Entering the Week 17 matchup on Sunday Night Football against the physical Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium, the Pittsburgh Steelers placed a serious emphasis on stopping the run this time around.
As is well known, the Steelers allowed 215 rushing yards to the Ravens in the Week 14 matchup at Acrisure Stadium in the 16-14 loss. Needing to slow down the Ravens’ rushing attack, the Steelers turned to one of their more physical downhill defenders on the night, inserting rookie seventh-round pick Mark Robinson into the starting lineup.
Robinson played 26 snaps in the 16-13 win, finishing with seven tackles, including a big hit on running back J.K. Dobbins on the first play from scrimmage for the Steelers defense. That physicality against the run helped the Steelers set the tone in the win, though the Ravens did run for 120 yards on the night.
For Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, the decision to insert Robinson wasn’t an easy one, considering what was at stake, but the rookie’s growth, maturity and skillset that fit particularly what the Steelers wanted to do against Baltimore led to the decision.
“He’s a guy that likes physical confrontation. That’s the one component of his game that’s never been in question,” Tomlin stated to reporters Tuesday during his weekly media session, according to video via the Steelers YouTube page. “Growth and development in all other areas due to youth and lack of experience is [in question], so he’s grown over the course of the season and we’ve challenged him to get comfortable with professional football. Not only professional football, but we’re talking about a guy who hadn’t played a lot of linebacker, guy who played running back in college. You guys know his story.
“And so, there’s a lot of growth that needs to transpire there in terms of the nuances of the position and a lot of the things that come with the position,” Tomlin added. “To be blunt, we were stepping into a game that was gonna challenge him in a specific area, and that specific area was in line with his skillset, and so we let him play.”
Robinson’s skillset of an all gas, no brakes downhill thumper played perfectly into the matchup against the Ravens, who love to run the football and punch defenses in the mouth over and over again. Robinson was the counterpunch to the Ravens, and helped the Steelers set the tone physically from the start of the game.
While Robinson is still learning the nuances of not only the game, but the position overall as Tomlin stated, being able to play fast and free downhill like he did is a real asset defensively. See ball, hit ball. That’s what Robinson did time and time again on Sunday night.
That’s largely why the Steelers took a chance and inserted him into the lineup late in the season in a must-win matchup over the likes of Devin Bush and Myles Jack.
Though Robinson is going to have growing pains from time to time as he learns the position on the fly at the professional level, having a guy wit the type of maturity and overall growth and development as a rookie is rather remarkable for the Steelers, who took a flier on the Ole Miss product and seem to have hit on a player with a unique skillset and background.