Play of the Week – Week 6

As part of something I want to do for the blog throughout the NFL season, I will be selecting one play each week where I felt as though special movement was displayed. In the post I will then breakdown some things that I felt contributed to the movement performance. In my normal fashion, I will also be very likely to make note of things that maybe could’ve been done differently, as well.

Game: Bengals at Bills

Play: Bengals Rookie Runner weaves through traffic with pizzazz

Bernard vs Bills 1

What makes this the BTS Play of the Week?

As always, there were some very solid movement breakdown plays of the week candidates for week 6. However, as most people know, running backs are my absolute favorite position on the field to not only breakdown movement for but also to personally train and consult for. Thus, I was in a deprivation mode from not having broken down a stand-out play from a RB since Adrian’s big-time run to start the season off in Week 1. Thus, I thought it was more than overdue!

The person and play that would be named champion of the week would be the nasty cutting moves by Cincinnati Bengals RB, Giovani Bernard. The first time I saw this Bernard play I was actually sitting in the sh*t show that took place in the Metrodome on Sunday as the Vikings faced the Panthers. They showed Bernard’s play on the big screen after it happened and I immediately knew that it would be very difficult to match by any other play on Sunday based on the sheer efficiency and difficulty of the movement pattern exhibit put on by GB#25. In addition, it encompassed several near textbook/technically-optimal cutting actions that I have taken significant time to discuss on this blog before (see my 2-part posts on how I dissect/define the different styles of cutting from earlier in September).

What happened movement-wise on the play?

I have honestly been waiting for Giovani Bernard to produce a play like Sunday’s this season. I don’t get to watch an abundance of college football, but when I do I always pay close attention to the RBs that are standing out whom I believe can make an immediate in the league (OK; you are probably gathering that I am obsessed with RB movement). Last year, while at North Carolina, Bernard displayed this style of flashy movement in a phone booth over and over. So much so; I believed after the combine that he would be this class’s most efficient moving running back. Thus, it is about time he makes good on my prediction as I highly enjoy being correct!

That all said, moving at a high level of mastery in the environmental demands that BCS college football embodies doesn’t always translate to making people look silly in the NFL as the playing field is a much more even one between a player and their opposition. It also takes time to get accustomed to the new chaos that takes place play-after-play due to the overall speed of the game. Thus, movement actions change significantly, as well…and the body must adapt its behavior around this over-time (just like any type of pedagogical adaptation/motor learning would have to occur). However, it seems as though Bernard is finally finding the pep in his step on Sunday afternoons.

Bernard reaccel position

On this particular play, #25 starts his forward motion with what some would refer to as a false step, a drop step, or a plyo step. Some would argue that this is a wasted motion (b/c the athlete is going in the opposite direction from that in which they are headed) and would attempt to get guys out of that specific movement execution. However, with guys who have it naturally in place and/or have higher levels of elastic-reactive strength, it can be a very advantageous movement action and actually get them to their point quicker and with greater energy restitution. He carries out the play action fake with Andy Dalton and then runs through the line of scrimmage where he must execute a turn and run type action. This type of movement patterning is not actually as easy as it looks in the NFL as you know that guys are closing quickly around you and the environment then is also rapidly changing in front of you (yet where your eyes cannot see).

Around the 17 or 18 yard line, Bernard sits down on his route where he catches it, quickly plants onto his left leg, and rapidly must shift around to process the information unfolding around him. This is one of the differences in the college game vs. the NFL that I spoke of above that guys must get used to as their opponents can close so much differently and are coming with a whole different level of intention, skill, and vigor. At this point, as #25 is rotating on his already planted left leg, he makes an unexpected sharp stab step with his right foot to give himself the leverage and advantage of a rapid stretch-shortening cycle on that right leg to get himself back moving and away from the defender immediately in front of him. To push out of this spot (where the defender is attacking quickly to him), he places himself into a crossover onto the already planted/stable left foot using the added momentum from his right foot stab step noted above.

After coming out of this crossover, he quickly pivots hard back onto the right foot (note: these past three moves took place at world-class cutting speeds) and into a speed lunge cut which involved fairly high amplitude and fastly-occuring joint actions. He then heads up field to around the 10 yard line where he must execute a very deep (i.e. more range-of-motion at the knee and hip) lunge cut which he could not only see the defender in front of him (who was squared up to head him off from going linearly up field) but also ‘feel’ a pursuing defender on his back. At this point (when Bernard used this deep sharp lunge cut), most RBs would have used either a power cut or speed cut in which he could also be squared up to go into either direction. However, it’s likely that he would’ve gotten caught from behind here then as he would’ve had to take at least 1 more step in order to get him into an efficient position to make an effective move on the defender in front of him. However, a lunge cut can be more optimal here for some performers as it doesn’t include an additional slowing down or planting step. That said an athlete does have to possess higher levels of unilateral strength, adequate balance, and greater stability in order to nail this quickly without any energy dissipation.

Bernard lunge cut

When #25 gets to around the 5 yard line he starts to be able to get a good whiff of healthy end zone paydirt. He performs one last cutting action of the power fashion and hits a defender with a nasty stiff-arm all while evading another pursuing defender from behind him who gets a solid cowboy-like riding tackle on him. This was to no avail as Bernard already has enough forward momentum to carry him into the endzone like a total daddy. This is where the combination of a higher relative strength level coupled with a low center of gravity really comes into play and makes it unstoppable to keep him from getting into the endzone.

Bernard cutting action

Overall, just like he did when he came out of college, Giovani Bernard impressed me with his multi-directional movement ability and this play was a great display of the skill he possess in this regards. He gets fantastic positioning into his planting and cutting actions which allows for rapidly occurring force absorption. Though he sometimes loses torso control slightly on his cutting actions by breaking at the waist (which allows some force dissipation and overall lack of stability) he usually takes full advantage of his lower center of gravity and possesses great leveraging with a wide base of support. He also has a knack for properly loading his front leg for good force production out of all deceleration patterns to quickly put him back into a position for rapid re-acceleration and short, piston-like steps (which is the essence of football movement acceleration in short distances).

If you haven’t seen the play yet, here it is!


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