THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – During the NFC Championship game, 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel took the inside handoff from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and ran toward his left. Seeing the running lane close as the Rams defense flowed to that side, he quickly cut back toward the middle.
He was met abruptly by Rams defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson, who stonewalled him for no gain.
Those are the kinds of plays that have helped Robinson provide a big boost to Los Angeles in its push toward Super Bowl LVI against the Cincinnati Bengals.
"I'm just locked in on my job and just concentrate on what I need to do and everything," Robinson said during his Super Bowl LVI video conference Wednesday. "Just doing my job as high as I can for these guys, knowing they're gonna do their job. So honestly, I'm just being the best version I could be of myself. I've been instilled that since at a very young age. And coaches instilled that in us. So it's just in my head constantly so I honestly just be thinking about it at all times."
Robinson has 16 total tackles in the playoffs and has been an integral part of a run defense that has limited its first three playoff opponents to 3.1 yards per carry. L.A.'s run defense has also limited each opponent to 61 or fewer rushing yards, including 50 by a 49ers rushing offense – seventh in the NFL at the end of the regular season at 127.4 yards per game – that had put up 169 in the Wild Card round and 106 in the Divisional Round.
Being in the position to contribute in that way and make those kinds of plays in part goes all the way back to last summer.
A "respiratory situation" delayed his debut in his first season with the Rams until the middle of the 2020 season, limiting him to eight games. He had 12 total tackles and a forced fumble that year, plus three total tackles and a forced fumble in two playoff games. With that first season not going according to plan and an important second season on the horizon, Robinson changed up his diet and routine last offseason because he wanted to be at his best this season for his teammates and coaches. Defensive line coach Eric Henderson also challenged Robinson to drop some weight before reporting to training camp, a challenge that Robinson accepted.
"He came back, lost a whole bunch of weight and was able to move around a whole lot better," Henderson said Thursday. "You can see his change in direction has picked up, his level of play, his attention to detail, just being an all-around teammate. I'm just extremely excited about what he's been able to bring to the front. His physical play in the run game has been extremely important for us to have the success that we've been able to have."
Having a front-row seat to Robinson's progress, Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald said it's a "night and day" difference between this season and last season.
"When A'Shawn's out there (and) you playing with a guy like that, man, it just makes you that much more comfortable, because you know he going to make plays," Donald said. "If the ball go to him, he going to shut that thing down on one side, and then you got Greg Gaines in the middle."
Donald and Gaines said Robinson has been impactful against the run and the pass.
"I'm so happy to see him being successful and doing what he does," Gaines said. "He's really took a step out this year, and the dude is an absolute animal out there. He can pass rush. I think he's one of the best run defenders in the league. It's been awesome playing next to these guys."
Robinson will be counted on again as the Rams prepare to defend a Bengals offense led by quarterback Joe Burrow and running back Joe Mixon, between Burrow's escapability when the pocket is collapsing and Mixon's running ability.
If the last three games – and really, the last several months – are any indication, Robinson will be up for the challenge.