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The Shutdown Effect

Cornerbacks like Asomugha, DRC strive to lock up receivers


Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (left) is trying to reach the shutdown status like that of Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.

It's stereotyping, but that didn't stop Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie from nodding over across the locker room at Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston and calling them "prima donnas."

A gross generalization for sure, but the topic of shutdown cornerbacks had been brought up, and DRC didn't hesitate to note that wide receivers like his teammates' ilk have all the rules in their favor so "you really can't put your hands on them, touch them or nothing."

Not very nice, since Fitzgerald had just praised DRC a little while earlier as a top-notch corner that helped when it came to matching up with Raiders Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha this weekend.

"(Nnamdi) is one of the premier corners, one of the best in the business," Fitzgerald had said. "I have a great corner in DRC I get to go against in training camp and every day, and he is preparing me to go against (Nnamdi) and other premier guys in the league."

The notion of a shutdown corner still exists, even in a league built for every team's passing fancy. Such a corner may toil in relative obscurity, as Asomugha has in Oakland while the Raiders have wallowed in double-digit loss seasons. Some hang out on Revis Island. Some are shutdowns-in-training, like DRC.

But it is a crucial role that, while impossible to succeed on its own, can change the dynamic of a defense.

"There are a lot of good corners in this league and you have to be aware of those guys because, as we have seen Dominique do a few times, he can make that play to change the course of a game," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "There are guys who are successful in man-to-man coverage, but some of that onus falls on the team too. I don't care who you are, if you don't put pressure on the quarterback and you have to cover him all day, he's going to get open."

How the Cards deal with Asomugha – or more specifically, how Fitzgerald does – will be one of the keys to Sunday. Asomugha builds off his physical talent with a study ethic few can match, as the Cal Berkeley product learns the tendencies of the opposing offense and their top wideouts.

That's what makes Asomugha so tough, Fitzgerald said. And why Rodgers-Cromartie wisely pays attention to such players.

"Anytime you got a guy like Nnamdi or when we had (the Redskins') DeAngelo Hall on the other side, I watch them guys and watch how they carry themselves, how they act against the run, how they play the ball," DRC said. "Just to see how I need to pick up my game and become an elite corner."

Or what others might call a shutdown corner.

The rules do make it harder to be such a "beast," as Cardinals quarterback Derek Anderson called Asomugha. But it's relative, Asomugha said. The rules say defensive backs can't get physical, so the cornerbacks who can cover the best without being physical are shutdown guys.

If the rules are changed so that cornerbacks can't even look at receivers, Asomugha added, "then the shutdown corner becomes the guy who does it best without looking at the guy."

Stats don't always dictate the best cornerbacks, because teams avoid throwing it their way. Of course, that creates a whole different issue, which is staying involved mentally.

It's an issue DRC was battling (although he insists he is past it), although to move to elite status, it can't be a distraction.

"Every snap, I'm like, 'OK, this is the one,' " Asomugha said. "I never go into a play thinking this one is not coming to me. I think that's helped me because I talk to guys and they tell me the great thing is when the ball doesn't go your way you are still in great position."

That way, even if the so-called "prima donnas" have the rules on their side, a shutdown corner – or a player trying to be one -- can do the job.

"Even with the rules, I have a good chance of covering my guy," Rodgers-Cromartie said.

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