The Giants revamped their defense from front to back during the offseason, spending over $200 million dollars to augment and bolster the unit that was dead last in the rankings in 2015. One of the below-the-radar signings was that of LB Keenan Robinson to a one-year, $2.6 million deal.
Robinson had fallen out of favor in Washington where he started 21 games after being drafted by the Redskins int he fourth round out of Texas in the 2012 NFL Draft. His migration to the Giants did not start out well. He struggled in camp and tumbled down the depth chart. The optimism that he could be a major contributor had begun to wane.
But strange things happen in this league. As the season has gone on, the Giants have realized that Robinson has value. He has become their best linebacker in pass coverage and his reps have been increasing as teams have chosen to pass the ball on the Giants rather than run it.
“When I got here, they moved me to WILL. I’ve never done that before but I was down. I’ll learn it,” Robinson told reporters on Friday. “Then they had me playing MIKE and WILL, which I’ve done my whole career. I was very comfortable with that. As far as diving right in, whatever the coaches ask of me, I am willing to be a team player. Willing to help and do my part. As training camp, OTA’s, everything progressed, they continued to find ways for me to get involved. Early in the season, they found ways for me to get involved in the nickel package. Now I’m getting more production and opportunities. I’m just doing what the team needs me to do.
Robinson has played more snaps than any other Giants linebacker this season other than captain Jonathan Casillas and is third on the team in tackles. Three weeks ago in London, Robinson had eight total tackles (seven solo) with pass defended and played 85% of the snaps. Last week, against Philadelphia, he played 84% of the snaps, recording 10 total tackles with a pass defended.
“Keenan has been a good player for us,” said head coach Ben McAdoo. “He’s jumped in with both feet, he’s really bought into what we’re doing here, become a nice part of the locker room. He’s played some good ball for us.”
The lack of an experienced cover safety has led to Robinson being not he field more. Landon Collins is a beast in the box, but his cover skills are still need work. Rookie Andrew Adams is still getting his feet wet. The Giants have been relying on Robinson to pick up the slack.
“Honestly, I don’t even look at that,” Robinson said when asked about his role being specific to stopping tight ends and running backs in the passing game. “I just think every play, did I do my job or did I not do my job? One play might be to stop a tight end or cover him. Is he catching the ball? If he is, how many yards is he getting after he catches the ball. That’s the way I’m looking at it. I’ve had some guys catch the ball on me this year but it hasn’t been for any big plays. It hasn’t been for third down conversions. I want to limit the guy’s production that I’m covering. If I’m able to do that, then I’m being productive as my role in the defense.”
The Giants plan on using Robinson extensively again this week against Cincinnati, who have a premier tight end in Tyler Eifert and a dangerous pass-catching back in Giovani Bernard.
“He’s a great challenge,” Robinson said of Eifert. “He’s one of those guys that is 6-5, 6-6 and can run, and catch. He poses a great matchup threat to everyone. Safeties, corners and line backers. He’s a guy that we have to make sure we bracket and stop him. Whatever the play call calls for and make sure we know where he’s at at all times. Don’t leave him wide open. We have to make sure we get hands on him.”
Bernard is joined in the backfield by Jeremy Hill, one of the NFL’s most physical runners. Robinson fully understands what he’s up against this week.
“They’re both good running backs,” he said. “Like a 1-2 punch. Hill is a good downhill running back. He’s physical. Then you have Bernard, who’s shifty. He’s a guy that’s similar to Sproles but he does it in a different way. He’s a bigger guy. He’s shifty in the pass game. As far as running the ball, he can hurt you, too.”