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Friday Night Logue: James Robinson, the Visionary

Analyzing the value that James Robinson provides to Jacksonville’s rushing offense.
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The Jacksonville Jaguars have rushed for the 16th most yards this year, but thanks to owning the second-highest success rate and third-highest rate of explosive runs (per Sharp Football Stats), the team ranks first in expected points added (EPA) per rush attempt.

That’s right: football nerds have deemed the Jaguars the best rushing team in the National Football League through the first month of the season.

Of course, the nerds will also tell you that rushing success is a result of blocking and scheme more so than the ball carrier himself. But while Jacksonville’s coaching staff and offensive line have each done commendable jobs orchestrating the Jaguars rushing attack, James Robinson is undoubtedly the spark that makes everything go ka-boom.

The second-year undrafted running back lacks high-end speed, to the point that the organization invested a first round pick on a backfield mate whose primary skill is game-breaking sprints, but where Robinson lacks in flash he makes up in fundamentals.

In this Week 2 rush against the Broncos, Jacksonville calls a run pass option (RPO) concept with no players attached to the line of scrimmage, hence creating a light box of defenders. After seeing the center pull to the weak side of the formation and Trevor Lawrence sticking the ball out, which would firmly indicate a run, the inside linebacker on the bottom hash stays home to respect the possibility of a pass. Lawrence makes the correct read and gives the ball to Robinson.

Rather than hitting the turbo button and charging between Andrew Norwell and Brandon Linder, Robinson stays patient and can see that the other inside linebacker has inside leverage against Linder, so Robinson glides between Linder and Cam Robinson into a wide-open patch of grass. By the time the safety gets downfield and the first linebacker gets across the formation, Robinson is able to pick up 12 yards and a first down.

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For all the talk that a running back is a product of its offensive line, this is a great example of a running back helping its offensive line in front of him. All the pieces were put in place, from the formation creating a light box to a high-caliber quarterback influencing defenders to the line executing its blocks, but Robinson is the one who puts the puzzle together.

Here’s another instance of Robinson reading defenders who are engaged with blocks to make life easier for his offensive line. On this inside zone rush with a jet sweep fake from last week’s game against the Bengals, Robinson appears to have nowhere to go at the point of handoff. The inside linebacker occupies the left A gap that the run is designed to target, while the 3-technique defensive tackle has outside leverage to cover the left B gap, and a mess of traffic is occupying the right side of the line. Again, rather than simply charging ahead to the designated gap, Robinson stays patient and runs straight forward long enough to fool the defensive tackle into trying to shed Norwell in the wrong direction, thus opening a hole for Robinson to jump cut into before making another cut at the second level on his way to another 12-yard rush for a first down.

In this final example of Robinson manipulating engaged run defenders, the Jaguars run split zone out of 12 personnel (two tight ends). Luke Farrell crosses the formation after the snap to block the edge defender so that the offensive line can flow to the right without worrying about a backside threat. The 1-technique defensive tackle has outside leverage to occupy the right A gap to which the run is designated, and Robinson swiftly takes the early cut back lane to the inside. But rather than planting his right foot hard and putting his head down to get the two yards needed for a first down, Robinson again stays patient and uses a slight initial jump cut to transition to a full jump cut to the left to offset the flow of the weakside linebacker and defensive tackle towards the right.

This play helps demonstrate how gifted Robinson is at finding extra yards on seemingly every carry. Perhaps Robinson possesses such impressive vision and patience in part because his lack of elite speed has forced him to excel in other areas- but no matter the case, Robinson’s ability to gain invisible yards makes him one of the most talented backs in the league and a joy to watch.

Other Thoughts

  • As John mentioned in 5 Players Who Will Decide Week 5, left tackle Cam Robinson has a tall task this week against Tennessee’s Harold Landry, who currently leads the league in pressures after recording at least five in each game. He ranks fifth among edge defenders in ESPN’s pass rush win rate metric and will be among the more dangerous Titans to look out for on Sunday.
  • Dawuane Smoot and Jihad Ward are the only players with double-digit pressures on a Jaguars team that ranks last in the league in sacks. Jacksonville also ranks last in turnovers. The defense has shown glimpses of promise as the season has progressed, but until it can start making big plays it’ll be up to the Jaguars offense to win games.
  • Dallas looks like a legitimate title contender, and it won’t be long before Dak Prescott is rightfully acknowledged as the top-five quarterback that he is in a division that’s quietly displaying solid quarterback play across the board.
  • New segment alert: go vote in the poll of the week!