While most of the cornerback/receiver battle talk will focus on Randy Moss(notes) and Darrelle Revis(notes) today, there's another interesting matchup of top talents in the Bay Area when Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco(notes) goes up against Oakland cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha(notes). Ochocinco has been one of the prime instigators in the Bengals' resurgence this year, proving to be nearly impossible to cover on middle-to-long perimeter routes. The stats tell the tale -- Ocho's been targeted 80 times and has caught 46 balls, giving him a 58 percent catch rate consistent with other deep threats like Atlanta's Roddy White(notes) and Dallas' Miles Austin(notes).
He's helped Cincy's new power running game as much as he's benefited from it, as his ability to get downfield prevents defenses from committing too much to what's going on in the backfield. Chad caught 10 passes against the Bears a month ago, but he only grabbed seven passes combined against the Ravens and Steelers since, and the Steelers doubled him as much as possible. You'd think he'd go off against the pathetic Raiders, but there's the small matter of one Nnamdi Asomugha on the other side of the ball.
For those in the know, Asomugha's been regarded as perhaps the best at his position in the game -- about the closest we've seen to a (wait for it!) shutdown corner since Deion Sanders turned his side of the Cowboys' defensive backfield into a vacant lot in the mid-90s. For the 2008 season, Football Outsiders charted Asomugha as the primary target 32 times, which ranked 96th -- an incredible number for a cornerback who started 15 games. When Asomugha did allow a catch, opposing receivers gained an average of 0.7 yards after catch, making him the only DB with 15 or more targets to allow less than a yard after catch on average.
These two last faced off on December 10, 2006 in Cincinnati, and it'd probably be fair to say that Nnamdi won a split decision on points. Chad caught five balls for 101 yards (including a 42-yarder), but Nnamdi brought in two interceptions in a 27-10 Bengals win. When asked about his adversary this week, Chad told the media that Nnamdi doesn't trash-talk -- he just locks down.
I tried to frustrate him the last time he was here, and he doesn't say much. So, I don't know. But he is the best. I'm not going to sit here and play around about it. I've watched him on film. I actually got cut-ups on him. When I saw the schedule, I get the cut-ups on who I think I need to study. So, once I saw the schedule for the 2009 season ... I said, ‘Let me see what they did last year and see who they went against that was of quality' and just get a jump on them. I've studied him this year, and it's still the same: he's one of the best.
The Bengals are in a three-game stretch in which they face the Raiders, Browns, and Lions -- they could be 10-2 in the blink of an eye and talking seriously about first- or second-seed in the AFC, depending on that the Colts do in the next month. The Raiders are just looking for some measure of respectability (good luck with that) with new starting quarterback Bruce Gradkowski(notes), and Nnamdi could help by shutting Chad down ... and shutting him up! Chad, for his part, refused to send any gifts to the Raiders this week, citing concerns about shipping and handling fees. More likely, he doesn't want to put any bulletin-board material in Nnamdi's pocket.