Back in training camp, New York Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara said his goal going into the season was for his coaches to trust him enough to allow him to "spilt the field" with fellow starter Corey Webster instead of assigning Webster to shadow the opponent's best wide receiver all game. Amukamara believed he'd worked hard enough and played well enough to earn that.
Well, obviously things have not gone as planned for the Giants this year anywhere, including in the secondary, and Amukamara has, by necessity, advanced even further than he'd hoped. Webster got hurt and barely played, elevating Amukamara to the role of best cornerback on the team by default if nothing else. They also lost backup Aaron Ross to injury, didn't have Jayron Hosley for much of the year and have preferred to use Terrell Thomas and his rebuilt knee in the slot rather than on the outside. Even so, Amukamara had not yet been given Webster's old assignment of covering the opponent's top wide receiver no matter where he lined up.
Until Sunday, when the Giants decided to put him on the best wide receiver in the league, Detroit's Calvin Johnson. Apparently not wanting to risk ending up with 5-foot-8 Trumaine McBride on the 6-foot-5 Johnson, the Giants instead told Amukamara to follow Johnson wherever he went unless he lined up in the slot, in which case a safety would cover him. Amukamara clearly found the assignment exhilarating.
"You do feel special when you get the assignment to match up against the receiver, and everyone knows that Megatron is all-world," Amukamara said. "So I had my hands full when he was in."
He wasn't in all the time. Johnson had a knee injury and was a game-time decision to play, and he spent an unusual amount of time on the sideline. When Johnson was in the game, Amukamara seemed to handle him fine, though he did acknowledge it was a bit hectic trying to identify where he was and not only get there but make sure McBride took his place on the other side. At one point, linebacker Jon Beason was lined up over Johnson. Thankfully for Amukamara, they noticed before it was too late. That would have been what you call a mismatch.
"I told him, 'You take him. That's your job,'" Beason said on his way out of the locker room.
May seem like a small thing, but the fact that the Giants decided to try using Amukamara the way they liked to use Webster -- and did so against the most challenging guy in the league -- indicates a possibility that Amukamara could be advancing into such a role as he and the Giants move into the future. The coaches will make a detailed evaluation of the way Amukamara handled the assignment before giving it to him again. But to the extent that the Giants can draw future-focused conclusions from these final weeks of the season, this is the kind of individual performance at which they'll be looking closely.