Xs and Os: Robiskie's Big Day

Suddenly, seven catches. Was it the defensive scheme? The QB? Doug Farrar looks at the factors that led to Brian Robiskie's break-through performance, and helps us understand if we're likely to see more of it....

It's safe to say that since he was selected in the second round of the 2009 NFL draft, receiver Brian Robiskie has been a bit of a disappointment. The Ohio State alum was known for his route discipline and consistency, things learned in part from dad Terry, who has been in the NFL since the 1970s as a running back and position coach. When I interviewed the younger Robiskie for the Washington Post before he was drafted, he impressed me with his intelligence, dedication, and passion for the game he fell in love with at a very early age.

But on Browns teams that haven't exactly been teeming with receiver talent, Robiskie hasn't been able to make anywhere near the considerable impact that was expected of him. Before the Browns and Panthers played last Sunday, Robiskie's previous high in receptions came in Week 13 of the 209 season, when he caught four passes for 69 yards against the Chargers. In 2010, he had topped out with three catches for 25 yards against the Saints in Week 7 and had amassed one catch in the three games after, so few were expecting much from him in the Browns' 24-23 win over the Panthers. Especially against a Panthers secondary that, as I discussed in the game preview, is one of the NFL's best against #1 and #2 receivers.

But as I also brought up in that preview, the Panthers love to drop their athletic linebackers into coverage in their 4-3 sets, leaving the flats and short seams open under the right circumstances. With Jake Delhomme re-inserted into the lineup, and the training camp chemistry between Delhomme and Robiskie a factor, the Browns were about to give the Panthers' surprising defense a lesson in how those zone drops can come back to bite you. Delhomme hit Robiskie seven times for a total of 50 yards – a 7.1 per-catch average with a longest reception of 15 yards. They should tell you everything you need to know about Cleveland's specific strategy, and their use of Robiskie in this game. He wasn't a zone-buster downfield; Robiskie instead served as the underneath threat with his ability to run quick slants and short comebacks with aplomb.

Robiskie's first catch was a simple comeback to take advantage of off coverage – he just sat underneath after a few steps and gained an easy five yards. The second was an even shorter stick route against off coverage on a weakside zone blitz.

The 15-yard catch (diagrammed) came against the Panthers' two-man nickel defense (two deep safeties and man under coverage) as Delhomme lined up in a short shotgun and Robiskie was inside Chansi Stuckey on the weak side. Pre-snap, Stuckey motioned from wide to a "twins" look directly behind Robiskie, ostensibly to run a route combo that would take advantage of Carolina's coverage.

As Stuckey ran the underneath route to draw what was now zone coverage, right cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (41) took Robiskie on the deeper route. Free safety Sherrod Martin came down from Cover-2 to help cover Stuckey, and strong safety Charles Godfrey was late to the party. Given an opening on that combo, Delhomme took it, and completed the pass.

Delhomme didn't have a great day against Carolina; I joked that he hadn't done so much to help the Panthers since about 2005. But if he's to remain the starter, Brian Robiskie is one player would benefit in the right situations.

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