FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Falcons head coach Mike Smith presented right cornerback Dunta Robinson with the team’s defensive game ball for his performance in Sunday’s 24-23 win over Tampa Bay.
Robinson ranked second on the team in tackles with six, had one of the unit’s two sacks, registered two tackles-for-loss and added a quarterback hurry.
Earlier this season Robinson had said that he was a “football player” and that he liked new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s scheme because it made him feel more like one, as it gave him opportunities to do more than just defend the pass.
In light of that, he said the recognition from his coach for his pass-rushing and run defense on Sunday felt “great.”
“I knew coming in I was going to get chances to make plays and I knew I had to take advantage of it,” Robinson said during the team’s open locker room session with the media before practice. He did not practice on Tuesday because of what Smith said was an illness. “So when they called my number, I just tried to go out and make a play. That’s what happens. That’s the beauty of this defense. Different weeks, different guys’ numbers are called, they’re stepping up to the plate on this defense. We have to have the same result Thursday night.”
In addition to the game ball, Robinson also received a bit of a scare on Sunday. A player who normally plays every snap on defense, he missed 13 of his unit’s 57 snaps on Sunday for what was announced during the game as a head injury.
A head injury often means a concussion and concussions in regards to NFL players are serious business, especially in light of recent studies that have linked repeated concussions to CTE, a “progressive degenerative disease of the brain,” according to Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy.
Robinson is a hard hitter who has been fined twice by the league since joining the Falcons in 2010 for hits to the head. In 2010, he concussed himself with one of those hits, a violent collision he delivered against Philadelphia’s DeSean Jackson. Robinson missed the next game as a result of that and could have missed a second week as well but the Falcons had a bye.
On Sunday, with 3:08 left in the third quarter Robinson put a fierce hit on Bucs’ running back Doug Martin for a one-yard loss then left the game to be examined. Robinson appeared to make helmet-to-helmet contact with his helmet but since it was a running play the NFL’s “defenseless player” rule was not in effect.
Smith said he does not think that Robinson should try to alter how he tackles.
“No, we’re always preaching to our guys the proper tackling techniques and Dunta’s a very physical, physical player,” Smith said. “We do stress that we want to make sure that the target is lowered. We’re always trying to be somewhere in what we call the strike zone, that we talk about in baseball, basically from the shoulders down to the knees.”
Robinson said his injury was a stinger, more of a neck and nerve-related injury that can be very painful in the short term but one that can disappear quickly.
“It was a little stinger from my neck through my shoulder,” he said. “I knew I wasn’t all there, so I didn’t want to stay in. Didn’t want to cost the team a play because I’m not feeling well. I just came out. The doctors wanted to go in and check in me. I did a few tests, came back out, I was ready to go. It was nothing that was serious at the time, but everything we’re doing was for precautionary reasons.”
Like many NFL players, whose jobs are always on the line, Robinson said he would not change how he plays. It’s the same style that earned him a six-year contract from the Falcons originally worth $57 million with $22.5 million guaranteed. Those are powerful incentives for a player not to mess with what has made him successful and rich.
“Hell, no,” he said. “You just can’t play thinking about ‘what-ifs.’ You just go out and play your style of football and that’s what I try to do.”
With the Saints visiting the Falcons on Thursday, Atlanta will need Robinson to be healthy and to be at his best. In New Orleans’ 31-27 victory over the Falcons on Nov. 11, Saints quarterback Drew Brees completed 21-of-32 passes for 298 yards and three touchdowns with one interception for a 113.8 rating.
Robinson said the Falcons need to tackle better and to just play better overall. Atlanta held the Saints to 10 points in the second half, but allowed 21 in the first half. He said they need to play the way they did in the second half for the entire game on Thursday.
Complicating the situation is the status of the team’s other starting cornerback, Asante Samuel, who has an injured shoulder. Samuel was listed as not participating in the team’s walkthrough on Monday and also did not practice on Tuesday. If Samuel cannot play, Robinson said back-ups Robert McClain and Christopher Owens need to perform.
“We need guys to step in and make plays,” he said. “We trust them to do that. We know they’ll be ready. But Asante will be ready to go. But if not, we have had situations where both of us have been on the sideline and guys came in and held up pretty well so that’s what we expect.”