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Apologies for opening up old wounds. But how can you preview Eagles-Giants and not mention this:
September 25, 2011 is the day that Victor Cruz — and his salsa dance — were introduced to the world. It also marked the first time Eagles fans began to really question if the the substance matched the hype when it came to Nnamdi Asomugha. These two events are not mutually exclusive. Asomugha was around the ball for both backbreaking Cruz touchdowns but didn’t make the play. The next thing you knew, Cruz was on the map.
Asomugha was asked if he and the Eagles were blindsided by Cruz’s breakout.
“We knew he could play,” said Asomugha. “I think it just came down to two plays. Both were good coverage. One of them there were two missed tackles [Asomugha and Kurt Coleman], or we’re not even talking about that. The other one me and another guy [Jarrad Page] were right there. If we go for the ball and get it, we’re not talking about that. It was just a matter of two plays that we got over and put behind us. Two plays happened in a game that we should have made, and that was it.”
To Asomugha’s point, Cruz only had three catches on the day, even though it felt like he dominated the game. It’s just that two were monster plays brought on by lack of execution. Cruz struck again in the second meeting, though, racking up six grabs for 128 yards and a score. That puts his grand total at nine catches for 238 yards and three touchdowns in two games against the Eagles.
Asomugha credits both the player and the system for Cruz’s effectiveness.
“It’s the same offense. Steve Smith ran it in the slot before and he had a lot of success in it, and [Cruz] is doing the same things and having success in it. This is the NFL. At any point someone can emerge, and he was the guy that emerged for them last year,” he said.
Despite Larry Fitzgerald‘s big day on Sunday, Asomugha and the Eagles secondary have come a long way since last season. The defensive backs are more comfortable in the system, there have been tweaks to the scheme, and there have been key additions [Todd Bowles] and subtractions [Asante Samuel] that have led to a more in-sync unit. They are tops in quarterback completion rate (50.5 %) and yards per attempt (5.7), and third overall in pass defense.
Last season the defensive backs were being shuffled all over the field and there was no consistency in particular at the nickel corner position. The inside is now owned by rookie Brandon Boykin. Given that Cruz lines up quite a bit in the slot, it becomes a key matchup in the game.
“He’s a great receiver,” said Boykin. “He’s a guy that they put a lot of trust into and he’s a big part of their offense. All of our defensive backs have to be ready for him.”
It would be understandable if Asomugha viewed Sunday night’s game as a way to prove how far he and his brethren have come since this time last year. But he says that’s not the case.
“I think our motivation going into this game is stopping them and getting the victory,” said Asomugha. “Coming away with the win and shutting down their passing attack I think is our Number One thing in the secondary. There is nothing else to it. If we can get that done I think everyone will be satisfied.”
Still, it would be nice to prevent that salsa dance from breaking out in the end zone again, wouldn’t it?
“That’s something that Coach Bowles said in one of the first meetings,” said Asomugha. “He said, ‘We’re not going to have that.’ He said he doesn’t want any of that. So that’s our goal.”