EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- For as much as the Minnesota Vikings have continued to play Josh Robinson as their slot cornerback through all of his struggles this season, they've also been consistent about managing expectations for the second-year player. Coach Leslie Frazier and defensive coordinator Alan Williams have said they expected the Vikings' young secondary -- and Robinson in particular -- to struggle this season, acknowledging the team's porous pass defense as a cost of doing business with so many inexperienced players.
Robinson said he got the same message from coaches that the media received -- that his first experience in the slot was going to be a trying process -- and said he's been told he is improving each week, even as the Vikings have started to rotate Marcus Sherels in the slot along with Robinson. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers targeted Robinson nine times on Sunday, according to Pro Football Focus, and hit on eight throws for 81 yards and a touchdown.
The scoring pass, on which Rodgers hit 6-foot-3 receiver Jordy Nelson over the top of the 5-foot-10 Robinson's head, might have gone differently had Robinson turned his head to find the ball. But Robinson's coverage was tight enough that Rodgers had to fit the ball into a tiny window, and the 2011 NFL MVP did that.
"There wasn't too much more I could've done, except just try to fight once the ball was there," Robinson said. "The ball was put in a great spot. I actually watched a copy of it at home, and it was a good throw. You can't really do much about it."
Robinson has been targeted regularly, and successfully, by quarterbacks throughout the season. He has allowed 50 catches in 56 targets, according to Pro Football Focus, and quarterbacks are 38-for-40 for 426 yards against him in the slot, with 276 of those yards coming after the catch.
"Because I knew it was a new position and word was out there, they were going to say, 'Let's see what he can do -- can he defend in zone coverages?'" Robinson said.
He also added that the Vikings have adjusted some coverages to make things easier for him -- "so it's a cleaner read for me," he said. "You appreciate them and just say, 'OK, make sure they're not making these adjustments because I can't read my keys, or whatever it may be.'"
The Vikings' front office effectively made a decision to put Robinson at the position when they chose to cut Antoine Winfield and not pursue a reliable slot corner, drafting Xavier Rhodes and entrusting the position either to young players (Robinson and Sherels) or fringe players (Jacob Lacey). That decision has backfired on the Vikings, but there's only so much Robinson and the coaching staff can do to fix it during the season. Adjusting coverages to help him out is one tactic they can try.
"I think you can learn from any mistakes," Robinson said. "If mistakes were made in that [Packers] game, you've got to be able to learn from it. Of course you don't want to watch it, because it was awful. But you've still got to take the mistakes and try to improve."