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If Nnamdi Can’t Go Today, How Much Will He Be Missed?

Nov 27, 2011, 11:24 AM EDT

While Nnamdi Asomugha has had what many consider to be a subpar season, it's probably still better than a good number of cornerbacks in the NFL. He's been beaten for some big plays, but when utilized properly, Asomugha is one of the few guys who can truly take an All-Pro receiver out of the game. That hasn't changed.

Short answer, yes, he’d be missed. While Nnamdi Asomugha has had what many consider to be a subpar season, it’s probably still better than a good number of cornerbacks in the NFL. He’s been beaten for some big plays, but when utilized properly, Asomugha is one of the few guys who can truly take an All-Pro receiver out of the game. That hasn’t changed.

But how much use is that particular skill against the New England Patriots? Nnamdi hasn’t shown much evidence of being particularly great when moved into new positions, for instance playing zone coverage, or defending anywhere other than near the sidelines — where the Patriots’ offense is much weaker. Last we heard, Asomugha is likely a game-time decision today, so assuming he can’t go, how far-reaching would the impact of that loss be for the Eagles?

Broken down in its simplest form, Tom Brady has completed 253 passes for 3,266 yards this season. 67.6% of those completions have been to Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, or Aaron Hernandez — two tight ends, and a slot receiver who traditionally earn their money over the middle or on otherwise intermediate routes — for an astounding 76.9% of the yards. Another 12.0% of receptions are to backs or Julian Edelman, another slot-type receiver.

What that means is only 51 balls, or one in five, for 21.5% of the yards have gone to wide receivers who typically line up outside the numbers — and Chad Johnson is out on Sunday. The only other wideout on the roster besides Deion Branch who has caught a pass all season is Matthew Slater, who has one ball for 46 yards.

So as outstanding as the Pats’ passing game has been — second in the league to be exact — they haven’t exactly been a threat in the most conventional of manners. Why that is, well, that’s up for some debate. Johnson is clearly reaching the end of his career, and Branch is no spring chicken either. Obviously they are more talented in the slot and tight end to begin with, plus Tom Brady is aging. There are actually some whispers about his arm strength at this stage.

Will the Eagles miss an outside, man-to-man press corner with all of that in mind? Hopefully not. Of course, Juan Castillo hasn’t used Asomugha in just one way the entire season, and while his new role hasn’t always been met with great success, you can’t tell me they have many better options to cover dynamic players like Welker, Gronkowski, and Hernandez.

The suggestion all week has been Castillo would have Asomugha spend some of his Sunday helping out with the Patriots’ second-year tight ends, most notably Gronk, who is quickly becoming a Pro Bowler for years to come in the AFC. Without him, the Eagles could run into some serious match-up problems. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is out as well, which pretty much leaves whatever maligned linebackers and safeties are still lying around to draw such complicated assignments.

The defense has improved by leaps over the last five games compared to the first five, so I’m not prepared to say Castillo absolutely can’t come up with a game plan to control the middle of the field. He is starting from a disadvantage though, and the lack of Asomugha, while not quite the ideal foil to Bill Belichick’s ever-evolving scheme, certainly would have been a talented monkey wrench to throw in the middle of the field.

Because however down the Delaware Valley is on Nnamdi Asomugha, he isn’t just a reputation. He’s a damn good player, learning a new scheme, and on the receiving end of a few more targets than he was accustomed in Oakland. Take a 6’2″ defensive back with three trips to the Pro Bowl off the field, and the defense will feel that one way or another.

Still not sure it’s the end of the world either. Where he is most effective is not necessarily where the Patriots are able to beat the Eagles on Sunday.


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