Brian Robinson's improvement, first 100-yard day powers Commanders run game

LANDOVER, Md. -- Before Aug. 28, the day running back Brian Robinson was shot twice during an attempted armed robbery, the Washington Commanders envisioned how the rookie would run this season. He’d power their run game between the tackles, wear down defenses and lead a strong rushing attack.

They had to wait. He had to recover. He had to learn to run in the NFL while shaking off the mental and physical effects of being shot.

And now they’re seeing what they had hoped. It’s also no coincidence that the Commanders (7-5) have won six of seven games and currently own the final NFC playoff spot entering Sunday’s game at the 7-4 New York Giants (1 p.m. ET, Fox).

Meanwhile, Robinson recorded his first 100-yard rushing day in Sunday’s 19-13 win over the Atlanta Falcons.

He rushed for 105 yards on 18 carries and caught two passes for 20 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown reception in which he ran over defensive back Darren Hall. Robinson left the stadium with a game ball, not to mention wearing an oversized Washington Commanders ballcap.

Washington’s commitment to the run game has powered its hot play. Antonio Gibson and Jonathan Williams have certainly contributed to that rushing success, but Robinson’s ascension helps take the offense to another level. The run game certainly will be emphasized again Sunday as the Giants’ defense ranks 23rd in rushing yards allowed and 30th in yards per carry.

But they’re committed regardless of the opponent, and it’s because of what they’re seeing from Robinson.

“He's running with more confidence,” coach Ron Rivera said. “He's starting to get a little bit better feel as to cutbacks and running with his vision. He went through an awful, traumatic situation, and he's really just kind of starting to show us what he's capable of.”

This is why Washington drafted him in the third round, despite already having Gibson. The Commanders wanted to pair Gibson with a more traditional between-the-tackles back. That’s Robinson.

In the last two games, he’s gained 78 yards after contact -- fourth most in the NFL. He’s also snapped off a combined five runs of 10 yards or longer after having three such runs in his first six games.

Washington’s offensive line has opened more holes lately, and the tight ends have contributed more as blockers.

“I’m starting to get more comfortable in my second level play,” he said. “At first it was just kind of like get me that pump to get back up on that second level, but now I want to take that next step and play on the second level and finish on the second level.”

Robinson displayed that ability on multiple runs. On a 12-yard carry late in the third quarter Sunday, he quickly pressed the hole, saw the linebackers commit and promptly bounced outside. He gained 3 more yards after contact to complete the run.

On the next play, Robinson again pressed the hole to the right side, then cut back and broke an arm tackle at the line. When he squared back up, he was slightly knocked back after 7 yards in a collision with safety Jaylinn Hawkins. In fact, Robinson was sandwiched on the play. But he spun out and gained 4 more yards.

It’s those kind of runs, combined with him running over Hall and through the tackle attempt of linebacker Mykal Walker.

“When he’s getting his pads going vertical, there aren’t many people in this league that can stop him,” left tackle Charles Leno Jr. said of the 6-foot-1, 225-pound Robinson. “He’s running with a sense of urgency. When he was coming back [he was] more timid, but now he’s comfortable and starting to get more confidence in himself.”

Cornerback Kendall Fuller said the run success helps keep the defense off the field and fresh. But these kind of runs do something more.

“You see guys get amped up,” Fuller said. “It’s just that energy that he brings to the game, and that he creates for us as a team. That was something that meant a lot to him. Just seeing him go out there and make plays, and being that player that he is, is fun to watch.”

There’s also the matter of knowing what he went through in August. Two suspects have been arrested, but the gunshot wounds led to surgery on his right knee and four weeks of being sidelined.

“It’s me vs. me every day,” Robinson said. “I wake up, and I’m feeling some type of way based off of a situation in the past but I got to continue and work and get better and help my team.”

During his postgame speech after receiving the game ball, he thanked his teammates for supporting him throughout this situation.

“It’s definitely been a process just trying to stay strong mentally,” Robinson said. “They make it so easy for me to come in the building and just enjoy myself and enjoy my time and want to get better and work to get better. So I really give a lot of credit to the guys in that building and in that locker room that just helped me get back to where I want to be.”

As Williams sat at his locker after the game, he was asked where Robinson gets his power. Williams thought for a second.

“I’m not sure what his birthday is, but on that day, God gave him a lot of strength and some size,” Williams said. “Genetics. He’s just big and strong.”

But, later, he added another reason. It’s not just about physical gifts.

“That’s a mindset,” Williams said. “He’s a tough-minded person. You see what he went through in August and how he bounced back now. It’s all between the ears. It’s a mindset to go into games thinking, ‘I’m not going to let them tackle me,’ and that’s what happens.”