Game: Patriots at Cardinals
Play: David Johnson making good on my preseason predictions
What makes this the BTS Play of the Week?
The 2016 NFL season is officially upon us! With that return also comes the return of our Movement Play of the Week for a fourth straight season. Of course, as the name implies, our weekly blog represents that week’s standout performer, on a singular play, doing special things from a movement skill performance standpoint.
No matter how many years I do this, it never ceases to amaze me how during the course of any week of the NFL regular season there is never any shortage of incredible feats of movement prowess. This week we had players like an ageless DeAngelo Williams who put on a show of paused stutter-stepping and weaving through Redskins defenders, Broncos defensive ends displaying pass rushing mastery as they beat up the reigning NFL MVP, and of course last year’s Mover of the Year AB84 out there just doing his normal everyday things.
But even with those supreme movement performances being taken into consideration, one play stuck out as the cream of the crop and a play that literally encompassed just about everything any Movement Specialist could desire to see in less than ten seconds of action. Additionally, this particular Movement Specialist (i.e. me) was especially excited because this player standing out is exactly what I suggested in a blog three weeks ago was going to be the case in the NFL this season: David Johnson and the absolutely extraordinary things that people across the league were about to see on Sundays.
I hate to say I told you so (okay; actually I love it), but check out what I said back in August about DJ.
What happened movement-wise on the play?
If you remember correctly, last season’s week 1 play of the week featured a nasty spin move by 49ers RB Carlos Hyde. If you want to see yet another sweet spin move, along with a dynamic jump cut, a unique lunge cut & acceleration, and a strong stiff arm…well, welcome to the play of the week for week 1 of 2016 and the player who has now officially taken the NFL by storm: David Johnson.
Though DJ made a play earlier in the game that impressed me which included a few new bilateral cutting actions to his movement repertoire, it was this particular play that led to the internet heating up like the Arizona heat. Outside of the only and only Adrian Peterson, guys this big aren’t supposed to be considered one of the more nifty movers in the league…but if you haven’t taken my word for it yet, maybe Johnson’s display on this play will begin to convince you otherwise.
Johnson begins the play lined up as the single back straight behind Palmer; feet firmly planted on the left hash of his 36 yard line. After a short, transitional read step to his left, DJ gets into some pre-handoff acceleration mechanics which takes him to Palmer where he receives the handoff on the 39. As soon as he gets the ball in hand, he performs some quick visual scanning out in front of him only to see that unless he creates on his own, this play is likely dead in the water and destined for nothing more than a very short gain.
Luckily, DJ31 is well able to create some things on his lonesome. Thus, with very little slowing, he takes an elongated deceleration plant step with his left leg which actually gets much too long for my liking (and for what I would refer to as an optimal distance for efficiency) as his step ends up striking with his heel first, center of gravity relatively high, and with too much energy dissipation after foot strike touchdown. But so is life amongst the chaos of the NFL and sometimes you just do not get the time or the space to dictate movement exactly how would be optimal given the circumstances.
While this left foot is on the ground, Johnson uses the time to dial up a movement solution in the form of a unilateral jump cut off his left and landing onto this right from which he executes a short transitional (and rather non-traditional) shuffle step which effortlessly proceeds takes him into a modified lunge position, left foot forward/right foot back. Once in this position (which is one that my skill players spend an extraordinary amount of time training in to move in diverse ways out of), DJ now has a few options including either driving it back up-field by accelerating from this lunge or pushing it to the sideline (probably by using his left foot as the plant leg and the right into a power accelerative step). He chooses the former of course (the safer choice of the two), while reflexively & elastically snapping off the ground rapidly, and takes two to three steps with some purpose before running into a good amount of contact from the arms of Patriot defenders.
Given Johnson’s size, strength, and balance, he is able to essentially bounce off of the entire group of wannabe tacklers, and uses the energy from this bounce to turn to his left and into a spin move to project him back to the outside of the play. He takes two off-balanced steps to try to given him separation from the group, gets relatively unstable, but puts his hand down while showing some dynamic proprioception in a subtle but balanced fashion that would leave many backs lying on their chest dead to rights.
This whole sequence taken step-by-step is where his unique athleticism, especially for a dude this big, really shows itself. From here, it’s time to rack up some more yards but members of a relatively athletic secondary (as if any secondary in the NFL isn’t athletic in this day and age!) still wait to have something to say about that intention. Thus, it’s time for this RB, a physical specimen to say the least, to allow his special strength qualities to take over for a moment and those yards I talked about earlier are going to get accumulated as a positive by-product. Between the 46/47 yard line, Johnson shoots out a left-handed stiff-arm at a former All-Pro in Devin McCourty. As you can see on the video, DJ easily deflects the Patriot DB and shows a glimpse of more of what the NFC West can expect even with Marshawn Lynch missing from the division.
After this, even with McCourty and one of his counterparts in hot pursuit, it’s off to the races a bit. As stated in my movement breakdown of him from training camp, the dude is far from slow. However, the Patriot DBs have just enough of an angle to be able to weigh him down and slow him at least temporarily in the process. He briefly gets slightly off balance only to regain stability with a quick high step around the 40 yard line and use that momentum to get him into an acceleration phase (at least as it is depicted in the football linear sense) which leads him into a high speed chase for the next 20 yards only to be caught and brought down by McCourty inside the 20 (note: a rather successful conclusion for the Patriot defense given the fact that DJ had made 6-7 guys miss in some way on this play).
You can watch DJ doing his thing here: