Asomugha Right To Question Blitz Calls?

Philadelphia Eagles CB Nnamdi Asomugha.An obvious question following the Eagles’ meltdown against the Lions is: What changed with the defensive approach at the end of the game?

Through three quarters, Matthew Stafford was 7-for-21 for 91 yards, and the Lions had managed just two field goals on nine possessions. In the fourth quarter and overtime, Stafford was 15-for-24 for 220 yards as the Lions rallied for a pair of touchdowns and two field goals.

While many of the Eagles defenders said after the game that they’d have to look at the film to figure out what exactly went wrong, Nnamdi Asomugha was more forthcoming. He told Tim and some other reporters that a couple things changed.

One, the defense switched up how it covered Calvin Johnson. For much of the game, Asomugha was on Johnson with safety help. And he did an excellent job. But in the fourth, the Eagles used Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on Johnson and also played some zone.

The other point Asomugha made was that the Eagles blitzed more late in the game, and it cost them. But was that really the case?

I went back and looked. Overall, the Eagles blitzed just six times on 51 Stafford dropbacks, or 11.8 percent of the time. They blitzed on three of Detroit’s first 40 passing plays and then three more times on the final 11. So yes, the Eagles blitzed a little more down the stretch, but it’s a stretch to say that was the major change that caused the meltdown.

In the fourth quarter and OT, Stafford was 3-for-4 for 36 yards against the blitz. When the Eagles didn’t send extra pressure, he was 12-for-20 for 184 yards. In other words, he was lighting up the defense against four-man rushes too.

As for Asomugha, who played probably his best game of the season, the guess here is that two plays stuck out in his head when he made those post-game comments. One was a 17-yard completion to Johnson on the Lions’ final drive of regulation. The other was a 17-yard completion to Johnson that essentially put the Lions in position to hit the game-winning field goal in overtime. On both plays, Stafford beat the Eagles’ blitz for big plays. But again, it’s not as if the Birds were shutting him down when they went with the four-man rush.

Perhaps more significant is that Rodgers-Cromartie was on Johnson for both of those 17-yard completions, and it’s tough to figure out why Juan Castillo and Todd Bowles made that decision. Asomugha had done a good job on Johnson for much of the game, and on both those routes, he lined up in the slot. We know from last year’s failed experiment that Rodgers-Cromartie struggles in the slot. Asoumugha, meanwhile, had been lining up inside all game. He said afterwards that the idea was to give Johnson different looks, but clearly those looks didn’t work in the end.

Johnson had one catch for 28 yards after three quarters, but finished with six grabs for 135 yards. By my count, Asomugha allowed three catches for 81 yards; Rodgers-Cromartie gave up two catches for 34; and the Eagles were in zone with Nate Allen nearby for one 20-yard completion.

With the game on the line, the defense fell apart against Stafford, Johnson and the Lions. The result was a 26-23 loss and a 3-3 record going into the bye.

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