Saints vs. Dolphins ESPN Monday Night Football 2013: Should Khiry Robinson Start for the Saints?

Robinson is as elusive as the Saints' running game. - Chris Graythen

After three games, the New Orleans Saints lead the league in average time of possession, at 34.26 min/game. A stat that is mind-boggling, when considering that so far the Saints rank 24th in rushing in the NFL. However, we may have caught a glimpse of the answer to New Orleans' running woes late last Sunday. Could Khiry Robinson be the next Saints starting running back?

After three games in the 2013 season, the New Orleans Saints rank number one in the National Football League in average time of possession per game. Indeed, despite being only 24th in the NFL in rushing with a paltry 85.7 yards/game, the Saints have had the ball an average of 34.26 min/game, 18 seconds ahead of the second place Dallas Cowboys (34.08 min/game).

This completely counterintuitive statistic leads me to wonder just how wide the time of possession margin would be for the Saints over the rest of the NFL had their running game been even only average.

Enter undrafted rookie running back Khiry Robinson. After getting a chance to see his first NFL regular season action late in the fourth quarter against the Cardinals, Robinson rushed four times for 38 yards. That's an outstanding average of 9.5 yards per carry.

The sample size for Robinson however, is awfully small. Words like "garbage time" or "tired defense" have been uttered in an attempt to explain the success he had against Arizona.

The truth, as often is the case, lies somewhere in the middle. Robinson played against Arizona's starters late on Sunday, which does not qualify as "garbage time." Admittedly, though, the Cardinals defense had been on the field for a long time when it faced the Saints rookie.

The one thing that is unbiased is the tape. As the film breakdown shows, although raw and still prone to making mistakes here and there, Khiry Robinson has the potential to eventually become the starting running back for the New Orleans Saints.

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First and 10 at the Saints 40-yard line (4-yard gain).

New Orleans lines up in the I formation. The design is a stretch play in which Robinson's best options are to try to find a running lane either in the C-gap (yellow line between right tackle Zach Strief and tight end Ben Watson) or in the B-gap (yellow line between right guard Tim Lelito and the right tackle). The red arrows show the blocking assignment for each member of the Saints line.

First-run-snap_medium
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Next Frame:

At the snap, the whole line flows to the right as designed and each offensive lineman has his blocks. If Robinson follows his fullback Jed Collins (dashed blue arrows), he has a chance to get to the second level. However, Robinson quickly gives up on the blocking and cuts back between the left guard and the left tackle (yellow arrow)

First-run-zone_medium
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Next Frame:

Had Robinson quickly followed his blockers, the Saints would have had the blocking advantage on the right side. He now has no choice but to go left as Ben Grubbs (blue arrow), the Saints left guard, has allowed penetration by Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby (red arrow).

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Next Frame:

Unfortunately, the Saints are in numerical inferiority on the left side with only left tackle Charles Brown to help against three Cardinals defenders.

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Next Frame:

Despite Brown's help (blue arrow) Robinson is tackled and limited to a 4-yard gain.

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Second and 6 at the Saints 44-yard line (11-yard gain).

The next play design is a simple dive run intended to go in the A-gap to the left of the center. The play sequence is important, as the Saints line up with the exact same unbalanced formation to the right as in the previous play. However, this time, they run to the weak side, on the left.

Second-run-snap_medium
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Next Frame:

As Robinson takes the handoff, both the Saints left guard and center (yellow arrows) have their respective defender blocked (red arrows). Saints fullback Jed Collins shoots the gap to take on linebacker Dansby (#56) and open the way for his running back. New Orleans adds a little wrinkle to the play as wide receiver Marques Colston runs a fake reverse to the right in order to draw the right cornerback away from the run play.

Second-run-handoff_medium
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Next Frame:

Colston fake reverse handoff works wonders in clearing the way for Robinson.

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Next Frame:

As is often the case in the NFL, the large running lane closes in a hurry and Robinson absorbs the contact from the Cardinals defenders (red arrows).

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Next Frame:

To the delight of Saints fans, Robinson breaks the linebackers tackles and emerges from the scrum. He now has a one on one matchup with Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu. If he beats the safety, the play is likely to result in a touchdown for New Orleans.

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Next Frame:

Robinson's lack of shiftiness and Mathieu's sure-tackling ability allows the much smaller safety to limit the play to an 11-yard gain.

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First and 10 at the Cardinals 45-yard line (21-yard gain).

Once again, the design of the play is cleverly aimed at confusing the defense. This time, the Saints shift their unbalanced offensive line to the left (which would suggest they're running to the left). Fullback Jed Collins also blocks into the A-gap to the left. However, the run is designed to go into the A-gap to the right.

Third-run-snap_medium
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Next Frame:

At the handoff, New Orleans' right tackle, right guard and center (yellow arrows) all have handled their block perfectly (red arrows). As Robinson darts to the right, wide receiver Marques Colston (blue arrow) runs a fake reverse to the left, further opening up the right side by dragging the Cardinals left cornerback with him.

Third-run-handoff_medium
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Next Frame:

It's Honeybadger meets Khiry: part II

Third-run-collision_course_medium
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Next Frame:

Robinson says: "fool me once, shame on you."

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Next Frame:

"But there ain't gon' be no shame on me, ‘cause you ain't foolin' me twice"

Third-run-now_you_dont_medium
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Next Frame:

As he runs in the open field, Robinson has one more decision to make. With wide receiver Kenny Stills blocking downfield (blue arrow) if he goes outside, he has a chance to extend his run. On the inside, there is a horde of Cardinals defenders bearing down on him.

Third-run-open_field_medium
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Next Frame:

He makes the wrong choice.

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Next Frame:

He is tackled at the Arizona 24-yard line after an outstanding 21-yard run that could have been even longer.

Third-run-tackle_medium

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