2015 Play of the Week – Week 16

Game: Packers at Cardinals

Play: The new Beast-mode with even more tricks up this sleeve

Johnson pic 7

What makes this the BTS Play of the Week?

If you have read more than one post in the past here at Football Beyond the Stats, it probably didn’t take you too long to realize that my favorite position on the field are running backs and my favorite movement patterns to break down are agile, cutting actions (if you haven’t figured that out yet, now you know). It’s not that I don’t love all football movement…it’s just that I feel as though the RB’s performing cutting actions represents the epitome of football movement mastery; authenticity, ownership, and control in the most unpredictable and chaotic of environments.

That all said, this week’s top three finalists for the Movement Play of the Week happened to all be running backs moving proficiently:

  1. CJ Anderson with a nice little jump cut at the line of scrimmage to cut a play weak-side
  2. David Johnson making all kinds of Packers look silly in the open field
  3. Frank Gore with a blast from the past with some sweet hybrid cuts to score

Though I loved the combination of movement strategy and motor output from each guy, and ultimately each of the players equally deserved this week’s recognition in their own distinct ways, at the end of the day I decided to give the nod to Arizona Cardinal rookie RB, David Johnson. However, because I was so up in the air between the plays, the reason for me selecting Johnson this week was because the NFL shareable video happened to give you, the viewer, the most depth & magnitude of angles/views to breakdown! So, here goes…

NOTE: for how many views the NFL video cameramen gave us to re-watch, photographers across the country weren’t nearly as helpful to me (and I am not quite to the point where I can employ my own). Thus, I had to use pictures of Johnson cutting in some other games to illustrate some of my points below.

What happened movement-wise on the play?

Before we start today, let’s rewind to way back on August 24th when I happened to be attending an Arizona Cardinals training camp practice. I was super intrigued that day not only because of knowing a number of guys both on the team as well as on the staff, but also because the team, being one of the NFL’s best, also has a roster filled with some of the most dynamic young movers at their respective positions in the game today. Guys like Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu at Defensive Back and John Brown at Wide Receiver. Additionally, the team had just signed former NFL rushing champ Chris Johnson (CJ2K) to compete for their feature back role and I wanted to see how much of his movement behaviors and actions were intact from his days in TN.

Well, it just so happened that CJ2K was being hampered by a leg annoyance that day so he wasn’t practicing at all. However, because of my love for RBs I continued to watch this position group closely. Of course, I expected to see Cardinal scat-back Andre Ellington stand out from the group due to his dynamic ways from the previous two seasons. However, it was another RB, (relatively unheralded at the time) rookie David Johnson, who I left being impressed by. It’s just that now, with both CJ2K and Ellington on the shelves being bothered by some injuries, the rest of the League is getting to take notice of the new Johnson in-town who is solidifying his role as the new man on the top of the depth chart. And it’s for good reason…

On that day in August (as well as over the last few weeks of watching him closely), I saw a pretty damn big dude for his position (6’1”, 225) behaving more like a small one but showing well-rounded displays of shake & speed along with strength & brutality.

With these displays then have now come NFL pundit comparisons between Johnson and guys like Matt Forte among others who are bigger backs still equally capable of catching the ball and moving in space out of the backfield. Additionally, many take his big, punishing run a couple of weeks ago on Sunday night football to compare him to Beastmode himself, Marshawn Lynch.

I like to avoid comparisons in most cases, however, if David Johnson is Beastmode 2.0 it’s because the 2.0 portion adds a movement repertoire that is actually more well-rounded and diverse in his cutting actions than that of Lynch. Whereas Lynch does possess a nasty jump cut and an occasional sharp lunge cutting action, he is still usually looking to run someone over rather than make them miss. Well, Johnson is more than willing to do either one and has no problem whatsoever in putting defenders on a poster with him while he leaves them looking silly with any number of cutting strategies.

Johnson pic 4

On our particular play of the week, you will likely see at least a great glimpse of all of that I just highlighted above.

Let’s go in particular to look at two things. The first, let’s watch when he receives the ball in his hands from Pro Bowl QB Carson Palmer at the Cardinal 20 yard line. When many bigger backs get a ball in their hands in space, they typically look to get north and south as quickly as they can. However, if you watch Johnson’s head and then his eyes (from the numerous video views), you will see his gaze indicates he has thoughts on anything but just “getting as many yards as he can” before being taken down. Instead, he is reading & recognizing and setting guys up.

He accelerates hard for two steps while still scanning and predicting. Of course, it doesn’t take the information-processing of an expert mover to realize he is in a pretty tough situation that has emerged in front of him with four Green Bay Packer defenders who look to have him more than corralled.  Johnson has other thoughts though.

Johnson pic 6

At the 24 yard line, we see Johnson begin to coil through deceleration into a relatively wide base cutting position. This penultimate deceleration step on his left leg is already pre-active, coiled & loaded upon contact with his rare for a back 6 foot tall and over. Typically we would see a longer, over-striding step with strong heel strike. However, Johnson’s step (though in need of tremendous rate of force absorption and neuromuscular control) allows him to be put in a more advantageous position to store more energy and keep his movement options open.

Johnson pic 8

The movement strategy he selected was a move that we would typically see from a shorter back whom naturally possesses a lower center of gravity; he widens his base of support attacking the ground with his left foot to rapidly lower his center of gravity much more than a taller back typically would. This allows for an ‘equal and opposite’ reaction from the ground to help him slice sharply to his left. His stiff (mean that in a good way) trunk/torso allow for a stable base for the energy to transfer through with little energy dissipation. I implore you to watch the video below all the way through so you can see this cut from multiple views. This whole action then turns into a hybrid lateral shuffle step to keep the Packer defenders pursuing to the sidelines while Johnson is able to cut things back inside to bypass the traffic.

It should be noted that this whole movement sequence is one that is typically practiced in many football movement drills but it is often done with a bag, pad, or cones lying spaced out on the ground. People…THAT will not cut it! The efficiency and effectiveness of Johnson’s movement display here was made possible by his control under chaos and his ability to perceive-act accordingly in accordance to what the ever-moving opponents in his environment gave him. Thus, our movement drills ultimately must look to be utilized to help our athletes acquire these skills in similar fashions! Bags, pads, or cones (or God forbid agility ladders) will NOT develop this!

Johnson pic 5.jpg

Anyway, I digress…after the cutting movement action, it’s time to get on his horse and get off to the races. Though Johnson does end up getting cut off en route to the end zone, I want you to check his linear speed mechanics (especially his acceleration to mid-range transition mechanics). Again, this is a big powerful dude. However, what we will see in the open field is efficiency in his acquired mechanics; you will see tremendous front side hip flexion and rapid backside return all along with little side to side shoulder/arm action that is often attached to bigger backs who are trying to pick up linear velocity in the open field.

Johnson pic 2.jpg

To watch this spectacular play click here:





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