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Film Review: What did Aaron Robinson, J.R. Reed bring to Giants’ secondary?

Both players had big roles Sunday against the Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The New York Giants waited quite a long time to see versatile defensive back Aaron Robinson in action. Dave Gettleman deviated from his traditional managerial style by trading back twice in the 2021 NFL Draft, but the value of Robinson incentivized Gettleman to trade up from pick 76 to 71.

Robinson played his highest snap share in Week 12 against the Eagles. He played 9 snaps against Kansas City, 7 against Las Vegas, 22 out of the bye against Tampa Bay, and 45 on Sunday against Philadelphia. Injuries to Adoree’ Jackson and Darnay Holmes forced Robinson into an expanded role, and the rookie third-round pick played well.

According to Pro Football Focus, Robinson was targeted six times and only surrendered one catch for 19 yards. However, there were yards the Eagles’ wide receivers left on the field with their buttery fingers. All in all, Robinson showed competence, and he appears fully healthy and up to speed from his core muscle injury that required surgery in the summer.

Robinson is supposed to play well. Third-round selections generally should have an impact. However, 2020 undrafted midseason acquisitions typically don’t have a tremendous impact, but the Giants may have found a contributor in J.R. Reed.

Reed is a 6-foot-1, 195-pound defensive back who was a First-Team All-American in 2019 as a Georgia Bulldog (go figure). The Giants signed Reed off the Rams’ practice squad. He’s played 56 snaps in two games. He’s in position, plays with physicality, and aligns in multiple positions on the back end of the Giants defense and sometimes in the box. Let’s dive into the tape on both of these players.

Robinson is No. 33; Reed is No. 27

Aaron Robinson’s fluidity

There were several appealing things about Robinson coming out of UCF. For starters, he’s fluid in space. His ability to swivel his hips, maintain a low profile, and stay in phase are invaluable in today’s NFL. He’s also valuable because he was effective as a boundary cornerback, a nickel, a safety, and as a box defender.

Robinson is at the top of the screen. He’s not targeted, but we do see how easily he transitions his hips upon the commitment of the wide receiver’s release. Jalen Reagor (18) releases outside, and Robinson squeezes in that direction to the point where his hips are starting to commit towards the sidelines. By the fifth Reagor step, the wide receiver uses his hands to work back inside; Robinson effortlessly plants his inside foot and pivots his weight and momentum inside while attaching to the outside shoulder of Reagor. Robinson stays right on top of the route, and there’s no space at all for Reagor to operate.

Reed is also in coverage on this play. He’s the deep half safety in a 2 Man Under look towards the bottom of the screen. Reed watches Devonta Smith (6) on the corner route with James Bradberry (24) in trail; Reed does a good job adjusting to Smith’s stem and positioning himself over the top of the break. There was no room at all for Smith. Also, Steven Parker (38) , who played 11 snaps in this game, did a good job disrupting Dallas Goedert (88) at the catch point to force an incompletion.

Robinson is at the nickel spot to the bottom of the screen. Once again, Robinson does a good job expanding with the outside release of wide receiver Quez Watkins (16). Once Watkins gets to the bottom of the numbers, he attempts to use his hands to get back inside, but Robinson is all over the transition. I love how Robinson uses his hands to subtly make contact while keeping his eyes on the mobile Jalen Hurts; he feels the transition and orients his hips towards Watkins, leaving no space for the receiver to operate until Hurts releases the football.

The most impressive play by Robinson came in this fourth-and-2 situation against Reagor. Robinson does such a good job staying square to Reagor’s release. He inches back, expands laterally, keeps his feet moving, eyes on Reagor’s midsection, and then uses great timing to react to the inside break. Reagor creates just a little bit of initial space on Robinson, but the rookie uses that excellent short-area quickness and closing burst to recover and shove his outside hand into the catch point to force a turnover on downs.

Robinson is outside the divider line in this single high, middle of the field closed, defensive look that initially aligned as a 2-High defense. This is a common play call in Patrick Graham’s system - he does a good job disguising looks. Graham will roll the strong side safety downward while bringing the nickel defender on a blitz.

In these situations, the field cornerback, Robinson in this case, will have no help over the top. Graham trusted Robinson to align in press outside of the divider; that could mean two things. One, he trusts Robinson to execute this task, which is excellent for the Giants. And two, Graham doesn’t fear Hurts’ ability to consistently make these types of throws. Luckily for Graham, it was Reagor on the receiving end because Hurts puts a beautiful pass on target to his struggling receiver.

Robinson initially does a good job squeezing Reagor towards the sideline, and Robinson restricts the space and is in phase. But at the last second, Reagor positions himself to make a clean catch as Robinson loses elite positioning as his eyes locate the football mid-air. The ball hits Reagor in the hands, and the receiver can’t secure the catch. This isn’t a terrible play by Robinson, but he has to maintain better position on the receiver when he takes his eyes off the player to locate the football. He had a chance to knock this pass away with his inside arm, but just couldn’t relocate the football once refocusing on Reagor.

Robinson once play breaks down

Robinson surrendered this 19-yard catch to Watkins once the quarterback breaks the pocket. There was another play similar to the one above; I’m not too worried about this Watkins catch, nor am I overly worried about the Eagles final offensive play which we will go over in a bit.

Robinson follows Watkins across the formation - a tell-tale sign of man coverage. New York is in Cover 1 with a QB spy; Robinson does a good job sticking to the inside hip of Watkins as he runs a wheel route off pre-snap motion. Robinson ended up over the top of Watkins’ route - great position for the initial route, but not great position for a comeback adjustment. Watkins feels Robinson’s position and breaks back towards the quarterback with limited space to operate. It’s a great adjustment by Watkins and excellent concentration to secure the catch.

Robinson’s at the top of the screen in 2-Man Under; he’s the field cornerback. He allows the inside release, knowing he has safety help, and then just sticks to the outside hip of Reagor on the dig route. Reagor adjusts and Robinson turns and is chest to chest with the receiver. Robinson’s in excellent position, but he seems a step slow to realize the football is thrown. Reagor uses Robinson’s positioing against him and quickly stops to turn at the goal-line. Once again, Reagor drops the football and the Giants win.

Reed is the bottom deep half safety, and he has two deeper in breaking routes coming from the opposite side of the field. Reed doesn’t overreact to Goedert’s initial deep route that came into his zone. He keeps his eyes on Hurts and seems aware of the second in breaking route coming from Reagor who breaks his route upfield once the play breaks down. Reed almost positions himself to intercept the pass because he was reading Hurts. Reed doesn’t overreact; he seems to be in good position often, and I appreciate the discipline he has shown through two games.

In both of these plays, Robinson could have surrendered the catch (he did on the first one), but his coverage was excellent in both situations. So excellent that his positioning was used against him when the receiver adjusted his route. Robinson was on top of both routes. Robinson could have been a bit quicker reacting on both plays, but staying in phase does not seem to be an issue for him.

Run support

Both Robinson and Reed are sub-200 pounds, but they’re both capable run support defenders. Graham - and most defensive coordinators - prioritize defenders who aren’t scared to deliver punishing hits. Defensive backs who only excel in coverage will always be a liability when asked to stop the run. Robinson and Reed both take pride in their ability to strong run defenders.

Philadelphia had a lot of success with their zone read rushing attack. The Giants combated their YY set by using Reed as the contain defender with Robinson as a secondary force to the boundary. Their positioning forced Hurts to hand the football off to Boston Scott (35). Both Azeez Ojulari (51) and Dexter Lawrence (97) do an excellent job forcing Scott to bounce towards two relatively unblocked defenders. Ojulari slants inside the C-Gap, drawing attention and delaying the outside tight end from climbing to locate Reed. Both Robinson and Reed maintain gap integrity and wait for Scott to bounce outside. Reed does a good job keeping himself clean as the tight end can’t establish positioning on the new Giant, and Robinson delivers a big hit on Scott. I would like to see Robinson wrap up a bit more here, but still a solid play overall.

Reed is at the bottom of the screen at safety and Robinson is the field cornerback at the bottom of the screen. The zone read forces several Giants defenders to focus on Hurts and the gaps to the boundary following the split action from Goedert. This forces Reed to shoot the A-Gap as he tries to find Scott behind the offensive line. Typically, safeties execute this run fit in the B-Gap; I am not certain if this was a mistake by Reed or something coached because of the zone read action - I lean towards the former. Nevertheless, Julian Love (20) does a good job forcing Scott to bounce outside towards Robinson. Reed shows incredible hustle to help Robinson after Scott delivered a punishing hit on the rookie. Robinson takes the shot, but he does a good job positioning himself to stop a Scott touchdown, allowing other Giants to help with the tackle.

Philadelphia uses double Trap/Wham with their offensive lineman and H-Back. On this play, the playside guard traps Lawrence while Goedert looks to wham block Austin Johnson (98) but Jason Kelce (62) engages him at the snap (The Eagles ran similar concepts throughout the games and usually the center climbed to the second level). Johnson’s engagement prevented Kelce from locating Benardrick McKinney (49).

Reed aligns in the box just inside J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (19). The receiver goes to block and Reed positions himself in the B-Gap while not allowing the block to affect his ability to make contact on Scott. Reed’s presence forces Scott to think twice about his move, allowing Robinson to easily come into the gap and nail Scott for a tackle. A solid group tackle from both Reed and Robinson.

(flies in from left side of screen)

This is an excellent tackle with great closing burst to stop Boston Scott from scoring a touchdown. Reed is patient enough to force Hurts to hand off the zone read. Once he sees the football in Scott’s hands, he flies into Scott, pinning him to the line of scrimmage and forcing another play.

The Eagles use another uniquely designed zone read run to get two blockers in space against the Giants. Robinson doesn’t make the tackle because of an excellent Quincy Roche (95) effort, but he gets around the tight end’s block and positions himself to make the tackle on Hurts.

Robinson significantly improved his tackling during his senior season at UCF. According to Pro Football Focus, he had a dismal 21 percent missed tackle rate as a junior; he missed 14 tackles. His technique was refined and his role expanded to more box responsibilities in his senior season, and he only had a 4 percent missed tackle rate. His willingness and discipline in run support both exist, leading to an expanded role in Graham’s defense.

Final thoughts

Robinson missed so much time during the offseason, but has assembled quality tape in his limited snaps. Graham trusts him in various roles, and he appears to be an adept man coverage defender who executes his run assignments well.

Reed is quietly earning snaps on defense. Reed stepped into a role due to Logan Ryan missing two games with COVID-19. Ryan’s absence, along with Sunday’s injuries to Adoree’ Jackson and Darnay Holmes, opened snaps up for Reed. He has done nothing but impress.

The ascension of Robinson and the competent presence of Reed are coinciding with a defense that’s been more effective over the last several weeks. Depth is a key to any defense - especially in the secondary. Both Jackson and Holmes suffered injuries in the win over the Eagles, and the team is already down Rodarius Williams and Jabrill Peppers. Finding a player like Reed who isn’t a liability and shows competency is excellent for depth once Ryan returns to the lineup. Expect Robinson’s role to increase as the Giants defense continues to be the catalyst to victory for Big Blue.