With one of the more highly anticipated Super Bowl games in quite some time quickly approaching, NFL Network & ESPN have been busy dissecting the game from every angle imaginable….or are they?! Today, while they are busy showing repeated analysis of how the Broncos have been able to score a record-setting number of points or why the Seahawks secondary is the most feared in the league, I want to offer you a new perspective and preview of what to look for come Super Bowl Sunday from the perspective of the movers to watch for.
Of course, like everything else done here on Beyond the Stats, all of my analysis and dialogue stems from observations I have had on the performance of particular players and their respective position-specific technical movement efficiency. Now, it’s intuitively obvious that the rosters of these teams are stacked athletically. These teams are definitely not the underdogs when it comes to their levels of on-field movement proficiency. Thus, my plan today is to give those interested in football movement as much as I am something else to look for while everyone else is stuffing their faces with pizza, chips, and beer.
When you have the highest scoring offense of all-time, along with arguably the best QB to ever play, it’s hard not to say a lot of good things about the Mile High guys in blue and orange. It obviously all starts with this season’s eventual MVP, Peyton Manning. Now, you’re not going to write home to Mom in awe over #18’s overall athleticism like you may with his counterpart across the field. However, when it comes to overall position-specific mastery in the league today, no one is even on the same wavelength as Mr. Manning. His sheer command of his tactical demands makes him someone who has closed his potential gap like few others in any sport maybe ever have. In addition, having to adopt new nuances to his throwing mechanics due to a gruesome neck surgery 2 years ago, he showed that you can teach an old dog some new tricks.
Standing behind Peyton is some very capable moving backs particularly Knowshon Moreno. Though right now #27 is possibly known mostly for his crying during the National Anthem, he has a very deceiving explosive burst especially out of crossover cutting actions where he uses cleaner (deeper & sharper) crossover support leg angles than most other backs during this action. In short distances, don’t write off Montee Ball though either as you will see him be particularly sneaky to tackle because of his ability to widen out his base of support & lower his center of gravity well.
When you get to Manning’s receiving corps, a whole lot can be said. I mean a whole lot! These guys caught more balls for touchdowns in a season than any other corps in history and it’s not a 1-2 punch effort either. You have 4 very capable receivers including 2 guys in Eric Decker & Demaryius Thomas that could start on the outside on any roster across the league due to their unique combination of size, strength, and speed. At the slot WR, Wes Welker has been one of the most productive at the position for a vast number of years and much of this is because of his short distance explosiveness highlighted by his reacceleration mechanics out of any break that allows him to get quick separation as well as any slot guy in the league yet today. Rounding out this extraordinary crew is Julius Thomas who has taken over the tight end spot. If you didn’t know that he was listed as a TE you would have no idea based on his highly-honed movement skills that begun out on a basketball court. This movement efficiency is solidified by terrific movement leveraging angles that create lines of force that get the big man moving quickly.
On the defensive side of the ball, you won’t find nearly the same star-studdedness but you will find highly productive players like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at CB and Shaun Phillips at LB who has taken over in the absence of the extraordinary Von Miller. On Twitter, I have been highly critical of Champ Bailey’s athletic fall-off in the last two years but I mean come on; the guy has been playing in the league for 15 years and has been named to more Pro Bowls than anyone ever at the position. When you watch him on Sunday, he likely won’t be shutting people down and ball-hawking like if you watched football for a 12 year span only to not see any the last few, but what you will see is technically-sound movement mechanics especially in his backpedal where he keeps his feet under his center of mass so his first step out of a break in any direction is as clean as you will find. Young DBs should take note to watch the way this guy moves even if he has lost a bit of a step.
Finally, don’t forget that every Super Bowl has an X-Factor and that guy often plays special teams. My prediction for this spot in this game is Trindon Holliday who wowed viewers with punt and kick returns this season that rank only behind Dexter McCluster in my book of movement proficiency during returns. Holliday is by far and away one of the fastest players in the league but where most speed demons can’t start and stop well, wait till you see the 5’5” fella throw on the brakes, stop on a dime, and reposition his body for reacceleration quicker than a hiccup. He can control himself in a variety of positions and almost always finds himself displaying the most efficient of movement actions. Don’t be surprised if he does something to break the game open.
I personally never thought Russell Wilson would have made it to this superstar status but even the smartest of people can be proven wrong occasionally (ha!). Wilson was my All-Movement Team Honorable Mention QB and if you have watched even one Seattle game this season it’s probably easy to see why. Tactically, he’s not asked to do a ton but given free reigns to do it all. As in the likes of most of the new breed of more hybrid-like quarterbacks in today’s league, Wilson does as much damage (if not more) with his legs & athleticism. People will knock his height at the quarterback position but technically he sets himself up to make all the right throws and this short stature also assists him in being able to move around the pocket to quickly elude defenders. He even displays very clean acceleration mechanics especially at the quarterback position so he can cover ground pretty rapidly (yes even at his height) once he escapes the pocket. Yet; watch how he is always looking downfield to throw yet even under these circumstances.
The other main mover to watch on the Seahawks offense is the man who invented ‘Beastmode’; Marshawn Lynch. Give this man a few power pellets (i.e. Skittles) and he will run all-day like Adrian Peterson. Quite literally. He and AD have similar aggressive running styles between the tackles and move with a violence rarely witnessed at the position in this day and age. Granted, he’s not always the most fluid & fleet of foot, but he has one of the best jump cuts in today’s game and has the ability to absorb a ton of force quickly when he throws his outside plant foot far out and away from his vertical line of force. This allows him to make very sharp cuts that many other backs aren’t capable of. In addition, his stiff arm is likely to knock you back if you are sitting too close to the TV so viewer beware!
If you plan to watch even a single pregame show Sunday, you will be hearing a lot about the vaunted Seahawks defense and it’s for good reason. They are every bit as good as advertised and honestly it all starts and ends with their team-wide movement efficiency and athleticism (haven’t I told you before that this is always at the core of athletic success?!). Maybe rivaled only by the San Francisco team they just dispersed of last week when it comes to human performance, this defense is nasty fast across the board and they are an absolute joy to watch for a movement specialist. After Richard Sherman’s outburst after the NFC Championship game, many previously undecided fans will likely be cheering against this unit. However, the unit is as special as they come.
Though the Legion of Boom, as they call themselves (i.e. the Seattle secondary), is one of the best ever assembled, much of what they are able to do (especially with their ‘just line it up and play the game’ mentality) is due to the 7 guys up in front of them. The defensive line is big but more so explosive with enough quickness that allows Coach Pete Carroll to not have to bring additional blitzers from the LB-corps. Because of this, that LB group (led by a stud up-and-coming standout in Bobby Wagner) gets a chance to roam and move sideline-to-sideline as well as front-to-back which they do extraordinarily well. This linebacker speed should have been evident by the interception made by Malcolm Smith well down the field to seal the deal in the NFC Championship Game.
Last but certainly least a mention must be made for one nastyass secondary that I briefly introduced above. These guys are so nasty and do what they want so frequently that the original Honey Badger is even a big fan. They have 3 guys who are quite possibly the best at what they do. For me and movement proficiency, it begins with free safety, Earl Thomas, who was on my All-Movement Team and probably ranks only behind Mover of the Year LeSean McCoy as the most efficiently moving player at his position across the league. If you see #29 in your screen on every Broncos snap do not adjust your television set…he actually is everywhere! So much so that it sometimes seems as though he can defy physics. His strong safety counterpart, Kam Chancellor, is the biggest safety in the NFL by far (6’3.5”, 232lb) and he uses every bit of that size to his advantage as Wes Welker will quickly learn if he tries to set any picks across the middle on Sunday. If you see #31 come lurking over the middle you may want to cringe because something nasty is about to go down. Finally there is Richard Sherman who has been getting more than enough publicity due to his ill-timed & self-proclaiming rant but he is in my opinion (and his own for that matter!) the best all-around cornerback in the game much to Darrelle Revis’s chagrin. Though he is not the best mover at his position (I gave that nod on my All-Movement Team to Patrick Peterson), Sherman uses his long levers as well as he uses his constantly moving mouth. #25 isn’t going to wow anyone with his acceleration but he has the ability to lock guys down in short spaces because of his ability to hand check/fight with receivers and then ends up riding on their hip down the field (some would call it holding) as well as having in-air ball skills that are rare due to his days of playing receiver in college.
As I did above with the Broncos, I will highlight one X-Factor mover and that guy is none other than the electrifying Percy Harvin. When healthy, Percy is the best all-around mover in the league, in my humble opinion. Having witnessed Percy first-hand here in MN for years, I can tell you that this guy is a different breed of an athlete. Much like he can do tactically between positions on the field, he is also a versatile mover who is able to perform efficiently in variable conditions and situations (i.e. at different speeds, stances, movement demands, etc). Though he hasn’t gotten a chance to show it much yet in Seattle, everyone in the league should be watching to see what this very bad man will do on Sunday and you should too! If he is healthy enough to play the entire game (OK shoot; even if he doesn’t), he will make an impact. However, his lack of seasoning (i.e. conditioning) could hold him back a bit.
All in all, this game will have star movers all over the field! I hope this little Super Bowl Movement Preview Guide will allow you to view Sunday’s big game under a slightly different lens than you typically would. If not, enjoy the pizza, chips, and beer…oh, and commercials too!