2016 Play of the Week – Week 8

Game: Cardinals at Panthers

Play:  DJ with the hat trick

dj-pic-4

What makes this the BTS Play of the Week?

Okay, okay…I know, I know…this is starting to sound like a broken record. Arizona Cardinal’s Running Back, David Johnson, being named our top movement play of that respective week. Trust me; I feel your pain as this is already the third time this season that when all the votes are tallied (yes; I am the only one who gets a vote) Johnson reigns supreme among all the top performers for that week. In fact, this week I went through so many of the league’s plays with a fine toothed comb in every attempt to find a movement performance which could rival DJ. However, to no avail. Thus, it should be known that without a shadow of a doubt, Johnson IS so deserving of this accolade yet again.

When you watch the play and get a chance to look closely at the magic that it contained, none of this should come as a shock. David Johnson is moving like no other RB in the League right now. There are a few guys that are close and in the most masterful mover conversation (Ezekiel Elliott, Le’Veon Bell, Shady McCoy) but how he’s moving right now is authentic and constantly evolving & growing each week. So, without further adieu, let’s get into the movement analysis.

What happened movement-wise on the play?

If you remember back to my preseason movement analysis of David Johnson, I was able to be at the Arizona Cardinals training camp and one of the things that popped out to me was how much they were using him to catch the ball out of the backfield and to even line up split out wide or in the slot. Ironically, this play takes place while DJ is playing in the slot. He begins on the right side of the formation (after motioning out of the backfield) and because of the coverage is Cardinal QB Carson Palmer’s first immediate read & throw.

Johnson catches the bit-off Palmer pass near the LOS in a pseudo-one-handed, off-balanced fashion with one immediate opponent to beat and a whole lot of green grass available around him to chew up some quick yards. At the Panther’s 35 yard line, he turns and waits briefly, taking in information about the oncoming defensive back…who as we should have learned so far this season, doesn’t want anything to do with the physical specimen that David Johnson is.

This DB is really no different. He makes a business decision (and probably the right one if DJ was coming at any of us) to go low to attempt to tackle him. However, because of DJ’s patience to wait briefly (remember, temporal constraints are high in this sport so things happen quickly), read, and recognize, Johnson understands what his opponent is trying to do and he probably has two options here: go around the defender with a power cut to his left OR leap over him. Of course, if you’ve seen this play from the weekend, you know he chose the latter.

Now, it must be said that I typically don’t advocate that skill players get accustomed to performing too many hurdles when you have the ball in your hands in the open field (or anywhere on a football field with 11 dudes chasing you) because often times more bad things can happen than good things. However, sometimes player’s instincts kick in and this is the option that is generated implicitly on the fly. Plus, as we can see here, hurdling a guy on a football field may not be all that novel for Johnson.

dj-pic-3

In this case, Johnson strikes his right foot down, coils himself through a quick, short ROM countermovement, and springs up in a bilateral fashion while the defender passes right underneath him.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers

DJ lands somewhat too stiff-legged on this right leg (I would be cringing if on the sideline) and immediately gets his visual gazed fixated on all-world Panther LB, Luke Kuechly, who is approaching quickly.

dj-pic-2

Because Johnson had the dissipation of forces from his landing, it took him a slight delay to get back into reacceleration. Thus, the intake of the appropriate information from Kuechly is key as it allows Johnson to more accurately determine where in time and space the two rapidly moving objects will intersect…and what DJ can do to overcome this movement problem.

Anyone ‘in the know’ in NFL circles will tell you that Luke Kuechly is one of the most (if not THE most) instinctual football players in all of football right now. However, the tie in movement almost always goes to the guy with the ball in his hands and who is able to more fully dictate where he wants to go and when. The defender is at the mercy of the playmaker and even with Kuechly, this is the case here, as well.

Nonetheless, this piece of the movement solution from Johnson is the most impressive aspect of it all. Not just beating but flat out juking a perennial All-Pro and doing so in an efficient & dynamic fashion is a thing of beauty. If you can pause the video right after DJ throws his left foot down hard right ahead of the 30 yard line you will see one of the most optimally executed open-field deceleration patterns as you could imagine to see on an NFL Sunday. The efficiency of this deceleration pattern and the positions contained within it, serve as the foundation of the effectiveness of the juke that it sets up. In this position, we see the hip flexed, the shin positive, weight balanced through the laces of his shoe, and the entire left limb loaded storing energy and ready to explode.

While keeping the right foot planted in the ground, he actually executes a quick reverse jab or plyo step (depending on who you ask) which not only gives Kuechly the time to pass and opens up space in front of Johnson, but it allows DJ to reorient his body into an optimal position to get back to acceleration. He does just that (reaccelerates!) however there is not only one player quickly approaching from behind him but also a whole sea of black & light blue colors started to fill the perceptual landscape in front of him. But as we have seen from Johnson in past movement plays of the week, Johnson has crisp & efficient acceleration mechanics that are displayed by adequate forward lean and tremendous front-side action. This execution allows him to eat up probably 6-8 more yards before being brought down on this play than most of his peers would in similar situations.

So, to see DJ go for the trifecta on this season at the halfway point, click here:

http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-cant-miss-plays/0ap3000000730309/Can-t-Miss-Play-David-Johnson-s-absurd-hurdle

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