Game: 49ers at Eagles AND Texans at Seahawks
Play: A Pair of Pick Sixes
What makes this the BTS Play of the Week?
Here we are…already halfway through another NFL season! Week 8 has come and gone and with it we were brought another laundry list of plays that could’ve worn our top nod hat. From rookie WR JuJu Smith-Schuster for the Steelers getting out and turning on the open field jets versus the Lions to my man Melvin Gordon showing patience and precise timing to perform a proficient cut which sprung him to show off his movement toolbox en route to a 87 yard touchdown run versus the Super Bowl champs. The more plays I broke down though, the more that two particular plays stuck out to me for their supreme playmaking displays…ironically, both of these plays just so happened to come by defensive players returning interceptions for touchdowns; 1). Jalen Mills of the Philadelphia Eagles and 2). Our 2014 Mover of the Year, Earl Thomas of the Seattle Seahawks (https://footballbeyondthestats.wordpress.com/2015/01/14/2014-bts-mover-of-the-year-earl-thomas/)
It seems as though at least once each year there comes a time when a defensive player gets a ball in his hands and behaves so much like an offensive player that he gets my recognition as the movement performance of the week. Additionally, it also seems as though at least once per season I get so conflicted on a given week between two or more plays that I have to praise both players. Well, with this week’s breakdown, it looks as though we will be checking off each of those boxes for the year on the same week! So, without further adieu, let’s go give credit where credit is due.
What happened movement-wise on the play?
Arguably, no type of play can single-handily change a course of a game more dynamically than a pick-six. There’s just something special about a defensive player flipping script on their offensive counterparts and taking one the opposite way to the house.
Honestly, I believe that this doesn’t happen as much as it could for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s normal verbiage to hear a coach say something along the lines of, “that’s why you play DB and not WR” when a defending player drops a ball on a play. To piggyback on this, I find that defensive players too often possess “too defensive” of intentions so there are times that they almost don’t give themselves permission (whether this is conscious or more subconscious) to go attack a ball in the air heading towards a receiver. Additionally, when catching of the football is actually practiced for DBs, it’s often done in too static of conditions to ever really allow the individual to truly get comfortable catching the football when it happens in more organic, game-like conditions. Finally, I also don’t believe the act of turnover-caused possession change is practiced enough in various contexts so when players do get these opportunities, they don’t really possess the refined capabilities towards shining within them. All of this equates to a player not truly acquiring the all-encompassing, problem-solving skill of intercepting a ball in space and then doing what’s necessary to evade offensive players to gain a hearty return and potentially score like our two special performers today did.
Note: Because we are featuring two plays today, it won’t be the same step-by-step, moment-by-moment breakdown as usual. Instead, we will highlight some of the nuances of what popped out to me that made them possible.
It seems as though the Philadelphia Eagles are representing well on this year’s plays of the week. It should come as no surprise that with this proficient movement they are also gathering up victories in the process. This time, it is cornerback Jalen Mills that is carrying on this 2017 Eagle movement tradition. The explosive second year man out of LSU appears to now be finding a feel for the game at this level including enhanced visual perceptual skills that lead into sharper actions; all on this display on today’s play.
- Trust; to pick off the ball at the 38 yard line, Mills has to fully trust not only his abilities to attack the ball and accelerate to/through it to get to it before the ball reaches the 49ers intended receiver, but he must also trust what his perceptual system (namely his visual system) tells him about where the ball is going and when it’s going to get there.
- Kinesthetic sense/awareness; once Mills has the ball, he must know where he is in time and space in order to make the most out of his opportunity. Through proper skill acquisition, expert movers will take in sensory information from all sources in order to give them the most telling picture to guide their subsequent movement behaviors. From around the 28 yard line till the time 15 yard line, we see Mills not only moving controllably in space but also scanning accordingly to understand how the problem is dynamically changing in front of him.
- True agility; After Mills comes to a screeching, proficient stop at the 12 yard line, he hits a jab to crossover cut followed by changing his path to head east & west to run back to the middle of the field (at one point even losing ground back to the 14 yard line). From this initial cut at the sideline (the one previously mentioned at the 12) till he reaches the end zone, we see Mills on several occasions just looking to make something happen and doing whatever was necessary to make people miss in space.
You can see Mills and his interception here:
If you’ve followed my blog for any period of time, you will know that one of my very favorite players to watch in today’s NFL (or ever) is Seattle Seahawk safety, Earl Thomas. Though Earl was surpassed last year for the top spot on my All-Movement Team by the Giants’ Landon Collins, Thomas remains without equal for many of the things that he is capable of when manning centerfield for the perennial knockout (and supremely moving) Seahawk defense. In today’s featured play, we get to see some of these rare skills on full display.
- Deception; usually, the word deception is only used to describe offensive players in elusive agility situations where they get a defender to over-anticipate, bite on one move, and be fooled into another. However, masterful defenders, especially defensive backs, seem to be equally adept at deceiving quarterbacks (especially young quarterbacks) and getting them to throw the football where they will later regret. It would appear that this is a perfect exhibit of it as Earl fools rookie Texan QB Deshaun Watson into throwing the exact ball that Thomas desired to head the other way with.
- Offensive-like elusiveness; once he has the ball in his hands, Thomas possesses not only the physical qualities (namely quickness and speed) but also the problem-solving agility skills of some of the game’s most elusive offensive playmakers. Take a peek at what he does to Watson (poor rookie!) between the 35 and 40 yard line. Often times when defensive players have the ball, they often are out there just improvising and compensating. But Earl literally sets Watson up with a two-way go that once Watson gives his tell that he believes Thomas it headed to the sideline, Earl executes a high-speed crossover cut and brings it back to the inside of the Texans QB.
- Burst to speed; as soon as he has the rookie QB on skates, we see what world class acceleration and linear speed for a safety looks like as Thomas doesn’t risk getting sniped by a Texan player and wastes no time getting up to speed to ensure that no one stands a chance at bringing him down. When we watch the more bird’s eye view of the play unfolding, we can first begin to appreciate how much faster Earl Thomas is compared to everyone else. Coupled with the instinct and swagger, this type of speed is almost unfair.
Click below to watch Earl doing his thing here: