There's a logical way to cover superstar receiver Larry Fitzgerald: in man coverage, with safety help. But the Eagles outsmarted themselves on Sunday. According to Tim McManus, defensive backs coach Todd Bowles decided that such tactics were too predictable. So he went with something that was guaranteed to not work. Time to break down this down using the All-22 coaches film.
Let's start with the first three Cardinals pass plays, each of which went for a first down. In the first one, Fitzgerald lines up to the bottom. To call him a decoy would probably be generous. What we're really looking at is another classic example of "Putting Nnamdi Asomugha in a zone."
Pre-snap alignment. Asomugha (in red) to drop into zone.
With the Eagles in Cover 3, Nnamdi drops way back, leaving space open.
Next play. This time we're going to Fitzgerald. He's in the slot, opposite Brandon Boykin. The post route by the tight end inside of him is going to draw Mychal Kendricks and Nate Allen away, leaving a one-on-one matchup against the rookie corner.
Easy pitch-and-catch. Then Fitz breaks Boykin's tackle attempt.
Two plays later: Fitzgerald is a decoy again. He comes across the formation pre-snap, pulling the linebackers to his side.
The tight end to the left runs a pick on Kendricks, leaving the RB open in the flat.
Later in the game, here's another time the Cardinals isolate Fitzgerald on Boykin:
Easy throw to the outside.
The Cardinals kept picking on Boykin, even when he didn't line up across from Fitzgerald:
Eagles are in Cover 2. Fitz runs a slant away from Nnamdi.
Nnamdi stays outside, Boykin drawn to slot receiver. Easy catch and run for Fitz.
To be fair to Boykin, I doubt Asomugha was supposed to let Fitzgerald run clean to the inside on that route.
One of the things you notice with Asomugha is that he's rarely the cause of major coverage breakdowns. However, he doesn't seem particularly interested in working extra hard to cover up other defenders' mistakes either -- whether it's on this play, where he doesn't even try to run inside to tackle Fitz, or on the touchdown catch (See Chris Brown's thorough examination of that one). Asomugha is a limited player these days, and sometimes it looks like he would rather make sure everyone knows it's not his fault than actually go 110 percent to make up for his own deficiencies.
In other, non-Fitzgerald news, it would be nice if the defense didn't miss tackles like it's 2011. Yes, I know this play was called back, but still:
1. DeMeco Ryans
2 & 3. Asomugha and Kurt Coleman
Go DRC! It's only a 79-yard gain.