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Nnamdi Asomugha: Shut Down Corner?

After a promising preseason and a renewed sense of self in Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio's scheme, Nnamdi Asomugha has emerged as the #3 corner on the San Francisco roster. What success will he have there this Sunday?

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

By now, we are aware of the news that 49ers cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha will be the No. 3 corner this Sunday against Green Bay and line up often with wideout Jordy Nelson.

This follows a good camp and a "shutdown" preseason where the former Eagle allowed a mere 1 catch on 4 targets in 37 coverage snaps.  His 1 reception given up in 37 snaps was the 6th best mark of August, and the catch itself was a short, 5 yard gain on a 3rd-and-12, meaning it still managed a positive grading from Pro Football Focus as a defensive stop.

Outside of coverage, Nnamdi also fielded two snaps as a pass rusher, recording a hurry on both occasions.  The 49ers experimented a bit with corner blitzes during preseason, and that might be a great way to get to the sack-prone Rodgers two days from now.

If you recall, we here at Niners Nation had experimented ourselves this summer with a new series entitled Caught on Tape!, which debuted with a review of last year's season-opener at Lambeau.

Through four different posts, we highlighted the struggles of Perrish Cox to handle Randall Cobb as a receiver out of the backfield, the few big mistakes of Donte Whitner's day, the coverage success of starter Tarell Brown, and the lack of pass rush productivity from Aldon Smith.

Rodgers, by releasing the ball quick, was able to negate much of the 4 and 5 man pressure of San Francisco.  When that failed, he used his elite elusiveness to evade potential sacks and escape into the open for positive yardage.  In fact, in both games combined against Green Bay last year, Rodgers managed to escape pressure 8 times while gaining over 50 rushing yards.  Altogether, he was hit or hurried on 32 snaps, yet only sacked on 4.

The pass rush, in other words, was knocking at the door, but not quite knocking it down.

The coverage during these outings fulfilled its basic obligations.  The job of any defensive back is a bit easier when the pressure up front is consistent and the quarterback is spending more time running like an escaped hospital patient than he is slicing up secondaries like a patient surgeon (terrible metaphor).

As we mentioned in an article yesterday, after all, of Rodgers' 8 worst games as a passer last season, San Francisco was responsible for two of them -- keeping the former Super Bowl MVP well below his 2012 average ANY/A.

Not to say there is no room for improvement.  Indeed, the fear is and has been that if the pass rush fails, much like it did towards the end of 2012, then the weaknesses in coverage will be revealed.

The good news here, of course, is that the secondary looks poised to improve.  A few corner blitzes might be the answer to finishing the pressure on Rodgers, as San Francisco sacked him three times in the opener last year -- once off a corner blitz -- but accrued only one sack in the playoffs at Candlestick when the reliable San Francisco pass rush was not up to par.

The pressure will be good and healthy again on Sunday, and Green Bay will address it once more with quick throws and a reliance on Rodgers' pocket presence.  This means the boys on the outside will have to do their job in containing the Packers' many receiving threats until the inevitable sack occurs.

And that's where the fun starts.

One year removed from a career low-point in Philadelphia, Nnamdi Asomugha may just return to his glory days as a legitimate shutdown corner in press man coverage.  The thought of it gets me all giddy, as NN member Fred P. Soft illustrated in his enthusiastic comment yesterday.

If Asomugha can shut down Nelson -- I mean really shut him down -- then what is the ceiling for this defense?

Imagining No. 24-no-more's success ain't without precedent, either.  In our review of Nnamdi's coverage one-on-one last year against the great Megatron, we discovered that the aging veteran still has it in him to shut a guy down -- even the best in the league.

I think Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio knows this; hence the disparaging comments meant (in my opinion) to challenge the two-time All Pro corner to take that next step and earn his position without doubt.

Well, the position has been earned and the coaching staff has confidence.  Asomugha's preseason success breeds a bit more confidence (with hesitancy), and the knowledge of his admirable day against Calvin Johnson in press coverage breeds it further (with less hesitancy).

So consider me a believer at this point.  And why not?  I am on board the band-wagon of what could become -- much like Carlos Rogers and Donte Whitner before him -- a "career revival" for the former Eagle in the adaptive, accommodating scheme of Lord Fangio.

We can has football soon, Niners Nation.  So soon.