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Film study: A’Shawn Robinson upgrades Giants’ defensive line depth

Let’s look at some of the reasons for that

Carolina Panthers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

The New York Giants and former Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson had mutual interest when Robinson visited East Rutherford in March. The courtship took a while as New York attempted to identify a plan for their precarious cap situation.

The Giants desperately needed to upgrade their run defense from last season. The additions of linebacker Bobby Okereke and defensive lineman Rakeem Nunez-Roches, as well as Robinson’s presence, should drastically help Wink Martindale’s defense up front.

The Giants' rush defense ranked 30th in EPA per play (Expected Points Added) and 31st in yards per attempt. Watching the 2022 Giants defense fit pin-pull concepts was as laborious as it was petrifying.

Dexter Lawrence, at around 340 pounds, played the fourth-most snaps of any interior defensive lineman, which had to change. Justin Ellis, Henry Mondeaux, and Ryder Anderson played a collective 819 snaps for the Giants, which also had to change. Adding Nunez-Roches and Robinson is an immense upgrade.

The 28-year-old Robinson is entering his eighth season in the NFL. He was a second-round pick by the Detroit Lions in 2016. He’s recorded 293 total tackles, 181 solo, 20 tackles for a loss, seven sacks, five forced fumbles, and 93 total pressures throughout his career. He has gone north of twenty pressures in a season twice (2017 & 2021).

Robinson’s 2022 season was cut short in Week 11 by a torn meniscus. In his last healthy season (2021), Robinson was graded as the seventh-highest run defender, according to Pro Football Focus.

Robinson’s length, strong hands, ability to anchor, play strength, and quick eyes allow him to operate effectively in the trenches. His strong base and upper body allowed him to do this to All-Pro tackles like Tristin Wirfs:

Here are some other highlights:

The Giants now have a base defense rotation on the defensive line that consists of Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams, Nunez-Roches, and, now, A’Shawn Robinson. The newest Giant can play nose, 1-shade, and could be tasked to play 5-technique two-gap in an OKIE front in certain big personnel packages.

He’ll likely play 4i-shade or 4-technique over the tackle with Lawrence as the nose. The Giants' abysmal 2022 run defense was specifically vulnerable against outside runs. Robinson was exceptional as a play-side defender from a 4i-shade to the outside against perimeter runs.

A’Shawn Robinson wears No. 94

Run defense


4i Right side of screen

Robinson fires off the ball with quick hands and uses every bit of his 34½-inch arms to keep his chest clean. He does a great job playing Peek-A-Boo with offensive linemen - he gets his eyes on his target and locates well. His ability to anchor with quick hands and above-average play strength are some reasons why he’s been so successful as a run defender.

7-technique right side of screen

Blocking Robinson with a tight end is not the best idea, even if that tight end is George Kittle. One of the best advantages of the Giants adding both Nunez-Roches and Robinson is their ability to stop opposing rushing attacks in short-yardage situations. The Giants relied on penetration and blitzing to do so last season; now, they can beef up the front line and win at the point of attack.

The play above highlights an important aspect of Robinson’s game, and it’s not the obvious upper body strength of discarding Kittle like he’s a practice squad player. Robinson’s ability to stop his inward momentum and change direction while shedding a block displays his overall control and movement skills. For a player of his size, he can bend a little bit, which we can see in his lower half. Plus, he has measured and controlled feet at the line of scrimmage. The subtle way he changes direction to stay in front of the back as he cuts to the inside was impressive.

4i Right side of screen

The Bengals run inside zone toward Robinson in Super Bowl LVI and he shows his strong grip strength to toss Jonah Williams (73) out of his way before assisting in a tackle. Robinson does a good job keeping his elbows tight and his hands up and inside. His ability to control offensive linemen at the point of attack is an invaluable trait to possess.

4i Right side of screen

Here’s another impressive play in the Super Bowl. Robinson eats a quick double team as the tight end just chips before turning his attention to the linebacker; still, Robinson easily controls the tackle and tosses him aside. Strong hands, active eyes, great timing, and rarely out of position.

4-technique right side of screen

Deebo Samuel (19) is aligned in the backfield as the 49ers operate in shotgun, split-back. Robinson employs a double-swipe to easily shed Mike McGlinchey (69) and Kittle does little with his contact as Robinson stays low and twists his back to avoid contact. Robinson then finishes the play with a tackle for loss against one of the more dynamic playmakers in the NFL.

4i Left side of screen

Robinson is tasked to be the primary force defender as he steps to the outside of Trent Williams (71) to force Jeff Wilson Jr. (22) into the B-Gap. However, in a four man-box, Robinson maintains a presence in the B-Gap, playing a gap-and-a-half. Once Wilson Jr. commits, Robinson disengages his inside arm with Williams and tackles the running back for a short gain.

7-technique right side of screen

Both Robinson and Greg Gaines (91) execute excellent technique on this play; they both fire off low and stalemate the offensive linemen in place. Both are locked out with their feet planted and their helmet in a specific gap. Alvin Kamara (41) attempts to squeeze past the gap without Robinson’s helmet, but the former Alabama star throws the tackle aside and tackle Kamara just beyond the line of scrimmage.

4i Right side of screen

San Fransico runs a wide zone concept to the double-Y boundary side where Robinson is the 4i-shade. Robinson finds a way through the lateral moving double team by Trent Williams and Laken Tomlinson (75) before corralling Samuel for a tackle at the line of scrimmage.


4-technique right side of screen

Rookie tackle Icky Ekwonu (79) struggled against Robinson all game, specifically when Robinson was a backside pursuit defender. The Rams vs. Panthers Week 6 matchup was Robinson’s highest single-game run defense grade in 2022. Robinson benches the rookie away from him and easily finds the ball carrier for a tackle at the line of scrimmage.

4-technique right side of screen

This play is worse for Ekwonu. Robinson stays so low, so tight, and just lifts Ekwonu’s pad level up before quickly changing direction and tossing the rookie to the ground as D’Onta Foreman (33) attempts to cutback.

4i left side of screen

Robinson is a disciplined defender on the backside. He doesn’t overpursue, and he keeps the continuity of the defense intact by not abandoning his responsibilities. He does an excellent job keeping the tackle off his chest while moving down the line of scrimmage; once the running back puts his left foot in the ground to cutback, Robinson is already using the momentum of Kaleb McGary (76) against him to shed and earn the tackle.

3-technique left side of screen

I love how many of these plays are against good competition. Robinson beats Trent Williams as he steps down with the backside guard pulling in this power-gap play. Williams is expecting the center to help with Robinson. However, Robinson saw the guard pull and quickly penetrated the void. Neither Williams nor the center contacted Robinson cleanly, which resulted in a tackle for a loss.

4-technique right side of screen

Here’s another benefit of not overpursuing; the blocking concept suggests this will be a run to the offense’s left, as two lead blockers head in that direction. Kamara waits and attempts to go to the opposite side, where Robinson is controlling Cesar Ruiz (51). Kamara attempts to go outside, and Robinson quickly sheds and tackles him near the line of scrimmage. The way Robinson controls Ruiz is textbook.

4-technique left side of screen

Robinson has two-gapping ability. The Rams routinely asked him to essentially play a gap and a half in their lighter ODD front looks. He can absorb contact and anchor down if asked to perform that responsibility. In the play above, he’s superb with how he stacks the tackle and puts his hip into the B-Gap; Kittle attempts to displace him, but Robinson gets low at his waist, allows McGlinchey to slide off the block, recollects himself, and tackles Christian McCaffrey (23) at the line of scrimmage.

Pass rush

Robinson isn’t on the Giants to generate pass rush, but he's a player with excellent hustle and a solid bull rush. Robinson explodes low to high into contact with good forward lean and lower-body strength. He places his hand well and will adjust them advantageously. He generates good force from the ground into his target with good ankle flexion for more precise movements. Here are a few clips of him employing the bull rush:

3-technique left side of screen

Right side of screen 4i-shade

Left side of screen 4-technique

Robinson also found ways to create pressure and harass quarterbacks through reactionary quickness. When he saw an opening, he was decisive in orienting his path to take advantage of offensive mistakes.

Left side of screen 4-technique

Robinson keyed the 49ers play action pass and used the tackle’s momentum against him to separate and find his way into the pocket. George Kittle (85) looked for work but could not stop Robinson, who positioned himself well to strip Jimmy Garoppolo (10) for a sack-fumble.

Left side of screen 2-technique

The left guard steps back with his set leg at his own peril with Bobby Wagner (45) coming on the blitz to occupy the center. Wagner shoots through the center’s opposite shoulder and the A-Gap lays out the red carpet for Robinson.

Final thoughts

The Giants continued to bolster their run defense by adding Robinson. The difference in competency between the 2022 defensive line depth and Nunez-Roches and Robinson is stark; it’s ironclad like Tony Stark...excellent like Arya’s not like Ned Stark - we want to keep our heads and not inflate the addition of Robinson. Still, it’s difficult not to get excited about the Giants making a conscious effort to rectify a run defense that ranked 28th in yards per game surrendered.

Robinson may not offer much as a pass-rusher, but his awareness and competitive toughness allow him to generate pressure when opportunities present themselves, or if the quarterback decides to hold onto the football too long. He’s a sure-tackler who has a 6.1% career missed tackle rate; for reference, Dexter Lawrence has a 6.7% missed tackle rate, and Leonard Williams has a 10.5% career missed tackle rate.

Robinson will also be a special team ace for the Giants. His ability to block kicks dates back to his time at Alabama. Robinson leaped over LSU’s offensive line in 2015 to block this field goal:

He’s also blocked field goals in the NFL by not leaping over the offensive line.

There were times on tape when he allowed his pad level to rise and his balance suffers when that happens; that wasn’t consistent throughout his game, but something that did happen occasionally. Overall, the Giants are receiving a fundamentally sound run defender who understands how to use his length, hands and knows how to leverage his assignment.