Ironically, in their 27-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals there was the feeling the Raiders may have gotten away from what they do best on defense.
Oakland's style has been consistent since the start of the season. It also happens to be the defense favored by owner Al Davis -- play tight, pressing man-to-man coverage with talented cornerbacks and create pressure with a four-man rush and minimal blitzing.
He had two interceptions against Cincinnati, giving him seven for the season. A fourth-year player out of Cal, Asomugha had no interceptions coming into the season. Washington didn't have any interceptions as a rookie in 2005, but added his fourth against Cincinnati.
With the Raiders' pass defense ranked No. 1 in terms of fewest yards allowed (143.0) coming into the game, the battle lines were drawn. It would be Asomugha and Washington vs. Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, a duo as dangerous as any because quarterback Carson Palmer is such a gifted passer.
Except it was the Raiders, and not the Bengals, who changed their stripes. Rather than go in a full-on, man-to-man, the Raiders mixed-and-matched with man-to-man and zone defense.
How much man-to-man did they play?
"They played 30 percent man-to-man," Bengals receiver Chad Johnson said. "They found that there would be no success in covering No. 84 (Houshmandzadeh), 85 (Johnson) or 15 (Chris Henry) with man-to-man coverage. There were double teams and Cover 2."
Coach Art Shell wouldn't validate the 30 percent figure but defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said the Raiders had indeed changed things up.
"We had a mixture of zone, three-deep and two-deep along with our man coverage schemes," Shell said. "When you play against a good football team you've got to change things up a little bit. We used some (zone), probably a little more than we have in the past."
While Asomugha looked comfortable enough, the rest of the pass defense struggled. Washington was victimized repeatedly. Slot corner Tyrone Poole struggled.
"We normally jump in people's faces and say, 'Come get us,'" Sapp said. "We come to you."
And the Bengals devised ways to get mismatches, getting Houshmandzadeh lined up in such a way that Oakland's defensive answer was strong side linebacker Sam Williams.
Palmer had a field day, completing 20 of 28 passes with three interceptions and a pair of touchdowns. The Bengals racked up 28 first downs in all.
One of the keys to making Oakland's defense work has been the work of left end Derrick Burgess, among the league-leaders coming in with 10 sacks. He was essentially swallowed whole by Cincinnati right tackle Willie Anderson and was a non-factor.
Not that it would have mattered, considering how fast Palmer was releasing the ball.
"I mean, I picked that guard clean two times, clean as a whistle. And I turn the corner and Carson is letting it go," defensive tackle Warren Sapp said.
After intercepting two more passes against Cincinnati, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha has seven for the season. The last Raider to get eight in a season was free safety Rod Woodson in 2002. Ronnie Lott, a strong safety in his two seasons as a Raider, had eight in 1991 and free safety Vann McElroy had eight in 1983.
The last Oakland cornerback in the Al Davis era to have seven interceptions was Terry McDaniel in 1994. The only Oakland cornerback to have more than seven was Lester Hayes, with 13 in 1980.
Asomugha found only a small bit of consolation in his performance after a one-sided loss.
"You get pats on the back," Asomugha said. "But to get blown out takes away from it."
Cincinnati wide receiver Chad Johnson came away a believer.
"He's good because he's rare," Johnson said. "Where do you find a 6-2, 6-3 corner that can run and cover and play man-to-man."
Washington, the Raiders' other starting cornerback, was as bad as Asomugha was good. By unofficial count, he was beaten for eight completions and 112 yards by Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, with Houshmandzadeh getting him for a 20-yard touchdown.
"I didn't hold up my end of the bargain," Washington said. "I'm a much better player than I showed. That possibly was my worst performance on any level."