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: Vikings at Bengals
Play: Gio makes it a trifecta on the season
What makes this the BTS Play of the Week?
At this time of the year, the weather is getting cold but the NFL is get hot with teams battling with all of their might & intensity for playoff position. That’s right: it’s time to separate the contenders from the pretenders. Thus, the top movement plays from yesterday came from guys trying to help their teams do just that. Guys like Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy did their best to make their outside case at MVP by dropping some truly MVP-type moves. In addition, Tony Romo and Dez Bryant stood in the face of their usual pressure to remind people why they are one of the best QB-to-WR combos in the league. However, even though these plays were worthy candidates, there was one play that surpassed all others. For the third time this season, Gio Bernard left me “oohing” and “ahhing” wondering what had really just happened.
Unfortunately for my guys down the road in purple: for the second week in a row, the Minnesota Viking defense fell victim to the Beyond the Stats Movement Play of the Week axe and were the up-close spectators to one of the best movers in the game just doing what he does. At least you can tell I am not being biased here with these breakdowns! Some may not know yet who Gio Bernard is but everyone will soon. I strongly believe these flashes of movement brilliance are going to keep adding onto his highlight reel. In fact, with breaking down an extensive amount of film each week and seeing players move at every position, I also believe that Gio Bernard is already in the upper echelon of movers in the league. And remember; he’s only a rookie!
What happened movement-wise on the play?
I want to answer the question of ‘what happened’ during the course of this play with another question: what DIDN’T happen? As you will see from the breakdown and the video, Gio Bernard pulled out all the stops (figuratively and literally) in order to cover these 41 yards with extravagance. From a jump cut to a lunge cut…from a filthy spin move to a nasty stiff arm…Bernard reached into this movement bag of tricks and left the Vikings defense wondering if #25 doubles as a magician in his off-time (because he most definitely operates as a movement magician on the football field!).
Bernard receives the pass from Andy Dalton at the Bengal’s 48 yard line. Notice his position that he is in right at the moment his hands touch the ball as well as the next body movement after it; once he is positive that the ball is firmly in his hands he quickly flips his head around to process his environment while still keeping his feet in a position where he could potentially accelerate back to the middle of the field if need be (i.e. if there were defenders close to him that he was unaware of when he had his back turned that way). However, once he realizes that there is more real estate in front of him if he travels north and south he makes the wise decision to head up-field.
When this decision is made in his mind, he hits a few quick stutter steps which are nothing more than re-positioning steps to regain body control and place his body in a more mechanically-sound form for rapid acceleration. Most coaches and athletes make the mistake of attempting to eliminate these types of steps thinking that it “wastes time” or are “false steps.” However, without this re-positioning, Bernard would have been off-balance and unable to quickly accelerate like he did.
Now, while traveling from the place of the catch to the location of a nearly-illegal spin move (at the Vikings 42 yard line) he runs in a very controlled tempo while getting his feet off the ground quickly.
As a viewer, pay close attention to how he never goes into full-out acceleration mode like so many would advocate. His feet stay underneath his center of gravity (instead of behind it) so if he makes the decision to sharply change direction he can simply snap his outside leg away from his vertical line of force and push himself into the opposite direction while the defender is still guessing. This will be a reoccurring theme with Bernard as he does this as well as maybe anyone in the league right now and it is what allows him to come in and out of his plants/breaks so quickly, while staying balanced and ready to reorient his body into any direction imaginable if the environment allows for it.
When he gets to the 44/43 yard line he begins to set-up Vikings linebacker Erin Henderson to be posterized. If you pause the film when Bernard’s lead foot is at the 42.5 yard line you will see the extremely high technical mastery he displays in his deceleration mechanics. His center of gravity is low and his base of support is wide enough that he can effectively go in any direction he so chooses because of the way his lines of force will end up no matter which way he is going. This leveraging is the key to rapid movement. In addition, he places himself in a position where both his quadriceps and glutes have stored some natural energy (through the stretch-shortening cycle) to be used in his next movement action. And the caveat is that he gets into that position quickly because of his fantastic force absorption capabilities. This release of energy in the quads and glutes takes form in propelling him into his spin move.
Once out of the spin move, look how he regains his balance and stability before attempting to move again. When guys start using spin moves they often lack control and get off-balance so the only way they can go is forward due to the lean that they have once they regain positioning. However, again the eccentric force absorption strength capabilities here help Bernard as does his naturally low center of gravity. While storing more energy in this position (again for further reuse), and keeping his feet underneath him, he can push into and out of movement positions while defenders are chasing and trying to coral him. Blanton (#36) and Guion (#98) now look like they are chasing a chicken around a farm coop. The move that Bernard puts on them at the 40 yard line was dare-I-say very Barry Sander-esqe! Very few guys have this level of body control along with the strength qualities to sufficiently perform this type of action where he drives into the cut/break hard, and drives out harder backwards while still getting into an optimal position for reacceleration once he regains control (ironically DeSean Jackson did the exact same thing in last week’s breakdown).
At this point (now back to the Vikings 41 yard line), he elects to allow his blockers to catch back up and use them to his full advantage to help him advance up-field. Before he does that though he must move laterally across the field (note: his body isn’t biomechanically moving laterally as he is still running with linear mechanics except with his head turned slightly to process information around him). When he cuts up-field at the 42/41 yard line, he utilizes a speed lunge cut where he exhibits nearly optimal front leg range of motion for a guy with lower center of gravity and very powerful quads (as opposed to a guy like DeSean Jackson who doesn’t get as deep because of his more active posterior chain).
Once he has weaved himself throughout the short spaces and there is now a host of angry guys in purple chasing him from behind, he elects to put the acceleration pedal down a little harder. He does this to try and get an angle to possibly make a shot at the end zone. However, Vikings safety Jamarca Sanford (#33) is able to cut him off. So Bernard must start regaining control for a new strategy to eat up yards. At the 26/25 he looks to cut it back to the inside of the field.
However, the chasing Vikings defenders who were more than sick and tired of having to follow the Bengal jitterbug had a good head of steam. This group of defenders included Vikings All-Pro defensive end Jared Allen who thinks he is going to finally bring Bernard down. BUT…the young cat Gio had different ideas! Thus, Bernard throws out his right hand hard to Allen’s face to shed through his attempted tackle. However, Allen did ultimately get the better of Bernard as it was enough to get him off-balance at least for Sanford and Blanton to make their way back into the play where they cleaned it up and kept Bernard from potentially getting into the endzone.
Check out the video highlights of Gio’s dazzling moves here!