Dunta Robinson had Griff Whalen in his sights Sunday, and Robinson, the veteran cornerback, had just one thing on his mind: seek and destroy.
This mentality cost Robinson big-time on the play. Robinson proceeded to knock out teammate Derrick Johnson, who was also in pursuit of the Colts’ receiver, and allowed Whalen to scamper for several more yards, one of many secondary-related lowlights in the Chiefs’ 23-7 loss.
But while the play earned him some good-natured ribbing from teammate Justin Houston, Robinson said it also earned him a compliment.
“Fifty (Houston) said, ‘D-Rob, you were flying around, hitting teammates and everything,’ ” Robinson said with a smirk.
And really, who could blame Robinson for taking some pride in that comment? Understand, since he had been sent to the bench in October in favor of rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper, it had been roughly two and a half months since the 31-year-old Robinson saw as much meaningful action as he did against the Colts.
And while Sunday’s loss clearly irked him — all you had to do is read his postgame comments to realize that — Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Robinson did a nice job in logging 41 plays in his return to the starting nickel position.
“Dunta (Robinson) came in, and I thought he did a respectable job in there,” Reid said. “We played him in the nickel role and put (Brandon) Flowers back outside.”
On a day when the Chiefs’ defense struggled mightily, Robinson’s Pro Football Focus grade of 1.3 was the third-highest of any defender (behind Tamba Hali and Akeem Jordan) and a season best for Robinson, who finished with four tackles and two pass breakups.
“We felt this was a good opportunity to get Dunta back out there,” said defensive coordinator Bob Sutton. “I thought he went in and did a really good job inside. He provides us a little bit of veteran leadership. Obviously, he’s been around the block a few times, and he has some savvy to him. So that was a real plus for us.
“Dunta’s always been a pretty physical player — that’s always been his mark since he came into the league,” Sutton said. “We were happy with him.”
Robinson, however, was far from a savior. The secondary looked about as bad as it has all season, blowing a handful of assignments that led to big plays as Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck completed 26 of 37 passes for 241 yards and a touchdown.
“It wasn’t by design,” Sutton joked when asked about the defensive mistakes. “There were some individual breakdowns there, some communication (issues), some misinterpretation about what happened on this (or that) route. But I don’t think Indy was doing anything different than we’ve seen in all the other weeks of the season.”
The secondary’s performance, however, was proof that while Cooper — whose play has tailed off considerably since a solid start — has been the goat of the group, this unit’s issues go far deeper than him.
In fact, Reid wanted to make it clear that he thinks Cooper has a bright future, despite the fact that his negative-14.8 PFF rating in his previous five games was pretty horrendous.
“Sometimes you have to take a little step back to take a big step forward — that’s just how it works sometimes in this game,” Reid said. “I thought we just needed to take a step back. I have done that with younger guys in the past. I thought he handled it the right way. He had a few snaps in there, in the game. He did OK, and then we’ll gradually let him work his way back in.”
Sutton said Cooper should view it as a learning experience, one that secondary coach Emmitt Thomas told him would be coming two months ago.
“When Marcus was starting to play more, he said, ‘Now look, Marcus, you’ve got to understand one thing: Before the course of this season is up … there’s going to be a time when it gets tough (for you),’ ” Sutton said. “That’s just what happens to young guys when they play. ... It’s really about how (they) respond.”
Sutton said Cooper has worked hard and kept a good attitude over the past few weeks.
“You never know when (it’s) your time (to be) up,” Cooper said. “So you try not to let that distract you. You just continue to go about your day and work and prepare as if you’re the starter.”
The decision to reinsert Robinson into the lineup also affected Flowers, who spent most of the game at left cornerback for the first time since the Chiefs’ week six win over Oakland.
But Flowers’ play since then hasn’t been great, either. His PFF rating in the previous eight games before Sunday (negative-7) was also below average.
Flowers, while prideful, said all the right things when asked if he would be OK with being moved back to the outside on a full-time basis.
“I’m a vet; I can adjust fast,” Flowers said. “It’s what I’ve got to do. It’s the move we made, (so) that’s what I’m going to try and go out there and try to be better at.”
Turns out, that’s exactly the approach Robinson took during the months he spent waiting for his next chance. He was frustrated — the former first-round pick had never spent that much time on the bench due to a coach’s decision — but Robinson kept telling himself it might be for the best. Through his first four games this year, his PFF grade was middling — negative-5.5 — and the 10-year pro said his body was weary after a physical training camp, one that sapped the legs of a player who once ran the 40-yard dash in 4.34 seconds.
“Is it hard sitting over there on the sideline when you’ve been a player your entire career? Oh, it’s definitely tough,” Robinson said. “But at that point in time, it was needed. If I’d gone through a whole season, I don’t think I’d feel the way I do right now.
“I can’t remember a time (where I) felt this good this late in the year.”
With his trademark speed no longer a strength, Robinson said he’s also spent time this season working on the mental side of the game. He’s confident he can help the Chiefs defend the crossing and pick routes that good teams have tortured them with for the last month or so.
“At one point of my career, I focused on how fast I was,” Robinson said. “I made a lot of plays based off my physical talent. But (at my age), that’s when your study habits pick up, and you know what they’re about to do before they do it. That’s kind of where I’m at.”
Robinson hopes this, plus his fresh legs, will help him build on his solid-but-unspectacular performance on Sunday. He wishes a few plays — his unintentional tackle of Johnson, for instance — hadn’t happened.
But in the heat of battle, when things are moving so fast, you can’t have any regrets.
“I give myself about a C, C-plus (on Sunday),” Robinson said. “I was a little rusty, my legs felt a little heavy, but I was able to run around and make some plays, and that was a good thing. I’ve got to get my wind (back).
“I didn’t think I played bad,” he concluded, “but I know I can play a little bit better.”