NFL quarterbacks and offensive coordinators will continue to target the weakest prey, and right now Josh Robinson has the bright red target on his coverage ability.
Robinson, the 2012 third-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings, gave up two touchdowns, a 2-yarder in the first quarter to Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith and 79-yarder in the third quarter to Brandon LaFell.
"Very frustrating," Robinson said after the Vikings' 35-10 loss. "But me and my faith, I'm always working and always trying to improve and never holding my head as to thinking the game's over."
By the end of the third quarter, it was essentially over with the Panthers holding a 28-3 lead and half the touchdowns surrendered at that point going to Robinson's responsibility in coverage.
The first one came at the end of a 15-play drive for the Panthers, when Smith came across the field on a shallow crossing route in the end zone.
"Just a lot of traffic. They lined him up as a third receiver and there was just a lot of traffic you've got to get through and you've got to be able to get through clean and make a play on the ball," Robinson said.
He didn't. It looked too easy for Smith, just as it has for Robinson's coverage responsibility too many times this year. For weeks, reporters have been asking about Robinson's struggles and wondering if he might be replaced in the base defense by 2013 first-round pick Xavier Rhodes. Now Rhodes has an ankle injury that forced him out of Sunday's game twice and likely will at least limit his availability this week.
Still, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, a former cornerback himself, sounds like his patience with Robinson could be wearing thin. According to both Robinson and Frazier, the plan all week was to rotate Marcus Sherels in for Robinson and that was enacted shortly after Robinson gave up a touchdown on the first drive.
While right cornerback Chris Cook played all 70 defensive snaps, Robinson was next with 57. Rhodes struggled with his ankle injury and played 32 snaps, while Sherels had 22 snaps on defense and A.J. Jefferson had four.
"There are some things that we want (Robinson) to do better. We rotated Marcus in there with him some and we'll evaluate it this week and just see what's going on at that position," Frazier said.
It appeared that when all of their cornerbacks were healthy, that rotation was going to be Robinson in the base defense and then bring him out in the nickel defense and have Rhodes play left corner and Sherels handle the slot receiver, but that plan was short-lived when Rhodes hurt his ankle for the first time.
Robinson got beat physically on the Panthers' first touchdown, but it appeared to be a mental mistake on the second one. He dropped to the flat as Lafell got behind him and nobody picked up the streaking receiver, as it appeared Rhodes was in man coverage.
"They were all playing zone; we just didn't play our responsibility well. We've had that a time or two and it cost us there," Frazier said. "They were all playing the right coverage, just didn't do it well. So we've got to do some things better.
"We were in zone coverage and someone has to carry that route up the field. When we get back and look at the tape, I'll figure out where the breakdown was, but in that zone coverage we should not give up a long touchdown and somebody should be able to be there to at least get a tackle. They didn't, so we've got to go back and take a look at why that didn't happen."
Robinson said Frazier told him he needs to take a deeper drop on Lafell's touchdown, but offenses are targeting Robinson more than any other cornerback for the Vikings.
In the previous game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Robinson had a pass interference penalty in the end zone that set up the Steelers' second touchdown. After that, he was targeted often, three times on their third touchdown drive and a handful more in the fourth quarter.
So what can Robinson, one of the fastest players on the team, do differently?
"Just continue to improve, be more consistent and that's what I'm working on – being more consistent in my technique, my assignments and executing them," he said.
Whether he has the chance to do that in a starting role going forward remains to be seen.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Frustrated Robinson continues to be targeted
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