to Calvin for only 30 yds all game. That's not bad considering he is the best WR in the game."

And then TryAndCatchVD provided some insight from an Eagles fan at another SBNation site:

Take an all pro corner in his prime, put him on a team with no secondary coaches, and see what happens

That's what the Eagles did with Nnamdi and DRC. No one is breaking down your tape or their tape. You just show up for work and try really hard. See how well that works in the NFL.

So you tell me, that's a fine basis for evaluation of a player?

Not something I previously knew.

Having watched a bit of tape on Nnamdi, at the time, I was not impressed.

Asomugha was one of the least-targeted cornerbacks in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. He only allowed a reception every 11.5 snaps in coverage, and was only targeted 66 times all year. The problem is those 66 targets went for 44 receptions and 698 yards.

Plug that into your standard QB Rating formula (along with the five TDs he allowed and one INT) and passers facing Asomugha averaged an astounding 120.6 rating against him.

Out of 57 cornerbacks to play at least 60% of last season's snaps, Nnamdi was "top five" in targets, but bottom 20 in yards given up, i.e., he was giving up a large amount of yards per reception.

Asomugha was also "bottom six" in yards after catch given up and surrendered the aforementioned five touchdowns. This, again, despite being targeted among the least of any cornerback.

He was not targeted often. But when he was, Asomugha gave up the farm.

As bad as that looks, let us take the comments above from fellow NN members to heart and see if we can redeem Asomugha via the coach's film.

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Asomugha vs. Megatron

If you are looking for the evidence that Nnamdi Asomugha still "has it", then you can find it in a Week Six contest against the best receiver in the league: Calvin Johnson.

Asomugha was targeted five times in that game, and allowed only one reception. He also defended one pass and recorded an interception, meaning Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford achieved a dismal 18.3 passer rating when throwing at Asomugha.

Pass Defended

Asomugha2_medium

A 3rd and 5 on the very first drive of the game where Asomugha had already defended Johnson successfully once. Nnamdi is in man, but not press, coverage here as he is solely responsible for Megatron. The two defenders to Asomugha's right will watch the tight ends on the Detroit line.

Asomugh2-a_medium

Johnson runs a "shallow in" meant, of course, to pick up the easy five yards. You'll notice Asomugha has backed up a bit, giving more space to Johnson underneath.

I think Nnamdi had a very good read on this play and knew it was a shallow route.

Asomugha2-b_medium

I think that because, before Megatron had even planted his right foot to cut inside, Asomugha had already jumped the route. Stafford attempts the pass but Asomugha is in front of it and almost picks it off.

Zone Coverage

The Philadelphia secondary was poor as a whole (I suppose not having secondary coaches will contribute to that). It was one of the worst units in the league depending on who you ask.

Even the best CBs will give up a pass, or occasionally let someone get behind them. It is at this point you must hope that your safeties are doing their job.

So let's take a look at one snap where Asomugha was not in primary coverage, but was, instead, asked to play the "dreaded" zone.

Asomugha1_medium

Here, Asomugha (again red) feigns press but, prior to the snap, he gives Johnson space and backs into a quarters zone coverage, where each member of the secondary is responsible for 1/4 of the field.

The linebackers inside will watch the play action and then remain centered to defend anything underneath or over the middle.

Asomugha1-a_medium

Johnson (again blue) is running a slant into a go route. The safety circled here in yellow will play it a bit too aggressive and let Calvin get a step ahead of him -- and one step is all a physical speedster like Megatron needs.

Asomugha1-b_medium

Johnson continues towards roughly the 25-yard line, where he makes a catch just as Asomugha (red) hits him. It's a bang-bang play, but Asomugha was a moment too late.

Still, he is not to be held accountable for the reception. In quarters coverage, the safety is responsible, and he should not have allowed the receiver to beat him deep.

On the other end of the field, the two circled Eagle defenders have played their man deep, and notice that LBs No. 1 and No. 2 have taken up the middle/underneath.

No reason to bite at all on what was an obvious slant-n-go route. Asomugha actually prevents a touchdown here by getting over to help in time.

Man Press Coverage

If there was one play to watch over and over again to convince yourself Asomugha can still hang ... this is it.

Asomugha3_medium

Press man coverage on the best receiver in the business:

Asomugha3-a_medium

At the snap, Johnson takes off. And I mean really takes off. I double-took upon first watching the way he exploded off the line.

Megatron knew exactly what he was doing on this play: touchdown. Stafford, out of the shotgun, has not even reached the top of his dropback and Johnson is already seven yards down-field.

The safety above (circled yellow) is a bit screwed one second into the play. He is leaning in and his left foot is planted.

Asomugh3-b_medium

As Stafford releases the ball, the safety looks to be in good position, but Johnson is too fast. Remember that the safety (at the 20 yard line) has been running for six yards; Johnson (at the 21) has been running for almost 20.

A couple steps later and Megatron is able to overtake the safety and is now behind him deep.

Stafford drops the ball beautifully to Johnson right at the cusp of the endzone as the receiver is two steps ahead of the Philadelphia safety.

Touchdown Megatron.

Asomugh3-c_medium

lol just kidding.

Somehow Asomugha remained step-for-step with Megatron for 40 yards, and even managed to get one foot ahead.

The pass is beautiful -- that part was not a joke -- but the interception is even prettier.

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Conclusion

The Eagles safety was beat twice in the plays above and Asomugha bailed him out both times.

When you give up 44 receptions while surrendering 698 yards, 300 of those after the catch, one has to wonder how many of those yards resulted from Asomugha getting little-to-no support.

It is always important to understand individual stats in the context of team play. As more information becomes available, it can become increasingly difficult to assign blame or give credit to any one person. Football is a team sport.

But the plays above make it pretty clear that, at least for one game against the best receiver in the league, Nnamdi Asomugha played well as an individual, while his team let him down.

Calvin Johnson had 135 receiving yards that day. 37 of them were Asomugha's fault on one reception. He was in man press in the fourth, stayed step-for-step with Calvin all the way down the field, and got beat by a great back-shoulder throw that Johnson leaped up and twisted to grab.

There's not much you can do about that.

As a whole, Asomugha more than showed his worth against the best in the business. Is his performance repeatable? Sure. Are his chances of being successful in San Francisco with Lord Fangio greater than they were in Philly? Definitely.

Am I still skeptical? Yes. But not as much.

I wrote that first post believing Asomugha would have a very difficult time competing with our talented DBs to earn any playing time at all. I felt he would have the opportunity to squeeze himself in as a DB in dime/nickel against pass-heavy teams like Green Bay, Atlanta and New Orleans.

But if he shows up to preseason with a chip on his shoulder and showcases the abilities he displayed against Detroit, Nnamdi Asomugha could squeeze himself into much more than that.

Perhaps a starting job. Perhaps a majority of snaps. Perhaps, like Whitner and Rogers before him, a whole new career.

I am cautiously optimistic.

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follow the nonsense @liberty_JAC for future articles

got more all-22 coming to y'all this week

if i get enough followers, i may even start taking requests... ;D

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