Wednesday, August 27, 2014
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Can Asomugha be Charles Woodson?

The way Juan Castillo tells it, Nnamdi Asomugha brought the idea up to him.

Can Asomugha be Charles Woodson?

Can Nnamdi Asomugha play a role similar to Packers cornerback Charles Woodson? (AP Photos)
Can Nnamdi Asomugha play a role similar to Packers cornerback Charles Woodson? (AP Photos)

The way Juan Castillo tells it, Nnamdi Asomugha brought the idea up to him.

The two were driving together on the way to practice, and Asomugha mentioned he would be excited about playing a role similar to that of Packers cornerback Charles Woodson.

"I think Nnamdi is a special guy. He wants to make plays," Castillo said. "I think he respects Rod [Charles] Woodson. I think he would love that role, being able to blitz. A big tall guy like that coming off the edge, and then all of the sudden in press coverage on the slot guy. Sometimes if he is going to match, the slot guy may be the guy inside anyway. It’s exciting."

As I mentioned yesterday, the vibe I get is that the Eagles are going to look to deal Asante Samuel. But the possibility exists that the right trade will notn become available and they could end up with all three cornerbacks (including Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie) on the roster.

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I also get the sense that Castillo's comments were more him brainstorming than anything else. When he was named defensive coordinator, the team was without a right cornerback. Now they have three guys with Pro Bowl potential. There's no question in my mind that Castillo wants to keep all three, but it won't be him making the decision.

Still, I'm sure he's already thought about the possibilities with all three players, and that's why he mentioned Woodson.

So I wanted to explore exactly what he meant: Can Asomugha be Woodson?

For starters, I took a look back at a couple Packers games from last season - their wild card win against the Eagles and their NFC championship win against the Bears - to see how defensive coordinator Dom Capers used Woodson.

The easier question would have probably been: How didn't he use Woodson?

I already had a great appreciation for the veteran cornerback, but after re-watching those two games, it became clear that Woodson's unique skill set allowed Capers to do all kinds of things.

Here's a rundown of the different things Woodson did in those two games:

* Blitz from the slot.
* Cover the slot receiver.
* Line up like a linebacker and play the run.
* Line up like a safety, read the play and get to the ball.
* Line up as a safety and blitz the quarterback.
* Line up at the line of scrimmage and play the run.
* Line up as a linebacker and spy the quarterback.
* Blitz up the middle.
* Cover the tight end.
* Line up outside and cover a wide receiver.
* Pick up the running back out of the backfield.

And I probably missed something.

How do some of those things relate to Asomugha and what he's been asked to do so far in his career?

Well, Woodson rushed the quarterback 108 times last year, or 5.4 times per game, per Pro Football Focus, which was of great use with a lot of this data. Asomugha rushed the quarterback just three times total last season. In 2009, that number was 10. And in 2008, it was four.

In other words, the Raiders had one of the best cover corners in the game and were not about to take him off a receiver to blitz the quarterback.

Woodson lined up in the slot on over 53 percent of his defensive snaps last year. He lined up out wide on about 37 percent of the snaps. And Woodson was used in some other role (safety, linebacker) on the other 10 percent of his plays.

Asomugha, meanwhile, lined up at right cornerback about 82 percent of the time. He was in the slot about 9 percent of the time.

In coverage against the Eagles, by my count, Woodson was asked to cover DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Brent Celek and LeSean McCoy. It was amazing to see the different ways he was used throughout the course of the game.

Something else that stood out when watching Woodson was how much he was asked to play the run. He was the Packers' leading tackler in that win over the Eagles, and four of Woodson's six tackles were against the run.

Is that something the Eagles really want Asomugha to do?

CONCLUSIONS

The truth is Asomugha, up to this point in his career, has not been asked to do most of the things the Packers asked of Woodson last year. And for good reason. Elite cover corners don't grow on trees, and the Raiders probably used him the way they should have.

If the Eagles trade Samuel, my guess is they'll probably use Asomugha primarily in coverage on the outside too. That's what makes the most sense.

But I'm not surprised that Castillo said Asomugha brought up the Woodson idea to him. During his introductory press conference, when asked about his style as a shutdown corner, Asomugha seemed to almost take it as a slight.

"There's this thing about styles," Asomugha said. "To be honest, I'm a football player. I play within my scheme and I try to do the best for the coaches that are teaching me. If they tell me they want me to do this, I'm going to go out there and do it and I'm going to put my best foot forward."

In other words, There's more to me than what you saw in Oakland.

Asomugha went on to explain that he was a safety in college and had to learn how to play cornerback. I got the sense that he wouldn't mind having a different role here and would look forward to a new challenge.

Asomugha definitely sounded like he'd enjoy being more of a playmaker. After notching eight interceptions in 2006, he had just three in the next four seasons. A major reason is teams stayed away from him. In the last three seasons, Asomugha has been targeted just 88 times, per Football Outsiders. To put that into context, Rodgers-Cromartie was targeted 90 times last season alone.

And one more note here. Eagles management has mentioned the Packers as a sort of model many times already at training camp. Earlier this week, I mentioned how Green Bay kept all three cornerbacks on the field for most of the game against the Eagles. Today, I added up snap counts (with the help of Pro Football Focus) from Green Bay's three playoff games before the Super Bowl (Woodson and Sam Shields were injured against the Steelers so I didn't include that game).

Here's the breakdown:

  Tramon Williams Sam Shields Charles Woodson
vs. Eagles 65/66 63/66 66/66
vs. Falcons 55/55 43/55 55/55
vs. Bears 67/68 63/68 68/68
TOTAL 187/189 169/189 189/189

When everything was on the line, Woodson played 100 percent of the snaps; Williams played 98.9 percent; and Shields played 89.4 percent. Shields' number might even be a bit misleading. The Packers blew out the Falcons, and I'm not sure, but he may have just been given some plays off in that game.

If Asomugha and Samuel played 98.9 percent and 100 percent of the snaps, respectively, would they really complain? If Rodgers-Cromartie played 89.4 percent of the snaps, would that be an issue?

I don't see it. The challenge would be figuring out who plays where, but I'm convinced the Eagles could find ways to get all three on the field. And after hearing Samuel talk yesterday, the challenge would also be to get Samuel in the right state of mind.

But if the Eagles really want to emulate the Packers, keeping (and playing) all three guys makes the most sense.


You can follow me on Twitter or become a fan of Moving the Chains on Facebook.

Sheil Kapadia Philly.com
About this blog
Sheil Kapadia is in his fifth season writing about the Eagles and the NFL for philly.com. His earliest memories as a sports fan include several trips to Veterans Stadium with his Dad. He's not a beat writer or an Insider, but is here to discuss the NFL 365 days a year. E-mail him at skapadia@philly.com or by clicking here

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