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InFocus: Change In CB Philosophy

Posted Sep 22, 2012

InFocus

Watching this Eagles defense dominate both the Browns and Ravens during the first two weeks of this season makes 2011 feel like a long, long time ago.

Although the hot topic was the usage of the wide-nine technique, pundits also pointed to Asante Samuel as an issue. Strictly a cover corner, Samuel was locked into the left corner position, which limited defensive coordinator Juan Castillo’s flexibility with his secondary. Nnamdi Asomugha, for the most part, was stuck on the right side. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, meanwhile, was the primary slot corner – a spot he was unfamiliar with.

This past offseason, the Eagles shipped Asante Samuel to Atlanta. This allowed Rodgers-Cromartie to move outside. The team filled the vacant slot corner job with rookie Brandon Boykin.

Today, we’ll take a lot at Castillo’s usage of each player this season and contrast it to what we saw in 2011.

Nnamdi Asomugha

In 2011, Asomugha was at cornerback on 82 percent of his snaps. He was at safety the other 18 percent. He lined up on the left side just 12 percent of the time, including a total of only six snaps wide left. On the other hand, he was on the right side of the defense for the other 88 percent, including 81 percent wide to the right.

After one week of play in 2012, that “more flexibility” concept we discussed earlier appeared to go right out the window. Asomugha lined up at right corner on 56 (90 percent) of his snaps. Although the Browns were moving their wide receivers all over the field, Asomugha did not chase anyone around, seeing only six snaps at safety and none on the left side. He covered Josh Gordon on 33 plays, Greg Little on 11, Mohamed Massaquoi on six, Travis Benjamin on four and Josh Cribbs just once.

Week 2, however, told a different story. Asomugha was at right corner on 34 snaps (49 percent). He spent 22 plays at left corner, 10 in the left slot and four in the right slot. He did not play any safety vs. Baltimore.

So, why the change?

Looking at the splits, it’s pretty clear that the personnel on the other side of the field had a lot to do with it. Asomugha covered Anquan Boldin on 32 plays, Jacoby Jones 22, Tandon Doss nine, and - most importantly - Torrey Smith only four.

The Eagles did not need to have Asomugha chase Little or Gordon around the field, but they did have a gameplan in mind for slowing Boldin and Smith. That leads to the team’s No. 2 corner.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

Last season, Rodgers-Cromartie lined up in the slot on 38 percent of his snaps, with the snaps split almost exactly even between the left and right side. He was wide left on 36 percent of his snaps and wide to the right one-quarter of the time.

More important is the splits of the man he replaced. Asante Samuel was in the slot on only 23 (three percent) of his snaps during the 2011 season. He lined up wide right on only two snaps. The rest (or 96 percent) came wide left.

In Week 1, Rodgers-Cromartie was at left corner on 90 percent of his snaps. That’s lower than we would’ve expected from Samuel, but still a pretty high number. He was at safety for just three snaps, in the slot on one play and at right corner twice. Like Asomugha, he didn’t chase one wide receiver in particular.

Not coincidentally, the tables turned in Week 2. Rodgers-Cromartie was wide left 59 percent of the time, wide right on one-third of his snaps, at safety just one play and in the slot on only four occasions.

It was clear what Juan Castillo was trying to do here - match Rodgers-Cromartie up with the Ravens’ best (and quickest) receiver. He lined up across from Torrey Smith 55 times. That’s compared to Anquan Boldin three times and Jacoby Jones twice. The experiment was a success, as Smith caught only two of five targets for 51 yards.

Brandon Boykin

A strong Training Camp and preseason from Boykin allowed the team to part ways with veteran Joselio Hanson. Boykin wasn’t just stealing Hanson’s roster spot either - he was taking on his projected role as the team’s primary slot man. Boykin handled 41 snaps in Week 1 and 33 in Week 2 - respectable totals for a slot corner. Of those 74 snaps, all but one saw Boykin line up in the slot. The other one was at safety. Consider that in Week 2, Boykin was tasked with covering Anquan Boldin on 29 snaps. That’s no easy task. He fared well, holding Boldin to no catches on two targets, one of which included a pass deflection.

The team’s other two corners, Brandon Hughes and Curtis Marsh, have played sparingly so far this season. Hughes has played 16 snaps (eight outside, eight in the slot) and Marsh has handled only one. Marsh was inactive last week due to a hamstring injury.

It’s clear that Juan Castillo now has, and is taking advantage of, a more versatile group of cornerbacks. No longer are the starters pinned to one side of the field. We’ve already seen that each corner’s role will change based on what the opposition is bringing to the table. The Eagles’ defense is showing signs of major improvement through two weeks this season and the new-look secondary is one of the key reasons why.

Mike Clay, @MikeClayNFL on Twitter, is the Director and Managing Editor at Pro Football Focus Fantasy. He also works as an NFL Writer for NBC's Rotoworld.com.

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