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Nnamdi Asomugha and the 49ers nickel defense

We break down some of Nnamdi's work against the Seattle Seahawks, and what to make of it as the 49ers prepare for the Indianapolis Colts. New to Niners Nation? Sign up here and join the discussion!

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The San Francisco 49ers defense did a solid job in the first half this past Sunday, but penalties, wear and tear, and a few blown coverages cost the team late. I don't know if the 49ers offense would have been able to do enough to overcome even the 5-0 halftime deficit, but a closer game might have opened up some more possibilities.

One player who had a tough night was cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. He spent the game lined up almost exclusively on the right side of the field (right if you're on the Seahawks side. I always get that confused). He actually moved into the slot on one occasion. I don't have the play in front of me, but he was lined up outside, and then once the Seahawks got to the line, Nnamdi and Rogers switched spots. Nothing came of it from a defensive perspective, but it was certainly interesting. Just a coincidence?

I took a few things away from this game after reviewing Nnamdi on the broadcast, and then again on All-22. The simplest takeaway is that he can't tackle Marshawn Lynch. I don't know if he can necessarily tackle any other running backs, but twice he had a chance at Lynch, and both times he didn't get the tackle. The first time, he was blocked a little, and then got his hands on Lynch's legs. It did not end well. The second time, he was down and sort of tripped up Lynch, but I think Lynch fell more because he ran into a blocker in front of him.

There was also an instance where Nnamdi blitzed, then slowed up as Russell Wilson read off play action. Wilson ran for the corner and had no problems getting there before Nnamdi could stop him. Nnamdi's game has been about physicality over speed, and he never had a chance on this one.

There were only two pass plays where Nnamdi was prominently involved. The first was Russell Wilson's end zone throw to Sidney Rice. On that play, Nnamdi had the coverage, and Craig Dahl was coming over to help. Rice had a step on Nnamdi, but Dahl was still several steps away. It was a pretty hot throw, and it went off Rice's hands, but he had the step he needed.

The second play was the pass interference while defending Golden Tate. I tried making a GIF of it, but my GIF schools are not even mediocre. Nnamdi was actually with Tate step for step, but he had his back to the ball and by the time he tried to turn around, Tate had slowed, forced contact and a flag was most definitely coming. Here is my first ever GIF (I'm not sure why it's surrounding by the white space):


I think you can get the general idea. The coverage was actually great, up until he did not get turned around in time.

One question that raises is whether or not we might see Andrew Luck and his wide receivers attack Nnamdi in this manner. Do you send Reggie Wayne, Darrius Heyward-Bey or T.Y. Hilton deep against Nnamdi and just chuck it up to see if Nnamdi turns around? In his hey day, Nnamdi was simply ignored for the most part because he was viewed as so good. Maybe now, teams are prepared to just go right at him.

The 49ers face a Colts squad that has used three receivers 48 percent of the time. This does not count when the tight end splits out, but in that case, the 49ers generally are sending a linebacker out to cover him. Nnamdi might get less playing time than normal this coming Sunday, but he'll be on the field plenty. The 49ers used him in a mix of zone and man against the Seahawks, but they actually did not challenge him all that much. Part of that was due to their success running the ball, and part of that was due to some pressure that forced Russell Wilson to make some quicker decisions. And of course, part of that was due to blown coverages elsewhere on the field.

What will see from the Colts this Sunday to challenge the 49ers secondary?