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Keenan Robinson emerging as key cog on the Giants' defense

Keenan Robinson signed with the New York Giants to get a fresh start after starting his career with a Washington Redskins franchise he considered to be dysfunctional.

 

In Week 1, it looked like Robinson wouldn't be a major part of the Giants' defensive game plan -- save for a few plays on passing downs. It turns out that was just a game-specific approach. In Week 2, Robinson took over in the middle of the defense, led the Giants' linebackers in snaps, and finished with the highest grade (among Giants linebackers) from Pro Football Focus.

Robinson, who signed a one-year "prove it" deal with the Giants this offseason, already feels like he made the best decision.

 

"I felt it was time for me to move on," Robinson said to reporters Tuesday. "I felt that wasn't the spot I wanted to be at the next four, five years. I felt there were better opportunities out there, and obviously I ended up in the right spot, right now. ... I'm loving it here."

 

You would be loving it too if you succeeded when your coaches gave you the opportunity to shut down Drew Brees and the Saints' dangerous short-to-intermediate passing game. That's exactly what Robinson did in Week 2. According to PFF, he earned the second-best pass coverage grade among all Giants defensive players in Week 2 -- behind budding shutdown cornerback Janoris Jenkins.

 

PFF charted Robinson having allowed just one reception underneath to Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks for a 5-yard gain -- only 1-yard came after the catch. He was only targeted in pass coverage despite being on the field -- mostly at middle linebacker -- for 52 snaps. By comparison, when Kelvin Sheppard rotated on the field at middle linebacker for 10 snaps, he was targeted 3-of-6 pass play he was on the field for. He also allowed two receptions for 18 yards -- with 14 yards coming after the catch.

 

Robinson has the size, speed, and athleticism to be an elite pass coverage linebacker, but he never realized his potential during his first three seasons in the NFL with the Redskins. He talked more about why the dysfunction among teammates and the franchise played a role, but another factor that hurt him was the Redskins' defensive scheme.

In Washington, Robinson played on the inside in a 3-4 base defense next to Perry Riley Jr., who consistently finished among the worst-graded inside linebackers per PFF over the past two seasons.

 

The Giants' 4-3 base defense under coordinator Steve Spagnuolo plays right into Robinson's strengths as a linebacker. His responsibilities are more consistent now on a play-to-play basis and he is able to fully patrol the middle of the field in pass coverage.

 

In the past, a team like the Saints would have kept the chains and clock moving while putting up points with ease by simply working the short-to-intermediate passing game over the middle. Robinson took that away from the future Hall of Fame quarterback and he was forced to throw outside the numbers and right into the Giants' newfound strength -- their defensive backs.

In Week 1, Sheppard played 58 snaps and Robinson was only on the field for 30. It's no coincidence that the Cowboys destroyed the Giants in the short-to-intermediate passing game. Slot wide receiver Cole Beasley and tight end Jason Witten chewed up the Giants for 17 receptions and 131 yards combined.

 

The Giants can't let that happen again. In Week 3, Robinson is an excellent bet to play a much larger role than Sheppard again vs. his former team. The Redskins have shown a tendency to abandon their failing run game early though the first two weeks. They also have one of the best underneath options in the passing game around the NFL -- tight end Jordan Reed.

How sweet it would be for Robinson to intercept his former teammate Kirk Cousins. And based on what we've seen from him in a uniform so far, don't be surprised if he does.

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Well, one of those two MLBs did not get the depth needed to help in coverage on the touchdown to Willie Snead, if they had, the ball wouldn't have been thrown. If I'm remembering right, it was definitely Kelvin Sheppard.

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