Atlanta Falcons cornerback was signed as a free agent for the 2010 season from the Houston Texans. He arrived in Atlanta to a lot of fanfare. At the time, Atlanta’s defense was very stout up front, and really only struggled greatly in the secondary.
It’s safe to say that in Robinson’s first two seasons, he didn’t live up to his billing. He got consistently beaten deep by the pass, and really couldn’t defend a receiver to save his life. He was stout against the run, and wasn’t afraid to make big hits, but some of his big hits also garnered personal foul penalties. So really, in 2010-11, he was a cornerback who played the run really well. That was all. And he gave up the big play often.
Something with Robinson has clicked in 2012. He is playing the pass extremely well. He is playing deep enough coverage to not let the receiver easily beat him. He’s playing the receiver well, and also playing the ball in the air and contesting passes. When the receiver does make the catch, he doesn’t allow any yards after the catch. The second part of doing that is being able to play down hill and get after the ball carrier if the play ends up being a run. He’s playing the pass first, and coming downhill to play the run when he needs to. And really, isn’t that exactly what a defensive back is on the field to do. The only other thing that hasn’t changed is his ability to deliver jarring hits.
There are three reasons for his change in play.
1. The scheme of Mike Nolan. Rather than playing a shallow zone and looking foolish when a receiver breaks right behind him for a big gain, Nolan’s scheme mixes up his responsibilities, allowing him to play a little deeper, and do several different things. He even recorded a half a sack against the Redskins. A lot of opportunities to keep the receiver in front of him, and come up to play the run. He’s finally in a position to make plays.
2. The great play of William Moore & Thomas DeCoud. Both Moore and DeCoud flashed potential in their first few seasons in Atlanta, Moore as more of a hard hitting strong-safety, and DeCoud as a ball-hawking free-safety. Until this season, they never consistently showed great potential. However this season, they are playing very good in deep half coverage of the field as well as over the middle. By helping the Atlanta defensive responsibilities deep, the corners can do their own jobs and play their positions confidently. Everyone is confident the safety duo will do their jobs, so the rest of the defense wants to hold up their end of the bargain.
3. The arrival of Asante Samuel. Perhaps Robinson didn’t know exactly how to play zone coverage. He certainly didn’t look good in Cover-2 looks under former DC Brian Van Gorder. But if there’s a player who knows how to play zone coverage, it’s Asante Samuel. He has played all manner of zones at a high level for many years in the NFL. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Samuel’s veteran leadership and knowledge of the game has rubbed off on his peer Asante Samuel.
Whatever the reasons, Robinson is playing much better in 2012 than his first two seasons with the Falcons. I didn’t think I’d ever say this, but he’s a major reason the defense has been successful this year.