Asomugha faces test against Steelers

Snickers or Milky Way?

This was the question posed by a Pittsburgh Steelers beat reporter to Antonio Brown after the wide receiver referred to Philadelphia Eagles rookie nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin as a “candy bar” ready to get eaten up during Sunday’s matchup (1 p.m. ET, FOX).

Brown jokingly answered “Snickers” as fellow Steelers wideout Mike Wallace laughed along.

Brown wasn’t as jovial with the media Thursday after his comments to the Washington (Penn.) Observer-Reporter had generated national headlines and bulletin-board material for the Eagles. But while the Steelers are clearly targeting Boykin, he isn’t the only defensive back on which Pittsburgh’s potent passing attack may feast.

During his eight seasons with the Oakland Raiders, Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha was considered such a dominant press-coverage cornerback that teams rarely threw in his direction. Not anymore.

Since joining the Eagles as a free agent in 2011, Asomugha hasn’t dominated in a fashion one would expect after signing an eight-year, $60 million contract. Fellow cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is the one who has gotten assigned to blanket the opponent’s top wide receiver so far this season.

The New York Giants showed such disregard for Asomguha’s reputation that he was targeted five times in the fourth quarter overall, including thrice on their final drive in a 19-17 loss. As much as Brown singled out Boykin, there’s no reason to think the Steelers will shy from testing Asomugha either.

This isn’t to say Asomugha has become a sieve at age 31. He performed admirably in the Giants win after getting poked in the eye during the second quarter. Asomugha also drew an offensive pass interference penalty on Giants wide receiver Ramses Barden in the final seconds, forcing Lawrence Tynes into a 54-yard field goal that fell short.

Eagles head coach Andy Reid and defensive coordinator Juan Castillo spoke in defense of Asomugha this week. Both pointed out cornerbacks left “on an island” in single coverage like Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie when the Eagles stick eight defenders in the box are occasionally going to get beat. Reid also praised Asomugha for his toughness in returning to play against New York.

“Listen, we all have things we have to work on,” Reid told Eagles media. “He’s no exception and he has that mentality to do that.”

The Steelers are working on adding more balance to an offense that has averaged just 65 rushing yards a game without their injured starting running back. Rashard Mendenhall (knee) is expected to make his season debut against the Eagles, which should help create even more opportunities for one of the NFL’s hottest receiving duos.

Brown (18 catches for 240 yards), Wallace (17-234) and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (eight touchdowns, one interception and 68.3 completion percentage) are flourishing in the system installed by new offensive coordinator Todd Haley that places a greater emphasis on shorter routes.

“It allows guys to make runs after the catch,” Brown told “You get the ball in our hands fast, it allows us to make moves and get on the perimeter.”

As for the challenge Asomugha provides, Brown said, “He’s big and he’s physical on the jam (off the line of scrimmage). I’m definitely looking forward to the matchup.”