When Asomugha was on Fitzgerald
I went back and looked at how exactly the Eagles covered (or tried to cover) Larry Fitzgerald in Sunday's loss.
The big question today, a day after, has been: Why didn't Nnamdi Asomugha just shadow Fitzgerald the entire game?
And it's a valid one.
By my count, Asomugha matched up with Fitzgerald 20 times out of 46 pass plays. That doesn't mean he was always in man coverage, but, from what I could tell, on many of them, he was. On those plays, John Skelton targeted Fitzgerald just twice, and both were incompletions.
In other words, it sure looked like Asomugha locked down Fitzgerald when he was covering him.
On the final, game-winning drive, Asomugha was actually on Fitzgerald quite a bit. One of the key plays in the game was the 37-yard completion where Fitzgerald got past Jaiquawn Jarrett. What makes the Eagles' coverage on that play so puzzling is that Asomugha covered Fitzgerald on the previous six plays of the series, and Skelton threw at him once.
It wasn't as if Fitzgerald just happened to be lining up on Asomugha's side of the field, either. On three plays during that drive, Asomugha moved to the slot to cover Fitzgerald. On one play, he followed him all the way to the other side of the field. It certainly seemed like the plan on that drive was to keep Asomugha on Fitzgerald.
As I wrote earlier today, no one in the Eagles locker room had a clear explanation about what happened on the 37-yard completion. I've watched it multiple times on the TV tape, and I am really not sure. It's clear that Asomugha was not going to be on Fitzgerald on the play. He was lined up at right cornerback. Fitzgerald was initially the only receiver on the other side of the field. The Cardinals had three receivers in a bunch formation to Skelton's left. When Early Doucet motioned to the right, Hanson began to follow him, but you can see some gesturing between Hanson and Samuel.
There was obvious confusion as Samuel passed Fitzgerald off to Jarrett, who had little chance of keeping up with him.
Here's a quick breakdown of Fitzgerald's other six catches:
1. Fitzgerald lined up in the slot to Skelton's right against Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Rodgers-Cromartie actually had pretty good coverage, but Skelton floated one just over his head, and Fitzgerald reeled it in. What made matters worse was that Rodgers-Cromartie didn't immediately focus on tackling him, and an 18-yard gain turned into a 42-yard gain.
2. Initially, it looked like Rodgers-Cromartie (playing left cornerback) was going to play up on Fitzgerald, but when the Cardinals motioned Andre Roberts to his side, Rodgers-Cromartie backed off and the Eagles were in zone. It looked like Brian Rolle intended to hit Fitzgerald within 5 yards and disrupt his pattern, but he missed. Jamar Chaney, meanwhile, bit on Skelton's pump fake, and the middle of the field was wide open for the 10-yard score.
3. Fitzgerald lined up opposite Samuel, but the Eagles double-teamed him with Jarrett. Skelton threw it up anyway. Jarrett had excellent coverage and was looking back, but couldn't come down with the ball, instead just deflecting it. Fitzgerald showed excellent concentration and made the catch for 29 yards.
4. On 3rd-and-5, Jarrett, for some reason, got matched up with Fitzgerald as Samuel floated back. Jarrett initially stuck with him as he ran his route to the middle of the field, but the Eagles pressured Skelton, who rolled to his right. Fitzgerald followed him to that side and made the 10-yard grab, even though the throw was behind him.
5. Samuel was lined up on Fitzgerald one-on-one in off coverage down near the end zone. Hanson was in the slot to that side on Roberts. The Cardinals called a screen to Fitzgerald, but Hanson did an outstanding job of reading it. He got his right hand on the ball, tried to bat it down, but instead tipped it right to Fitzgerald. I know some of you hate when I mention luck is involved, but luck was clearly involved on the 7-yard touchdown.
6. The Cardinals lined up with three receivers to Skelton's right in a bunch formation. Fitzgerald found room between Samuel and Hanson for an 11-yard gain.
As you can see, there were a number of factors involved in Fitzgerald piling up seven catches for 146 yards, including five for 94 in the fourth quarter. Tipped passes, blown coverages, bad calls and great plays by him
But given the numbers I mentioned above, it's hard to figure out why Asomugha wasn't on him for more than 20 of the 46 pass plays, considering he was having so much success.