Game: Redskins at Giants
Play: Crowder embarrasses the rest of the crowd
What makes this the BTS Play of the Week?
If you’ve followed our Movement Play of the Week series here at Football Beyond the Stats over the years, you will be very attune with my prevailing thoughts as to what the movement which emerges during punt returns represents regarding the mastery of an athlete solving problems on a football field. Simply put, no scenario and associated task constraints offer the same diverse range of peculiar problems that exist to a returner, with a ball in the air, and 11 grown & aggressive men chasing you down with a singular purpose: to leave you lying in the wake of this supreme chaos.
For this reason, no mover on a football field is given as much respect from me when they can not only solve this problem sufficiently, but dynamically excel under the demands of this ever-changing environment. In this week’s Play of the Week, we see one of these exact situations when Washington Redskins return man, Jamison Crowder, stood out above the crowd (yes; pun intended) and embarrassed a whole lot of Giants in the process. However, this week also had other very worthy candidates such as Odell Beckham in the same game spinning around last year’s Mover of the Year at CB, Josh Norman, as well as a former Play of the Week recipient from past years, Darren Sproles, showing some open field agility prowess.
What happened movement-wise on the play?
Let me get this play analysis started with a reality check for all football movement specialists, performance enhancement or sport coaches out there: at its core, true movement mastery is NOT about being able to repeat some idealized movement solution but instead it’s about being able to perceive one’s self in the environment in the midst of tremendous task chaos, reaching into one’s movement toolbox, and finding an optimal movement solution which can be adapted to match and solve the respective movement problem at hand. Thus, when analyzing the movement behaviors found during punt (or kick) return situations, it is more about approaching it with this in mind than it is about evaluating/assessing the biomechanics found in the movement patterns utilized during the activity.
When I first saw this Crowder play, I immediately thought to my own movement practice training environments during the offseason as it looked eerily familiar. Quite simply, I set up what I refer to as a repetition without repetition model for my players and this is especially true for players whose task constraints begin with a different starting point every single time it occurs (i.e. punt returners). Other coaches will say, “But the returner always begins by catching the ball.” True…but think of how they are catching that ball and what is going on in their heads (regarding both their intentions and perceptions towards the solving of the problem at-hand) when they do! When we strip it down to this level, it’s different every single time. This is where the constraint-led approach to coaching is so vital to what I do. But I digress.
Crowder starts this play by catching the ball not in the air, but instead on a bounce already relatively close to the left boundary. This boundary immediately represents a constraint as there is only so far that he can go that way and it boxes him (and his opponents) in to his right if he wants to make this play bigger than a short return. When he gets his hands on the ball at the 12/13 yard line, there is already a Giant defender coming with full heat approximately 7 yards away. This would be another aspect of the training constraints that I would change rep to rep…meaning, have the returner catch the ball in different places on the field, in different positions and styles (while being pushed back, on a bounce or in the air, etc), with opponents coming at different speeds and angles. This alone I believe begins to create problem solving football players rather than performing lots of rehearsed movement solutions. Darn it, again, I digress.
While catching the ball, staying in this loaded position to keep his options for redirection open, we can see Crowder sense & perceive (likely here mostly through his visual processing) where he is and what affordances are allotted to him. He takes himself from that coiled position and transitions into another more advantageous one when he squares up to the defender up-field (even though that defender is still closing ground this whole time) and gives himself a two-way go (either back to the middle of the field or to the sideline (who would go there right now with such a short distance to work with…right?! Hmmm). With his left foot firmly planted, and takes a sharp right plyo step to push back towards his left which temporarily freezes the defender while also storing some elastic energy for Crowder to immediately be released in a quicker directional change.
Unfortunately for Crowder, there doesn’t seem to be as much area to work with and his defender was already further down the field than he had anticipated. Thus, the defender gets his hands on him at the sideline and it looks like the play is going to be over before it got started. But Crowder’s movement toolbox says otherwise. He slips this tackle, puts his hand down to maintain/regain his balance, and quickly gets out into some brief acceleration steps while processing what the next opponent’s options to end his crusade may entail.
With this other defender at the 20 yard line and closing quick, Crowder uses this over-pursuit to his advantage and now quickly performs a crossover cut from a left foot plant which leaves that oncoming defender grasping for air on the sideline. It should be said that typically I wouldn’t advocate for the use of a crossover cut, but in this situation, with a shorter individual (Crowder is 5’8”) who possesses a relatively low natural COG, and from a coiled position at both the hip and the knee, it can be executed safely, efficiently, and effectively as Crowder shows us…and of course, if it emerges authentically, this is objective #1 for us in any agile situation.
He then (finally!) decides to redirect his path back into the middle of the field where he has a chance to hopefully make some more out of nothing. However, there are a whole lot of blue jerseys coming and not a lot of white jerseys who seem to be blocking (to be fair, we are not watching the All-22 film here on this synopsis). Crowder now starts some angular running mechanics (I’ve talked many times here before about teaching athletes to run angles and circles and other shapes rather than just in a straight-line as it IS drastically different both biomechanically and perceptually) which actually now takes him backwards from where he was (as far back as the 12 yard line again). Here he looks like he is going to be brought down by another defender yet again…but also yet again, he slips another tackle and uses his left hand to regain his balance another time (that is something that naturally and instinctually athletes will obviously do and many coaches/trainers look down upon this behavior and sometimes get them to stop doing in training but maybe that’s not the best way if it naturally emerges in certain situations) before getting into his full acceleration mechanics now in an attempt to finally gain some actual real estate!
Here now, those same angular running mechanics can be put to use again…notice the direction his feet are going but where he is looking when he is (note: he is not looking in the direction he is going) so he is able to anticipate when to cut it up-field while also adequately perceiving what’s in his landscape to sufficiently use his blockers (we knew they had to be somewhere!). I can overstate the importance of this movement quality (running in one direction and in different styles while looking at different places within the environment to gather information for formulating the most optimal movement solution) and how few coaches actually set-up training & practice environments which aim to develop this movement skill.
At the 37/38 yard line, Crowder has already run quite a long ways. However, instead of keeping the running intensity pedal to the floor he sets up a defender by decelerating briefly (to get just a brief hesitation from the opponent) and then re-hits the pedal which was just enough to gain further separation to put him on the sideline to accumulate as many yards as possible. He does just that (accumulate yards) all the way to the Giant 35 yard line but not until he leaves two more Giant defenders running into each other when trying to tackle him at the 45 yard line. All in all, it was 52 yards (in reality a whole lot more because of where Crowder really ran) of punt returning movement problem solving and a number of members of the Giants embarrassed in the process.
Check out the play here now!