Game: Falcons at Buccaneers
Play: Freeman sparring in the open field with a slick set-up
What makes this the BTS Play of the Week?
I will be honest with you all here: I nearly started writing this post for the week’s best yesterday after seeing two standout plays that I felt would be way too difficult to match in the Monday night match-up between the Falcons and the Buccaneers. The first was Packer wide receiver Randall Cobb combining movement patterns together in sequence to make Panthers miss in tight spaces near the end zone after catching a short crossing pattern from a falling Aaron Rodgers. The second was Rams running back Todd Gurley showing top of the RB class speed to burst straight through the teeth of a rattled Seahawks defense.
Well, long story short, it’s a good thing I waited to put this together because Devonta Freeman showed up on Monday night in a big way as he put together a number of plays that left Buccaneers flabbergasted by his all-around movement capabilities. One of the plays is the one that we will feature here today. The Atlanta Falcons have had players awarded our top movement play several times this season (Adrian Clayborn and Julio Jones on two occasions) but the most masterful mover on their team (Freeman) has yet to be featured. As you may recall though, I have long recognized the standout Falcon RB for his exceptional deceleration skill (technical execution being utilized at the right place & right time) and his movement display here in week 15 was just too much for me not to give him the top nod.
What happened movement-wise on the play?
Over the years while writing posts for this blog, I have gotten to witness players who truly find their groove and become nearly unstoppable in certain movement problem scenarios (e.g. Antonio Brown creating separation without a ball in his hands, Earl Thomas closing space after his perception and anticipation guide him to where the ball is headed). Some will call it being “in the zone” or maybe it’s just being at the top of one’s game. Of course, I see this unique quality as something more that all stems from one’s movement mastery level; a player becoming so highly sensitive to the problems they are facing that they have multiple solutions for solving those respective problems along with the precise adaptation of their technical execution to meet the needs of the moment. Devonta Freeman, over the course of the 2017 season (note: it’s been marinating for a couple of years now for sure), fits this billing. There are few greater joys for a football movement specialist at the moment than seeing a ball in Freeman’s hands, in space with another defender, and the ensuing interactive affair where his opponents end up grasping for air due to Freeman reaching into his toolbox and whipping out any number of precisely timed agility actions often set-up from rapidly executed deceleration movement patterns. Exhibit A, B, and C….
It seems pretty appropriate; 3rd and short in the 4th quarter of a week 15 showdown with a division rival while clawing for your playoff life, you lean on your dynamic playmaker to just go do what he does (granted; the Falcons have a number of those dynamic playmakers). Devonta Freeman stands as the lone set back behind Matt Ryan who takes the snap and tosses the ball to the strong side sweeping Freeman who has a convoy of willing Falcon blockers out in front ready to take care of their collective business. As soon as the ball hits Freeman’s hands, and even before, his perceptual scanning eyes are up gaining sensory data about the first problem to solve. This problem; where will the first gap open up that affords him running through it to get to/and through the second level?
While controllably accelerating, he awaits the moment that the space is just right to attack. We see this as it comes to its fruition when he rounds the corner at the 37 yard line. He goes from a slight controllable acceleration gallop to a hard acceleration execution. Instinctually here, driven from both experience and sensitivity, he understands he’s got numbers on his side and more than enough space for his action capabilities (his speed to maneuver through the space afforded) to work with. Due to both those capabilities along with perfectly executed blocking, he made the right decision as he splits through the interacting offense and defense.
Before he’s even fully passed through the gap, he understands (whether this knowledge is conscious or subconscious) that he will be in the open field shortly. When he’s at the 30 yard line, we see his eyes up zeroed in on the last man to beat out in front of him running at an angle and he knows this is essentially as close to live sparring that an NFL player can get. To be in Freeman’s head here and the potential cognitive processing occurring (again this could be conscious thought or more subconsciously held!) as he formulates decisions for his next path of action would be one to behold as it has turned into a really steeply lopsided advantage for the Falcons RB. Instead, being that I cannot actually be in his head to determine what’s being calculated, it ends up as an intriguing thought experiment for a movement specialist. In any event, it’s almost as we can witness Freeman ‘seeing’ what could flow from his options here as he moves from the 30 to the 25 yard line with the Tampa safety running angularly across the field to cut off his path and attempt to stand in his way in some way.
Knowing that the options are nearly endless as he reaches into his toolbox, he begins to set-up his execution by slowing down slightly from the 25 to the 20. When he’s at the 21/20 yard line, with the defender still 7 to 8 yards away (note: even in the open field this is a LOT of space to work with) and running hard to the sideline, Freeman utilizes a controlled subtle crossover on his left leg from the 20 to the 18 yard lines which brings his path angle back inward slightly towards the middle of the field. Concurrently, this gets the defender slowing and questioning.This hesitation from the Buccaneers safety leads into a complete deceleration action and stopping of his feet with them angled towards the sideline on the 11/10 yard line. Freeman’s movement skill resonates to this and he quickly realizes he’s got the defender even more where he wanted him than he initially thought; as this plant from the defender in this angle leaves his body position susceptible to Freeman going back to the inside.
For good measure though, Freeman performs a feint and fake to his left (on the 15) and then hard back to his right flowing from a right foot heavy lunge deceleration action (onto the 13)…this whole sequence leaves the safety biting hard and sitting deeper. Furthermore, because of when and where Freeman executed it (with optimal spacing FOR HIM…approximately 3 yards) it leaves the defender dead to rights for Freeman to exploit. Freeman hits his patented left foot jab step from the lunge deceleration which leads his next three steps optimally past the now down broken ankle defender and then into the end zone.
The real tale of this movement problem and solution connection can be told from the angular camera view shown below as opposed to the sideline camera view. Here we can see how masterful the “fit” is between Freeman’s perception and action that he executes the solution from which allows him to exploit both space and the defender at optimal times. We can also see how vital the feint and fake to his left is as it gets the safety’s eyes drifting up to this deceptive action and away from where the more useful specifying information exists (at the hips) to determine where Freeman is going.
You can check out the slick set-up and move by Freeman here: