Nnamdi Who?: Unknowns and Veterans Overshadowing at CB

By Evan Benton

Easily the most sought-after free agent element in the tumultuous postseason, Oakland Raiders’ divinely skilled cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles for a five-year, $60 million deal and heralded what was to be a new dawn for the green and black birds.

Now currently 4-7 and tied with the troubled Washington Redskins for bottom-feeding duty in the always competitive NFC East, the Eagles have lost a hold on their preseason hopes.  Starting quarterback Michael Vick left Week 10’s home game against the Arizona Cardinals with more than a few broken ribs, and thus sat out these last two games.  In his stead, Vince Young resurfaced and led his team to a stomp over the much-hated New York Giants last week.  This week, he played very well, but not well enough to hamper perennially perfect New England, who beat them 38-20.

In his brief stint as an Eagle, Asomugha has accrued three interceptions and 21 total tackles.  In comparison, Asante Samuel has added to his already stellar resume as an Eagle with two picks – one for a touchdown – along with 27 total tackles in his fourth year under coach Andy Reid.

Asomugha is not exactly underperforming for his new team, but for a franchise earlier this season dubbed “The Dream Team”, anything but a 10-interception season wouldn’t be good enough for its rabid, nationwide-despised fan base.  In reality, everyone supporting the Philadelphia Eagles want wins, not INTS, to be the stats that really matter.  And while Asomugha and Samuel have become – and will continue to represent – a terrible dual threat for any opposing quarterback, they are not the game changers that some unfairly expected them to be.

The cornerback position is an interesting one, for players and fans.  The fastest players on defense are paid to follow, track, and prevent the fastest players on offense.  Or, if we are to quote Samuel, who once said “They don’t pay me enough to tackle”, the obvious reason teams shill out millions for them and draft them high (or relatively, anyway) is for their heart-stopping, game-changing penchant for interceptions.

No other position on defense creates more turnovers, pure a simple.  Cornerbacks can change games, no mistake.  It happens often.  But rarely can one, even Nnamdi Asomugha, change a season; a team.  Great cornerbacks that rise to the occasion can only do one thing: make a good team even better.

Look at ageless wonder Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams, important facets of the undefeated Green Bay Packers’ big-time defense.  Woodson is second in the NFL right now in terms of interceptions, with six on the season.  Williams adds four, and together they’ve combined for 75 total tackles.  Would the Packers still have a winning record without these two corners this season? Sure.  Would they be a resounding, peerless 11-0?  Doubtful.

The number one pick-master this season comes as perhaps as a surprise – four-year man Kyle Arrington of the Patriots, who leads all defenses with a whopping seven interceptions.  His 46 total tackles as well as 12 total pass deflections  – all in just nine games started in 2011 – has shown his success at the position and his dominance against his opposition.  At 5’10” and 196 pounds, Arrington is often up against big wideouts  that are used to manhandling secondaries.  He’s shown his own worth, and his explosive lockdown ability has helped balloon New England to a 8-3 record.

His second year with the Patriots led to 60 total yards and just one interception, but the lone pick led to a touchdown.  The only one of his short career.  In time, it’s possible that the 25-year old Arrington may fill in the shoes for Samuel, who left for his current home in 2008.

Carlos Rogers, recent import from Washington to the Bay Area, has helped an already stellar San Francisco defense immensely with five interceptions, one of them a pick six.  The 49ers wouldn’t be 9-2 without their impressive defense, and Rogers is an excellent addition to it.

Another offseason pick-up of note was Houston’s decision to snag Cincinnati Bengals alum Johnathan Joseph, who along with Leon Hall – probably the best cornerback after Asomugha of the last five years – were members of one of the most organized secondaries on one of the NFL’s most disorganized teams for years.  Joseph gives the upstart Texans the experienced, dependable cornerback they need , and his four interceptions and one forced fumble prove he’s giving the AFC South-leaders their money’s worth.

Like Philadelphia, Kansas City also has a talented secondary that, on its own, is wildly impressive, but hasn’t alone added to wins.  Brandon Flowers, all 5’9″, 185-pounds of him, is one of the fastest and most aware cornerbacks playing on any team.  Undersized constantly in comparison to who he’s covering, the former Hokie has four picks this year, a touchdown, 36 total tackles and is the defensive leader of the league in pass deflections with 21.

Every team has their cornerbacks, but some are lucky enough to have one that sometimes stands out above the rest of the team.  And the really lucky ones have a tandem.

And sometimes, they change games.  All one has to do is remember Tracy Porter’s immortal pick of Peyton Manning in the waning moments of Super Bowl XLIV, the straw that broke the horse’s back and the epitome of game changer.  More recently was DeAngelo Hall’s four interceptions of Jay Cutler last season, defensive efforts by a cornerback that neutered Chicago’s offense and gave the Redskins the edge in a close game.

But more often than not, they don’t.  Even the best ones merely do their jobs, do them well, and can only keep the opposing offense in check and hope their own lights the field up.

Even Asomugha, while he was earning his reputation as the decade’s best cornerback, could do nothing to help his team, the Oakland Raiders, get a winning season.  The defensive phenom may have owned the entire side of a field for entire games at a time, but he has no ring to sweeten the pot of his career.

In the next few years, Asomugha’s presence as an Eagle will undoubtedly provide his team with wins and playoff appearances.  Now, part of a disorganized program without a real plan of action or identity, he’s doing all he can, and that should be enough.

In the meantime, other, lesser known players like Arrington are bonafide league leaders on teams poised to visit the postseason on the backs of underrated talent.

In a league where giant runs and rainbow-arc bombs dominate highlight reels, the devoted professional at the cornerback position often goes unheralded.

But not unnoticed.

Images courtesy of insidetheiggles.com, and www2.ljworld.com, respectively.


About andreirublev

Recent GMU graduate who enjoys film, novels, sports and several more specific and embarassing interests (think Star Wars..)

Posted on November 29, 2011, in Commentary, Features and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.


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