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: Lions at Eagles
Play: Shady McCoy walking in a winter wonderland
What makes this the BTS Play of the Week?
If you were able to watch any game from this weekend, one thing will pop out quickly: many games included conditions that most people wouldn’t even venture out of the house during and players were battling the elements that these conditions provided as much as they were up against their actual opponent for the week. It made for some fun and exciting viewing for spectators (who were in recliners at home at least) as these conditions immediately change the outcome of games.
Second, I know I sound like a broken record when I say that that the play of the week selection was a difficult one. However, this week’s lineup was maybe the most stacked yet. And almost all of them came in the snow games! Dexter McCluster and Jeremy Ross both threw down some nasty returns while both Frank Gore and Cordarrelle Patterson made some big time plays to keep their teams in the hunt down the stretch of games. Finally, the actual recipient of this week’s play of the week award, LeSean ‘Shady’ McCoy, had a number of runs that were of balla status that could have been selected for breakdown.
Before I go any further, let me say that it was almost certainty that a play from a game in the snow was selected this week. I am not sure that most people truly can’t appreciate how much different it is to move in these types of conditions and the other unique challenges that are presented because of them. If you are familiar to any kind of locomotion in the snow, it should also be intuitively obvious that when you are talking about the most dynamic of movements on a football field they would also be considerably be more variable. If you are driving in it, you must go slower and give yourself longer distances and time to stop. In addition, how sharply you are able to turn will also be impacted greatly. On all accounts, human movement is no different. Your tires have no choice but to spin more in the snow as do your shoes against the ground. More accidents occur on the roads when these flakes accumulate…more accident incidence when you’re on a field like this too. You get the idea.
To add to that, there are a good number of players who have even played in snow with any kind of consistency…shoot; some younger players have never even seen or felt snow! Plus, there really aren’t many viable options that are available to be able to adequately prepare athletes for what it will take in order to change one’s movement behavior when in any type of precipitation besides calling in a favor to Mother Nature and telling her to deliver some fluffy, white stuff.
What happened movement-wise on the play?
Before I get into the play breakdown, I should say that I do feel as though LeSean ‘Shady’ McCoy is one of the best, if not the very best, overall change-of-direction athletes in the league today. He is one of the rare few who possess the ability to break ankles by the way he stops on dimes. In fact, if you are an avid reader of this blog, you may recall me writing a blog on the cutting actions of running backs where I used Barry Sanders and compared many of the game’s current best movers to those actions. LeSean McCoy was illustrated in there. You can see that blog here:
With the Eagles facing the Lions this past Sunday, there were many people in the media attempting to compare this season’s leading rusher to date (McCoy) to the guy who may be the greatest RB of all-time (Sanders). However, I think this comparison is unfair. Don’t get me wrong: McCoy CAN move! However, the movement strategies that he typically employs are vastly different than Barry (that doesn’t mean one is more effective than the other). Shady is better when he is able to execute faster speed cutting actions in both bilateral and unilateral fashions (usually unilateral).
He also frequently utilizes a hybrid version of this speed cut in a higher lunge position. For him; in both cutting actions, he typically uses less knee and hip flexion than you would ever see Barry use. This keeps Shady’s center of gravity higher than you would typically witness Barry get to and keeps more speed into and out of the cut whereas Barry would stop and start more rapidly (and frequently too). All in all though, this difference in movement strategy is what I believe allowed McCoy to have such a monster day in the snow this week because it would’ve actually been more effective than Barry’s lower center of gravity/wider base of support position that he would’ve often utilized more frequently.
OK…enough of the comparisons…now onto the true breakdown!
On this play, almost immediately after McCoy takes the handoff from quarterback, Nick Foles, he must keep his feet underneath him rather than commit to hitting the line of scrimmage with any additional vigor in acceleration. The reason is likely two-fold: 1). The tactical considerations of the play based on his assigned reads 2). The technical considerations and challenges presented to his balance and stability because of the snow. However, you see him gather himself in a nicely loaded (look at the degree of flexion at the hips and knees) yet still fairly upright position so he is able to make a quick decision once he determines it’s time to accelerate. This acceleration position (much like we discussed in the track vs. football blog last week) has to be exaggerated further in the snow as any further attempted line of force into the ground of sharper magnitude in his acceleration position would surely lead to him eating snow. However, the proper employment of it here allows McCoy to slither through the first level of the defense rather easily with short, quick steps.
It should also be noted that McCoy’s narrower base of support behind the line of scrimmage or in other change of direction circumstances all day on Sunday (which then corresponded to the higher center of gravity) was not necessarily his norm or the most optimal had there not been snow on the ground. To be most effective for rapid changes of direction in MOST conditions, a lower center of gravity with a wider base of support is usually most desirable (depending on the features and strengths of the particular athlete). However, in the snow, leverage changes considerably and sharper changes of direction with steeper body angles is less advantageous to attempt for even the best as one’s foot would typically end up sliding out further away from the vertical line of force and that force would be not be transmitted to the ground adequately.
Once he knows that the first level of the Lions defense (which is stacked with athletes but not of this kind of freakdom to be able to catch McCoy in the open field and in the snow) is now neutralized, he can start to set-up guys in front of him for silliness. This silliness is essentially what Shady did all day long (enough for 219 yards that is!). Between the 35 and 32 yard line, #25 begins to look at what movement action sequence is going to be best to manipulate the on-coming defender. At the 33/32 yard line (give me a break; it’s covered by 6 inches of snow!), he performs the lunge-speed hybrid cut I spoke of above. You can see that this cut does not involve a very wide base of support and would allow him to maintain as much of the speed as possible no matter the weather conditions. Halfway through the cut though, McCoy recognizes that the defender has fully prepared and committed to going in lower to try and tackle him. Luckily for McCoy, he had another movement trick up his sleeve and took a page out of Vernon Davis’s book when he elected to change his position and explode vertically up and over the defender in a hurdle-type position at exactly the right time. Every fraction of a second would have made the world of a difference here!
This leaping, hurdling feat would have been impressive enough had it been on dry ground or even if he wouldn’t have been able to advance down the field any further. BUT…for McCoy, he upped the ante more than a bit. He not only landed on one leg and remained very stable doing so but got back into his acceleration phase nearly immediately with little attention even paid to re-balancing himself. Now, it should be noted that his body did this proprioceptively for him because his extraordinary kinesthetic awareness. It’s a darn good thing he was able to get right back into his acceleration phase though because the last true defender to have a shot was already actively pursuing. This simply provided another guy to be posterized on this tremendous play when McCoy trucks through this wanna-be tackler.
Now, in the open field McCoy is not necessarily a speed horse even on dry land and especially compared to defensive backs. He does his thing and makes his bread by making moves on guys. Yes he has a tremendous amount of reactive ability and eccentric strength (i.e. force absorption capability) but his anthropometric features and structure doesn’t allow him to being extraordinary in both categories (just like you won’t see many guys who have both great agility and crazy linear speed). But in this case, he had just enough room left before the end zone (which is impossible to see) to get himself there without getting caught. However, in order to do this, he does utilize solid linear football-specific mechanics with a quick flexion flip at the knee after ground support due to his highly reactive hamstring musculature. Though his arms/hands slightly cross his body but their swing stays short and rapid to allow his force development at his legs and feet to do the same and propel him into the end zone.
In case you missed the wintery mix of movement, here it is!