Game: Raiders at Steelers
Play: Martavis Bryant stealing the show (at least for a short time)
What makes this the BTS Play of the Week?
For the past two weeks, we have seen a number of young Raiders getting the movement mastery attention here on Beyond the Stats. Well, this week, the Raiders make a visit to our Play of the Week highlight but this time they happened to be on the receiving end of the movement magic by a Pittsburgh Steeler receiver.
Now, if you saw the stat line from the game my guess is that you’re probably thinking to yourself that Antonio Brown was going to get the Football Beyond the Stats movement love. And as unbelievable, impressive, and truly unstoppable Brown’s feats where this past Sunday (17 catches for 284 whopping yards!!), it was one of his receiver counterparts that has found his way to our analysis; Martavis Bryant. AB84: if you’re reading this (and I am sure you are-Ha), please don’t fret; you are likely to find your way to our movement analysis again and likely in the form of our end of the season All-Movement Team. However, this play was all about Martavis Bryant and giving him his due for the filthy moves that he laid at the feet of Raiders. You may wonder how a “simple” 15 yard touchdown reception could end up being the best play the NFL brought us this past Sunday…well, you will only wonder this until you actually watch it…then you will want to watch it again (and again!).
What happened movement-wise on the play?
With the game tied early in the 4th quarter and the Steelers knocking on the goal-line, Big Ben didn’t turn his go-to, all-world receiver (at least not on this play) but instead looked to the young upstart who was waiting to burst out at the seams. Being equally proficient and dynamic in his own right, Martavis Bryant is truly ready & capable of breaking break out and making a “WOW” play…as we are about to see.
Bryant catches Ben’s short toss out to his right at around the 17 yard line. Even before he’s completely got the ball grasped in his hands, you can see from multiple views that he is starting to turn his head to process problems in his surroundings (his opponents and the current landscape of the problem). Football fundamentalists are constantly advocating for “looking the ball in” however this is a bit of a misnomer as we see time and time again. An athlete who resides at a higher level of mastery has automaticized (I do know this isn’t technically a word but it is in my vocabulary) certain fundamental movement tasks. This quality developed through practice and experiences is part of that which makes them so good as this movement skill then has become ingrained so it can emerge subconsciously while the athlete is able to focus attention on important aspects of the ever-changing sport movement environment and the problems it presents. This is exactly what we have seen many times before and we see it again here with Bryant.
Even though he has already begun initial perceptual processing & understanding, he has yet to make a decision as to if he should try to get the sideline or to keep his path inside the block in front of him. He gets his feet settled and his body balanced to keep his movement options open to go left, right, straight ahead, or somewhere in between. With two hotly pursuing Raider defenders (and yet a block still taking place in front of him), he makes a decision to go slightly to his left briefly. He executes a quick & snappy plyo step with his right foot; some would call this a ‘false’ step and advocate that it not be part of movement toolboxes for athletes…however, I disagree with that stance completely thus I love the step). A step such as this allows for both elastic energy storage/utilization, places the athlete in a good position for subsequent actions, and allows for a certain degree of deception in most cases as well.
With those two defenders closing quicker than Bryant was anticipating, he throws his left foot down quickly onto the 16 yard line while rapidly lowering his center of gravity to place himself into a coiled position to release energy and be in a biomechanically efficient position to move back to his right (and hopefully away from the defenders). Probably coming from a purely subconscious level emerges a lateral hopping jump cut out of this coiled left leg deceleration position. This subtle but so damn dynamic movement action allows Bryant to sidestep and bypass the first Raiders defender. He then has to deal with the problem being dealt to him from the very nasty Khali Mack who is chomping at the bit to get his hands on Bryant. Thus, with his feet in a staggered position (again to be able to keep movement options open), he takes a few shuffle steps to his right which causes Mack to run right into the block that was already set-up in front of him.
Once this happens, Bryant looks hungry to hit the acceleration pedal and does so for a few steps from the 12 to the 10 yard line but this quickly comes to an end when out of the corner of his eye he sees an ageless wonder of the NFL, Charles Woodson, looking to snipe him from his left. This happens about halfway through the completion of his second real acceleration step so Bryant quickly has to go from gas pedal to brake pedal. Thus, Bryant begins to abort his acceleration mission by coiling the limb (the right leg) to allow it to absorb his force in a deceleration fashion while also dropping his center of gravity (try to pause the video below right at the moment when Bryant is at the bottom of his deceleration position with his right foot between the 9 and 10 yard lines). This may look ever so subtle but the extraordinary nature of this movement action is anything but subtle! As he does this, while Woodson is still pursuing and has committed to taking Bryant out at the legs/feet, Bryant keeps his left leg & foot following its linear path to bring it tighter underneath his center of gravity to gain control for what’s to come next.
This next move then is another lateral side stepping action (except to his left) which covers less ground than the earlier one (and performed with less magnitude). After this, the only thing that is left to do now is to get into his acceleration mechanics and let this ability shine for a few steps as he’s now gone through way too much to be denied at this point.
I implore you to watch this play from all the angles; the control and coordination as well as the corresponding biomechanical body positions that Bryant gets into throughout this entire sequence is simply marvelous! Lots of mastery being put on display in a quick 15 yard window! The connection between the brain, the behaviors, and the biomechanics during this play allow for it all to emerge with this type of movement solution; this degree of skill is something that can be developed and acquired if an athlete is subjected to this type of environment and is reactively allowed the opportunities to try and solve the problems it presents.
To see Bryant’s filthy moves en route to his score, watch this link here: