Three different cornerbacks — Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Brandon Boykin and then Nnamdi Asomugha — took turns lining up over Larry Fitzgerald on the Cardinals’ first three plays from scrimmage. It was immediately evident that trying to contain the star receiver would be a group assignment.
That wasn’t the initial plan, however, as Asomugha laid out afterwards.
“We came into the week, I was going to shadow him,” said Asomugha. “We kind of had an idea, I think Coach [Todd] Bowles had an idea that that’s what they were figuring, so they were going to move him and put him in all sorts of different places. So we said let’s just let’s just stay on our sides and make sure that Boykin is at the nickel, keep Dominique on the outside. That was our plan, and they were able to do some things to take advantage of it.”
Bowles correctly predicted the Cardinals’ strategy, though his response to it can be questioned after Fitzgerald shook loose for nine catches, 114 yards and a score in Arizona’s 27-6 thumping of the Eagles Sunday in the desert. As we laid out earlier in the week, Asomugha has had success against Fitzgerald in the past. Fitzgerald had two catches when Arizona and Oakland met in 2010 and, despite finishing with seven catches for 146 yards and two scores against the Eagles last year, did not manage a catch when Asomugha was locked up on him.
One question that floated through the Philadelphia locker room afterwards: Shadow or no, why not just blanket Fitzgerald with double teams and have the other, less formidable Cardinals skill position players try to beat you?
“Look, we have two of the best corners in the league with Nnamdi and DRC,” Kurt Coleman responded. “There were times when we did, there were times when we didn’t.”
A double-team was called on Fitzgerald’s 37-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter that gave the Cards a 17-0 lead. Asomugha started over top of him and ran with Fitzgerald down field but played it as if he was expecting help over the middle. That help never came.
“We were in a Cover 4 scheme. I was playing the front-side receiver, and something happened back side,” said Nate Allen. “I think it was miscommunication on the back side, and it was tough to do that.”
Coleman was the man out of position. He and Asomugha were seen having a lengthy discussion about it on the sideline following the play. The safety accepted blame afterwards.
“My fault, my fault,” said Coleman. “I’ll take the heat for that. We’ll get better next week, come back stronger.”
The defense adjusted the game plan and limited Fitzgerald to two catches for nine yards in the second half. But the damage had already been done.
“Towards the second half we started getting after him, we started going man,” said Rodgers-Cromartie. ” But at the end of the day, man, you’ve got to execute.”