Play of the Week – Week 8

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: Cowboys at Lions

Play 1: Calvin proving he is the best in the game

Play 2: Dez standing behind his argument that he belongs in the WR conversation

Dez & Calvin

What makes this the BTS Play of the Week?

Yes; you read that right. Two plays! I simply couldn’t help but do something a little different this week.

First of all, leading up to Week 8, much had been made of the match-up between two of the best (if not the clear cut best) wide receivers in the league facing each other, Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant. If you happened to watch this game, or at least see highlights (or if you are part of the fantasy football world and simply saw the stats), you will quickly realize that this game and its marquee match-up between the game’s best did not disappoint.

If you are one of those individuals who has more of a life than simply following everything NFL-related, you may not know that Dez called out Calvin Johnson and the rest of the NFL last week to take notice that he feels as though he is on the same level as Calvin and can do everything on the field that he can. Of course, Calvin fought back on-field with only the second biggest receiving day in NFL history. The fact of the matter though is that they are both exceptional players in their own right and honestly it’s a little like comparing apples to oranges. You see; though they have relatively similar physical attributes, they happen to display very different predominant movement characteristics to their game.

Sure; both are large, physical receivers (Calvin at 6’5” and nearly 240lb and Dez at 6’2” and 222lb) and both are very athletic relative to this great size. However, they way they produce at their craft are not similar even if their on-field statistics are. Calvin is quite simply a freak of nature. Even despite his size, Johnson is one of the fastest WRs in the game (4.35 40yd) and has the well-reported ability to literally out-leap anyone in the league for balls (with his 42-43 inch standing vertical jump on top of his already phenomenal reach). They don’t call him Megatron for nothing! In contrast, Dez does some different things spectacularly. He moves with swag and moxie. He comes into and out of his breaks very aggressively. With a ball in his hands he stops on a dime in space and uses leverages of his smaller stature (I say smaller only in comparison to Calvin) to make smaller and even supposedly quicker defenders look silly. I give you this brief premise because the plays I selected for each from this week show a glimpse of some of what I am talking about here (though Calvin didn’t have to out-jump anyone in his play). That all said, both guys actually put down a number of players yesterday that could’ve have been selected for this week’s dissection.

In addition, there were also a good number of plays that on most weeks would be completely worthy of being this week’s movement play selected. These included Cordarrelle Patterson’s record-setting kick return TD, Pryor having the longest run ever recorded by a QB, and Cardinals RB Andre Ellington hitting paydirt from 80 yards after some nifty moves.

PS; On a side note, the Chiefs are still undefeated. It hurts being this good at prognosticating. Yes, I am still bragging.

What happened movement-wise on the play?

Play 1; Calvin Johnson

To summarize this play, it would be really easily to just say, “Calvin just did what Calvin does.” However, how entertaining or informative would that be? Pretty much everything Calvin did during Sunday’s game left me scratching my head vigorously. He looked like an 18 year old bully playing with 12 year old pee-wee players at times.

From very early in this game (i.e. this play), it looked like CJ81 was poised to make a statement for all to never-ever compare anyone to him until he elects to retire from the league. If you have watched any Lions football over the last number of years, you will often see Stafford just throwing balls up to 81 and letting him do what he does best and go up and get them. However, on this play, 81 takes a short slant and then simply runs away.

In his stance, I personally would like to see him assume a more advantageous starting position for first step explosion. This position would be one where he would shift his center of mass proportioned more over his front foot and give a greater angle with his back leg from ankle all the way to his hip. However, because of his high amount of horizontal power (and his very active posterior chain), once the ball is snapped, he is able to create a great lever over his front leg and foot relatively quickly. He also utilizes a short plyo-drop step to take advantage of elastic energy from the back leg and create greater initial propulsion. In addition, it should be noted that he has to bait the defender slightly into thinking that tactically he could be planning on doing any number of things and thus isn’t necessarily attempting to just accelerate as hard as possible linearly downfield. That all said I still believe that he would have greater control, balance, and stability in movement if he were to assume the stance position I am more of a fan of and am describing above.

I have had a number of DBs in the league over the years who discuss 81’s physicality advantage in getting early separation off the line due to his size and athleticism combination. It obviously frustrates guys because not only can he get off the line of scrimmage like this but if you don’t respect this ability and try to cheat it by jamming him further, he will run right past just about anyone. On this play, it’s really no different.

Calvin long catch

Though Johnson doesn’t assume the greatest acceleration mechanics (position and angles) after he drives his foot into the ground in the first 2 steps after his break, he doesn’t really need crisper acceleration because he gives Stafford such a big target (especially given his radius) to thread the needle between the defender window, hit him in stride, and give himself the opportunity to make a big play out of relatively routine circumstances. And of course…CJ81 rarely disappoints. Once he gets the ball in his hands he gets a chance to really flex his muscle and put his combination of leverage and horizontal power to use. Of course, because of his stature, the one area that he is at a disadvantage with would be in early acceleration. But once he gets some momentum going and his step length gets longer, there are very few people who can exhibit these qualities and stick with him step for step especially if we are talking about defensive secondary players in the league. Also, he has super long lower legs (which equals long Achilles Tendons) which equates to the unique ability to be elastic-reactive when his foot hits the ground. All of this results in a great combination between step rate/frequency along with step length…which of course equals nothing but supreme linear speed. If you were to pause the video once he gets into the open field you would see the stride length as well as very clean movement mechanics from each link of the chain.

Calvin long catch 2

In this play though, there is some tactical considerations due to where and how the defenders happen to be pursuing. Thus, Johnson has to make a quick cut and re-acceleration action. Usually taller guys lose a great deal of velocity into and out of cuts such as this. Granted, this specific cut didn’t have to involve an extreme angle for redirection but nonetheless Calvin is able to keep himself very balanced and stable and therefore quickly put himself into a position to take advantage of his physical supremacy.

Calvin long catch 3

Unfortunately though, he began to look around thinking he would be caught (which ultimately he was of course). I believe that if he would’ve continued to just stride out and allow himself to be relaxed (I know; easy for me to say as I wasn’t the one being chased by 4 guys) and get into rhythmic max speed running actions he would have found himself in the end zone. His side to side head-turning action though created some energy wasting (due to his cascade of twisting action that occurs from the neck on down the spine and to the ground) and in the NFL this equates to unnecessary wasted time. As is easy to see at the end of the play, 81 seems to be relatively disappointed (I mean as shaken as someone can be after going for 87 yards to start the game) based on the fact that he allowed himself to be caught. Of course, in true greatest receiver walking the planet fashion he would catch a TD pass a few plays later to put the Lions ahead early.

In case you haven’t seen it yet, here is Calvin’s play:
http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-cant-miss-plays/0ap2000000270013/WK-8-Can-t-Miss-Play-Johnson-breaks-loose

Play 2; Dez Bryant

Though I have seen flashier plays from Dez, the one that I will break-down here is a crazy display of movement that must be dissected in order to be truly appreciated. I will take up the movement break-down from the point where he sat in on his route and got the ball into his hands as this is where the money is made on this play anyway. At the 33 yard line, Bryant gets the ball into his hands and, like so many of my movement plays of the week selections, he has to quickly process the quickly moving body traffic around him in order to avoid getting his head taken off. This is where the nearly un-teachable instincts come into the mix. Very few players would’ve reacted in the fashion that Dez did here…most would’ve either braced for a big hit and taken the contact from the approaching tackler or quickly evaded all contact by stepping out of bounds.

Dez TD pic 2

In contrast, Dez pivoted rapidly and loaded himself into an optimally squared-up position for re-acceleration 180 degrees from the direction he was initially facing when he caught the ball. If you were to still-shot the video at this time where he is at his deepest hip and knee position after the pivot has occurred and from any of the angles that they show, you will see fantastic knee angle for good stopping ability (with positive shin angle as well as great co-activation between the quads and hams) as well as very efficient toe angles for reacceleration. All the while of course, he had to be very cognizant of the fact that it would be easy for him to lose balance and go out of bounds as he had to immediately walk the tight rope of the sideline right after getting turned around. This movement sequence required tremendous eccentric ability (i.e. quality to absorb force quickly while being able to control his center of gravity around his base of support optimally for stability) as well as kinesthetic sense/awareness to know where his body was in space with on-coming pursuit.

Dez TD pic

Whereas Calvin has a harder time with short distance first 1-3 step acceleration, this is one of the areas that Bryant proves his worth and is quickly able to cover ground early in this movement phase. If you were to pause the video in any of these steps you can see that Dez is able to put himself in a position mechanically (i.e. great body lean, good front-side mechanics angles) to direct force into the ground rapidly with little wasted energy dissipation even under these crazy environmental demands. Because of this, he quickly creates separation and then, unlike Calvin in his play, he keeps his head focused on the task at hand and this allows him to build onto the early separation made, and gain ground to take the ball into the end zone.

Here is Dez’s filthy play:
http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-fantasy/0ap2000000271210/QB-Romo-to-WR-Bryant-50-yd-pass-TD

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