Game: Chiefs at Panthers
Play: Eric Berry from pick to six with some nifty movement in between
What makes this the BTS Play of the Week?
It’s probably obvious to say that when most watch the highlight plays from an NFL Sunday it is littered with offensive skill players making moves and doing dynamic things while ‘posterizing’ unsuspecting defensive players in the process. Of course, I would never take away from the impressiveness of the skill that it takes to make agile and elusive moves in the open field against a defender (instead, I glorify it here on this site almost weekly).
That said though, there is very little that is as astonishing on a football field as when a defensive player forces a quick turnover and gains possession of the ball (either through an interception or a fumble) and who’s cognitive decision making then has to turn from one intention (e.g. “I must stop this offensive player”) to another drastically different one (e.g. “I am now on offense”) and does so successfully while carrying out movement patterns at a high level. Of course, I highlighted this special skill a few weeks back when the New York Giants’ Landon Collins went from the defensive to the offensive on his Pick 6 against the Rams. https://footballbeyondthestats.wordpress.com/2016/10/25/2016-play-of-the-week-week-7/
Well, here we find ourselves again, with another one of the League’s best all around safeties, Eric Berry of the Kansas City Chiefs, giving the play from Collins a run for its money!
What happened movement-wise on the play?
On the play, Eric Berry is playing centerfield from his free safety spot starting with his heels on the right hash of Panther’s 41 yard line. As the ball is snapped to reigning NFL MVP Cam Newton, Berry leaves our picture as he gets even more depth to scan the field accordingly and determine his respective tactical assignments.
With quick pressure off of his right side, Cam only has time to look to one of his reads and decides he must make a quick hot throw to avoid taking the sack from the hotly pursuing Chiefs edge rusher. While Cam is making his read, Berry is also making his own. Though the eyes of the quarterback will often lead where the feet of a coverage defender should take them, once the kinematics of the arm action begin, this is all the information that the brain needs in order to initiate a solution to that problem and thus this take Berry who is playing over the top of the route to make a jump in front of Cam’s favorite receiver, tight end Greg Olsen.
Seemingly out of nowhere (at least to the dismayed look of Olsen), Berry leaps in front and snags the ball from the sky before coming down in a unilateral landing on his left leg. With very little leak of energy, he gets into a linear sprint action though with the ball not overly protected (he’s definitely a defensive player at heart). Because of his anthropometric features, coupled with the nature of the task constraints at the moment, Berry’s early acceleration mechanics are not what one would refer to as technically-perfect (but of course we just want them to be authentic) as the stride is a little exaggerated but he does display some precise, proficient front-side kinematic actions.
You should also note here that his head and the visual gaze of his eyes are not only scanning but you can also see that he is truly perceiving and determining (I don’t want to use the word ‘planning’ here to describe this) what his best course of action is going to be (i.e. the highest chances he can bypass the opponents to gain yards and/or find himself en route to the end zone). Once the information is adequately perceived, the movement actions can now commence (note: it’s much more complex than this).
Thus, on the Panther 36 yard line, he throws his right foot down hard and in a higher center of gravity power cutting type fashion (with an outside foot plant & inside foot re-acceleration) he begins to decelerate and gain control of his body in space to set-up any subsequent movement problem solving. He takes a few linear-lateral angular transition steps over the next 4-5 yards before planting his left foot now in an unilateral fashion, and this time because of the additional speed he had coming into the actual break, he is able to lean up-field in the direction he’s looking to go, and get rapidly into his re-acceleration mechanics. Honestly, words can’t do this entire sequence justice because it is possibly as impressive of 5-7 yard compilation of movement set-up and execution as we will see across the League all season (at any position!).
The open spaces of green grass now has become littered with some pretty upset Carolina Panther offensive players trying to be defensive (we talked a few weeks ago about who has the advantage here in these situations though). In fact, he almost gets tripped up by two of them at the 35 yard line. However, Berry has solutions for them. He quickly gathers his steps and regains his balance, and of course, then gets his eyes focused once again on what else is to come (which happens to be an offensive lineman running at an angle from the 20 to the 23 yard line). Berry realizes the laws of physics here, whether consciously or subconsciously, so he reflexively gets smaller to let the blow from the opponent flow off of him as he spins away from it as it occurs.
Once he comes out of one spin from a wannabe tackler now Berry is really feeling it. Luckily for him, he’s got another large human who isn’t paid to tackle pursuing him in open space (#60 who is on the 20 yard line) so Berry spins once again this time out of another player’s outstretched arm tackle attempt. With more of his buddies in red now coming to assist him in movement matters, Berry cuts it back to the middle of the field to get a convoy to scoring the 6 he set out for.
Here now he sprints in an angular fashion (i.e. his head facing one way while the feet and his path face another) to outrun not only an athletic Panther RB, but also a very fast human in Ted Ginn, Jr, along with possibly the most athletic QB in the League in Cam Newton to the end zone (though he obviously had some blocking help in the process). This impressive play is capped off with an exclamation point as Berry overcomes Cam’s tackle attempt and enters the end zone.
Check out Eric Berry doing his thing here on this play: