"Patrick Robinson sucks! PRob needs to go! Robinson is costing us games every time he plays!" These are the statements being heard on blog sites, in chat rooms, and at water cooler/cigarette breaks throughout Who Dat Nation. The PRoblem isn't solely that Robinson is not performing well so the Saints are losing. There are other issues from the coaching staff on down to the last man on the bench. But I'm not here to discuss that! Today I will attempt to shed some light on the subject of what a CB can do and should do on a given play. So sit back and relax as we review some of the basic techniques in use by defensive backs at every level.
A good CB will have an arsenal of techniques that is loaded with counters to whatever the opposing wide receiver is attempting to do. His list of moves should also include a healthy amount of techniques that force a WR to do what the CB wants him to do. The best CBs throughout the history of the game have mastered the proper techniques, educated themselves on when to employ each technique, and studied their opponent's tendencies to gain an edge come game-day. Oh yeah, one other factor for the greats - they are risk takers, willing to bet the house that he knows what's coming on the play.
This particular article is sparked by the "Great PRob Debate", so he'll be our subject. The common perception of Robinson is that he just sucks. That doesn't explain why some fans make that statement with nothing in particular to point to as the root cause of his failure at times. No, it's much easier to say "Hey, the wide receiver caught the pass, PRob blew it again!" That ain't good enough!
Okay, CBs have a tough job play, after play, after play because there are minute details that make a difference between solid coverage and getting roasted. Here is a list of a few techniques that CBs may employ to do their job with as little trouble as possible: press man, inside technique, jamming at the line, and the bail technique.
Press Man - In press man coverage, a CB will position himself directly in front of a WR and appear to be preparing to jam him upon release. Instead of being physical, the CB only makes contact with the WR while routing him in a certain direction with light contact. The CB closely follows the WR through the duration of the play.
Inside Technique - The CB positions himself on the inside shoulder of the WR and maintains his placement to protect any inside routes. This is generally applied in situations where a team is partial to slants and crossing routes to pick up quick first downs or touchdowns. The disadvantage here is that the outside routes and double moves will burn a CB with regularity.
Jamming - This technique is the most commonly deployed in NFL defenses and especially aggressive defenses. With the transition to taller and heavier CBs to combat big, physical WRs, the jam is alive and well and very effective in breaking up timing by jarring the WR from his intended route. This engagement can occur within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage and can prove to be disruptive when performed properly. If the jam is weak or the CBs footwork is poor, the WR will have him at his mercy quickly and a big play is bound to be the result.
Bail - This technique is predicated on fast, agile CBs who can recover and make a play while changing directions quickly. When the play starts, the CB usually positions himself in a press or slightly off position (3-5 yards). Just before the snap or right at the snap, he opens his hips to face the inside of the of the field and runs straight down the field. He must feel where the WR is keep track of him without sight or touching him. The drawback here is again, the outside is vulnerable because the CB is unable to fully track the WR. Underneath routes, comebacks, and corner routes slay this technique!
We've seen this with Robinson time and time again. Just before the play starts, he bails away from the LOS and is out of position as the WR comes of the line and starts his route. The biggest advantage a CB can have is his back pedal which will allow him to survey the play quickly and react to the route. Because Robinson is in a bail technique, he is moving himself from prime position to diagnose and react. By positioning himself at a depth of 8-10 yards, Robinson has conceded quick slants, quick outs, square ins, comebacks, curls, and especially double moves. The double move is the most deadly because it results in the biggest play.
Picture Robinson already 8 yards off and bailing, the WR takes big strides inside, selling his intention to run a post. Now, just as Robinson commits his body to this route, the WR quickly banks outside (post corner route) and Robinson has to flip his position completely to get to the receiver AND then turn his head to make a legal play on the ball. This is where he fails miserably - when the WR banks back outside, Robinson has to spin his body instead of just coming out of a back pedal to react to the route. The bail is killing Robinson on a lot of plays, but it's not because he can't do something different, he just won't. The coaches have got to see this as the primary issue.
CB 101 - Always know where the WR is and gauge how quickly you can get in position to make a play.
As a former CB at various levels and later a football coach, I believe his issue is repairable. I also believe that the Saints DB coach is incapable of training DBs to be more than they are when he gets them, some even regress like Malcolm Jenkins. (Maybe Duane Akina from UT is ready to move to the big leagues?) One concern I have for 2014 Patrick Robinson is that he is afraid to back pedal fully on his bad leg because he was actually in a back pedal when his injury occurred last season. If he could commit to a back-pedal/break technique from a press position, he could limit the underneath plays that really hurt his game. In addition, coming out of a back pedal through his break, his eyes can absorb the location of the WR and the ball. This is how many CBs pick of passes almost routinely or at the very least accumulate a high amount of pass break ups. The moral of the story is to keep the WR in your sights and the play within reach. Even if he lined up at a standard 3 yard depth and tried to jam occasionally, he is fast enough to make up for it if the jam is bad.
Finally we come to Robinson in zone coverage! This type of coverage is generally blown when two or more players lose communication. So before blame is laid at one player's feet, you must observe the actions of the players around him. A common problem with zone coverage is the introduction of new players to the unit. As expected, there is a need for the players to work together to determine how each manages different coverages. Zones are basically governed by hand-offs which require familiarity to know the depth at which a hand-off will take place.
Example - Base cover 2 defense will give you 2 safeties who will have responsibility for a deep half each. Their depth is most often 12-15 yards from the LOS, so they will be handed receivers by CBs and LBs in general. The CBs will have responsibility for areas between 6-12 yards and outside the hashes. The LBs will cover from the LOS to about 8-10 yards depth. Judging by the offset in the depths, you would expect there to be holes and there will be by design. These windows are the hand-off zones where players will release responsibility for a receiver to the deeper player. The small windows that appear are easily overcome through natural player movement, however, playing to deep (week 1 versus Atlanta) or too shallow leaves the player and his teammates exposed. A team must gel and learn each others positioning and hand-off depths.
To wrap it up, yes Patrick Robinson is flawed and uses techniques that put him in a bad position. But if we see it, the coaches have to as well and should be coaching him to fix it. While I still wish to see PRob get better, I have at least diagnosed what went wrong and not simply tagged him as "he sux!". With that said, let's get some analysis on what is going wrong and truly discover if it is in fact all his fault or is it some function of a defense that is trying to find its groove.
Thanks for your time, Be Cool Who Dats!