Game: 49ers at Bears
Play: The Human Joystick playing his own video game once again
What makes this the BTS Play of the Week?
After the past two weeks, believe it or not, week 13’s top movement performance did NOT come at the hands, feet, and kinesthetic sense of Antonio Brown or Julio Jones. Really, it’s true; it didn’t! With AB84 just going about his business executing his normal routine performance (if you go watch at the highlights of him playing the Bengals on Monday night please note my sarcasm with that comment) and Julio getting shut down by the Vikings defense, it was time for someone else to step up.
Beyond Brown’s movement execution, week 13 also saw individuals like Alvin Kamara shine once again as well as Russell Wilson perform his unique magic that it seems as though only he is capable of. When all the smoke cleared on the week’s games though, one play stood out above all others due to its creativity and instinct displayed during the entire movement problem solving activity. Tarik Cohen, aka the Human Joystick, upped the ante on his week 1 top movement performance when he tracked his path backwards way too far for his coaches’ liking and did a dynamic deed that few others in the game would be gutsy enough to execute.
What happened movement-wise on the play?
In Cohen’s week 1 performance, I took the time to give many who are unfamiliar with the Bears rookie a synopsis of the special sauce that the small school superstar had to offer to the movement problems present on an NFL football field. Honestly, besides Cohen’s standout performance versus the defending NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons in week 1, as well as a more than respectable outing a few weeks later against the Steelers, Cohen has struggled pretty mightily running the football when lined up as a RB in a really inconsistent Bears offense. When they have found some other ways to get the ball in his hands and let him hit a few buttons on his agility controller in space, he’s had some success and has shown that he can flash unique skill-set. That manufacturing is exactly what we see on display here today.
On a 4th down in the 2nd quarter of a close outing between the visiting 49ers and Cohen’s Bears, the young playmaker finds himself, feet planted on the 39/40 yard line, with a 49er punt booming in the sky. Like many higher level of mastery punt returners, while the ball is on its descent, we actually see his visual scanning saccade from ball to opponent pursuit and back to the ball again to make a quick and accurate decision regarding if he should field the punt in fair catching style or attempt to make a return out of it. Well, this is almost formality when you have a guy like Cohen back there and I can speak for at least one football movement coach who sits on the edge of his (I mean, my) seat at these moments praying that I don’t see his hand wave in the air. Fortunately for all of us, it didn’t and Cohen catches the ball, with his feet on the 39 and his balance slightly veering backwards.
He uses this momentum to drift back slightly another yard to a yard and a half as he takes a step back with his right foot to regain his balance and reorient his movement solution mechanism back at the task at hand. As he perceives his surroundings and the 49er special team unit coming in hot, he sees one immediate defender seven yards away from him straddling the 45 yard line. There’s another pursuing defender offset to Cohen’s right angled at about 10 degrees from him and at a healthy 12 yards away.
Cohen immediately starts off to his right with a few transition steps as he allows things to more dynamically unfold in front of him (and quickly!). With more 49ers now entering our sideline camera view, he offers a slight stutter to get them hesitating slightly. Honestly, this movement action, though I am sure was driven really subconsciously, did very little to deceive any 49ers and they each closed distance in their relationship to him. Because of this, it sends Cohen literally retreating backwards away from three 49ers and to the right away from this cutting action spot.
Due to his quickness, as well as executing with maximum intent being implicitly driven because he’s being chased by several really large opponents who also have more buddies quickly coming, he gets going in a hurry even though he is going both lateral to his right and backwards still all while perceiving what’s in front of him as he runs in this direction. He passes the hashes, now a good eight to nine yards behind the yardage marker he caught the ball at, when reality may finally have hit that he has to now make a whole lot of something out of what appears to be a whole lot of nothing!
It’s here that he likely has every Bears coach wondering where the heck he is going, it’s also at times like that that I believe you never put the handcuffs on the creativity of a real, high-level playmaker. Luckily, Cohen feels no shame yet for potential lost-yardage on a play so on the 30 yard line, with six 49er players now in our frame (the closest of which is running relatively off-balanced and the others sprinting hard towards the sideline in anticipation that this direction is Cohen’s only option), the Human Joystick shows us where the nickname stems from when he rolls over his right foot in a crossover followed by further back-tracking to change direction in a swooping action culminating in another left to right crossover action at the 25 yard line.
As he comes out of this final change of direction action, we now see eight 49ers following Cohen’s curvilinear arched path. The great thing about having gone backwards so much here is that, as the punt returning player, you’ve gotten all of your opponents all disoriented in their chase and that if you can now just get past that wave of individuals, there won’t be much more wannabe tacklers ahead of you and the problems to solve that come with them. Cohen’s perceptual-cognitive skill is finely attuned for this affordance for action as well…so much so that as he’s running laterally parallel down the 25 yard line to the field’s left this time, he’s looking for the perfect opportunity to finally go north and south again. This opportunity presents itself when he’s between the hashes and when he does see it he wastes little time hitting his acceleration gas pedal all-out.
We see him now, in his acceleration mechanics, visibly attacking the ground in furious fashion; almost horizontally bounding with each step. The next 15 yards go by in a jiffy and we can see what world class acceleration burst looks like in its authentic technical form. Those short distance acceleration mechanics turn into mid-range and top end linear technique as he is deterred very little from here with his blockers now up and running with him as a convoy so much that he gets to coast into the end zone with ease and after covering so much ground before getting to that open field.
Coaches usually see this type of movement skill being executed this dynamically under this type of chaotic problem and they automatically believe that these types of instinctual movement behaviors are innate. However, I disagree; instead, I believe that we must give players the opportunity to acquire this attunement (to other individuals in the environment) and opportunities to go adapt their movement in an ever-changing task-dynamic. We can do this by allowing an athlete to more frequently inhabit activities ranging from simple tag games to cat & mouse drills to small-sided games (like 1v3+, etc).
Click here to watch this dazzling player hitting his video game moves again: