When Fooch asked for fans to break down film of 49ers this season I quickly jumped at the opportunity. I am a life-long 49ers fan and I also see a lot of potential on this very young squad.
My assignment for this article is on 49ers cornerback Rashard Robinson. Robinson was selected by the 49ers in the fourth-round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Robinson had a promising career at LSU before missing the entire 2015 college season.
At LSU, Robinson flashed skills matched with physical traits that translate well to the NFL. Still, Robinson’s college tape was limited in sample size. Even more concerning was that Robinson measured in at 171 pounds with a height of six-foot-one.
Robinson was quite simply a very thin framed, fourth-round rookie with little college experience. No one expected Robinson to play like he has this year. Along with fellow rookie DeForest Buckner, Robinson is one of the few bright spots from this year’s crop of 49er rookies.
Arguably, Robinson’s best game was against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 16. I will break down the tape on this game. In a future post, I will take some of Robinson’s plays throughout the season and bring them to life for fans.
Let’s start off with Robinson’s most impactful play of the game — his game-saving interception:
During this play, Robinson plays excellent off-man coverage. Robinson knows that he has help over the top by the safety. No. 33 sits on the route and keeps his eyes on Rams’ QB Jared Goff.
Goff is completely late with the throw but even if he would have been on time, it is quite possible that Robinson still knocks the ball away. Quite frankly, Goff should have gone elsewhere on this play.
While it is a great play to end the game, it was also an easier play for Robinson to make.
Let’s move on to another excellent play by “The Dawg”:
On this play, Robinson demonstrates excellent closing speed and play awareness. Robinson knows that Goff likes to get the pass off quickly. He maintains a great position and breaks on the ball excellently by using the quick-step break technique.
In the quick-step break technique, cornerbacks come to an abrupt stop and push-off with the balls of their feet, exploding forward to defend the pass. Robinson not only explodes but he embarrasses the larger Rams’ TE Lance Kendricks in the process.
Here is another play of Robinson in off-man coverage and again blanketing his assigned receiver:
Robinson is at the bottom of the frame. Notice how he sticks to the receiver’s hips throughout the play. The receiver gets zero separation forcing Goff to go elsewhere on the play. For the most part, Goff attempted to stay away from Robinson.
Robinson is arguably at his best when he is in man coverage and using the press technique. In the play below, you can see how Robinson (lined up at the bottom of the frame) disrupts the play by not allowing the receiver to get into his route:
Because the timing is off, Goff’s throw looks like he was completely inaccurate but the truth is that Goff expected his WR to be further upfield. Goff was also hurried in his throw, forcing him to throw the ball earlier than he wanted to. The hurry came from another excellent 49er rookie — defensive end DeForest Buckner.
Robinson is a very confident cornerback. He trusts that his play awareness, technique and speed will help him cover WRs very closely. In the play below, you can see Robinson once again in man coverage. He absolutely “glues” himself to the WRs hips displaying excellent coverage skills. He trusts that he can be this close to a WR because he knows he has the speed and agility to recover.
In addition to defending this play well, Robinson talks trash at Rams’ WR No. 83 Brian Quick. Robinson is not one to back off from anyone. 49ers defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil stated that Robinson, “had some dog in him,” and I certainly agree with him.
On this play, No. 26 Tramaine Brock makes the interception. Brock played well in his coverage responsibilities and demonstrated good closing speed. However, this article is about Robinson’s play so notice him lined up at the bottom of the frame. He again sticks to his receiver like white on rice. Had Goff tried Robinson on this play, No. 33 would have been in a position to make the INT himself.
Robinson’s played a great game versus the Rams. He deserves a ton of credit for improving his play with each coming week. Still, he did have some blemishes in this game.
First and foremost, was this play below in which he was called for a pass interference. While no one wants a pass interference to be called, I think everyone can agree that a PI is welcomed if it prevents a sure-fire touchdown.
That is exactly what Robinson does below. I think that the call was a 50-50 call, but I do not disagree with the refs throwing a flag on the play. Robinson clearly held Rams’ TE Lance Kendricks on the play.
It was for a split second, but it was beyond the five-yard zone where contact is allowed. In addition, it happened while the pass was in the air. I say it was 50-50 because this type of play be a DB is sometimes ignored by refs.
Still, Robinson could have made the play without having to hold. That is rookie anxiety getting the better of him. This is yet another example of good awareness by Robinson. He knows that 49ers safety Antoine Bethea is the only safety who can provide support up top.
The other 49ers safety Jaquiski Tartt drops down to cover a WR leaving Bethea as the only safety up top. With three WRs on the other side of the field, Robinson knows that Bethea is going cheat to the side with three WRs. This is going to primarily leave him alone on that side of the field.
Robinson prevents the TD but also he could have avoided the PI. The correct technique to use is to place on hand on the receiver’s hip. Use that hand to “push” the receiver not pull/hold. When a DB “pushes” it ends up slowing a receiver because they then have to fight to get back on the path of the intended route.
Okay the play below is expected from a rookie fourth-round cornerback. On this play, Robinson is in off-man coverage. Robinson is slow to recognize that the Rams are running a WR reverse with Tavon Austin.
By the time Robinson recognizes the play, Austin is pretty much at full speed and Austin’s full speed is pretty damn fast! Still, Robinson had enough time to take a good angle and hit Austin.
While Robinson is a “thinner” DB, and has been hurt making tackles on bigger offensive players, Austin is one of the few offensive players that Robinson could have molly-whopped. Instead, he blocks his assigned WR and takes himself out of the play.
This could be a sign of how 49ers DC wants his DB to defend the run. By taking on the WR, he would in theory force the runner back into the middle of the field. By doing this, the runner would run back into the teeth of the 49er’s defense.
Robinson should have torpedoed Austin in the backfield or at least peeled off his block as Austin ran right past him. Before anyone attacks me in the comments, do we really want a “DB” like Robinson making tackles? Shouldn’t the 49ers want him to mostly worry about pass coverage?
No and no. Robinson should have blown up Austin. He also should peeled off the block. You want Robinson to be well rounded enough where he can be trusted to at least make the play, especially against smaller players.
Now, the last two plays are not the only two mistakes that Robinson had. He had two other penalties — one for unnecessary roughness and one for hands to the face. Actually, they both could have been called for hands to the face.
Robinson is an aggressive receiver which is a good thing. Robinson is in your face DB with no hesitation to get into a “dog fight.” Still, when jamming receivers, Robinson needs to be aware of his hand placement.
I hope readers realize that what I am doing is nitpicking an otherwise great game by Robinson. I included the bad plays because I want to try and remain objective, but don’t misunderstand what I am trying to convey. Robinson has the physical traits, play awareness, and excellent coverage techniques that when paired with a confident, aggressive playing style make for a potential No. 1 cornerback.
Going forward, and for 2017, the 49ers should plan on Robinson being their No. 1 cornerback. He has shown this writer enough to expect bigger things from him next season. This has essentially been Robinson’s first real season of football since 2014. Imagine him in year two, with more experience, and more bulk on his lanky frame.
The 49ers found themselves a gem in the fourth-round. Here is more film of Rashard “The Dawg” Robinson for fans to enjoy!
For more film analysis, follow me on twitter at @EricGamboa01.