Asomugha could help defend third-down targets

Asomugha could help defend third-down targets
March 27, 2013, 9:45 am
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Nnamdi is someone we're considering, as well as a lot of other players. We had a great visit when he came in.
—49ers GM Trent Baalke

The 49ers' secondary was certainly not torched last season. The 49ers rarely let the opposition to get behind them.

The 49ers did not surrender a touchdown pass of more than 40 yards through 16 regular-season games.

In the playoffs, however, a couple of blown coverages resulted in touchdown passes of 46 yards against the Atlanta Falcons and 56 yards in the Super Bowl against the Baltimore Ravens.

Julio Jones took advantage of a mix-up between cornerback Tarell Brown and safety Dashon Goldson for a touchdown pass early in the NFC Championship game. And safety Donte Whitner bit hard on an underneath route, leaving Chris Culliver flat-footed on Jacoby Jones' long touchdown in the second quarter.

The 49ers' biggest problem in the postseason, however, came when their defensive backs were in position to make plays on the ball but could not finish.

[MAIOCCO: The potential competition at cornerback]

That's what Nnamdi Asomugha, who stands 6-foot-2, could bring to the table for the 49ers. Those who watched him last season in Philadelphia talked about his lack of recovery speed. But what the 49ers needed from their defensive backs in the postseason was the ability to go up and compete for the football. Asomugha is at his best when he gets his hands on receivers at the line of scrimmage in press coverage.

One of the most critical plays in the 49ers' 34-31 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII was a third-down conversion that came on a third-and-1 situation with seven minutes remaining.

Anquan Boldin was covered closely by left cornerback Carlos Rogers. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco made a back-shoulder throw. Rogers got his arm between Boldin's hands but Boldin overpowered Rogers and came down with a 15-yard reception. That play enabled the Ravens to keep their drive alive and score a field goal to bump their lead to 34-29 with four minutes remaining.

The 49ers do not have to worry about Boldin any more. He is now on the 49ers. But there might always be big, strong receivers or tight ends who will give the 49ers problems unless they add someone in the secondary who can physically match up. The 49ers lost their most physically imposing defensive back in free agency when Dashon Goldson signed a lucrative deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The 49ers' defense held the opposition to a 33-percent success rate on third downs in the regular season. In three postseason games, the opposition converted on 51.4 percent on third downs. Of course, a lot of credit goes to the quarterbacks they faced: Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan and Flacco. But that's the kind of gauntlet that defenses must face in the postseason.

Might Asomugha be that guy on third downs to go up and prevent those kinds of plays?

The 49ers and the New Orleans Saints have shown the most interest in Asomugha, who remains unsigned. Last week, general manager Trent Baalke, in an interview with CSNBayArea.com, intimated the ball is in the 49ers' court.

[REWIND: Asomugha remains option as Baalke builds 49ers' roster]

"Nnamdi is someone we're considering, as well as a lot of other players," Baalke said. "We had a great visit when he came in."

That seems to suggest the reason for the delay is more on the 49ers' end and not due to Asomugha's indecision. Asomugha visited the 49ers on March 14.