Note: Just a quick reminder that throughout the 2018 season, I have elected to take a different approach than I have over the first handful of seasons of me breaking down plays here. Instead, this year, we will focus more efforts on connecting the problem-solution reciprocal relationship more deeply. This new emphasis will be evident below…
Play: Gordon gets loose
Video of the Play:
Game: Chargers at Raiders
Player: Melvin Gordon, Running Back, Los Angeles Chargers
Other contenders this week:
- Ezekiel Elliott, Running Back, Dallas Cowboys: The former high school hurdler and all-around supreme athlete found himself entering the mix of the 2018 hurdling movement contest with other RBs to execute the action this year. With the increase of defensive backs targeting RBs lower when trying to tackle in the open field, we have also seen an increase in this type of movement action. If Zeke wouldn’t have stumbled after the crisply executed hurdle, until to find himself just short of the end zone, we may be featuring him this week instead of Melvin.
- Nick Chubb, Running Back, Cleveland Browns: The Browns now featured rookie RB broke off the furthest offensive play from scrimmage across the NFL on Sunday with a 92 yard scamper where he did a marvelous job using both the play call and the problem constraints in front of him to his advantage.
- Amari Cooper, Wide Receiver, Dallas Cowboys: The newest addition to the Cowboys WR corps showed off his filthy route running versus Eagle CB Ronald Darby on a play where he actually loses Darby twice on the same route…on the play, Darby’s movement behaviors, unfortunately, contributed to him tearing his ACL in season-ending fashion, as well.
Pertinent Problem Constraints at-play:
Organism – Most people who have read my blog posts before know that I have an affinity for studying (as well as attempting to guide and facilitate) the movement skills of running backs over all other positions. To me, there’s just something about the problem-solving demands that RBs face where they have all 11 opponents staring across the line of scrimmage with the sole purpose of bringing you down in any way possible. Thus, for the RB’s movement skill execution (and getting the task completed) anything goes, as well, as you attempt to fight fire with fire…and by fire, I actually mean attunement and adaptability.
Obviously, the running back that I will be featuring today, Melvin Gordon of the Los Angeles Chargers, is currently one of the game’s very best. He also just so happens to be a guy that I have a little bit of history with having worked together to hone some of his movement skills what seems like an eternity ago while he was still back at the University of Wisconsin tearing up Big Ten fields and record books. Honestly, even though he and I haven’t worked together in years, because of that history together I have followed his games and his craft closely since he entered the league four years ago. As with all of my former or current players, I am much harsher on them because I believe so strongly in what I know they are ultimately capable of. Honestly, I feel Mel is very improved with his overall problem-solving capabilities which he has put on display this season; and obviously, it’s shown with the statistics he’s putting up consistently week to week. His craft has changed considerably over time, but to get a better idea of who he was then, take a peek at the following link from my Pre-Draft Movement Analysis on Melvin, and then we can dive into a glimpse of who he’s become since.
Environmental – Regardless of how bad the Raiders are playing at the moment, playing them at their home in the Oakland Coliseum is always a tough place to play. Though you rarely get poor weather conditions here, what you do get is a grass field that is usually some equal combination mixture of torn-up Bermuda grass and baseball infield dirt. You also get some of the most passionate fans in the whole dang game that are known for saying a thing or two to opposing team’s players and fans. On this particular Sunday, players (and fans alike) were also exposed to the smoke coming from the California wildfires, as well (Side note: major thoughts and prayers go out to all of those affected by these tragic events).
Task – The Chargers find themselves on their own 34 yard line, with just a seven point lead up 10-3 early in the 3rd quarter (12:44 left) facing a 2nd and 10. The Raiders are about to throw seven men at Phillip Rivers to pressure him hard, but fortunately for him, he’s got Melvin coming out of the backfield as an easy check-down safety-valve throw. Before we dive further into the rest of the play though, let’s just get this out of the way: I am usually not one to put down players and their play (because, of course, they are in the NFL and I am not)…but, the Raiders defense is NOT good. Like…they are really not good, at all. What’s worse yet, their effort is often atrocious, as well…and we are about to see both of these qualities (or lack thereof) on-display here on this play.
Information Present/Affordances for Action
Having closely studied every single snap that Melvin has ever taken in the NFL (as well as over 2+ years in college) I hope to be able to offer a unique look into what was potentially occurring contextually for Melvin and his perception-intention-action capabilities here on this respective play.
- 1v1 with Raider Cornerback – Gareon Conley (#21): As soon as Melvin catches the ball, the problem landscape is already emerging in the soon-to-come gaze field unfolding behind him. Conley is charging quick, actually coming in a little too hot (i.e. fast) and out of control here as he breaks hard on Mel as his target while the ball is in the air to try to beat him to a spot in an attempt to force him to veer inside where his help is (aka other Raider defenders who potentially could help). However, because of his uncontrollability, Conley doesn’t give him much of a shot of taking Melvin down himself here in this match-up. Melvin perceives Conley’s speed and angle and uses this information to his own advantage as he begins to anticipate that Conley is going to be both late to the spot and out of control when he gets there. This connection of the perceptual information happens so much more rapidly for Melvin than it ever has before. So much so, that he begins his movement solution before the problem is fully presented to him. Melvin begins to make his cut back inside with a short transitional jab step to his right, followed by a crossover action from his left; we can see that while Melvin is in the middle of this crossover action, Conley is still planting. Because of this tardiness, he only has one last ditch effort to try to give a half-hearted dive at Melvin’s feet from behind.
- 1v1 with Raider Safety – Reggie Nelson (#27): When Melvin knows he’s safely past Conley’s attempt at bringing him down, his visual perception now jumps ahead to extract information about the next problem to solve. When he does, he’s met with a very rare situation in the NFL where there is actually this little of perceptual informational load to attempt to understand for a RB. What do I mean? Well, look at Gordon here in this case; he finds that it’s just him and essentially a single defender, with 10+ yards separating the two of them, with Melvin running at him through a wide open alley down the numbers, with space both to his left and to his right with the opportunity to manipulate this large amount of green grass as the player who is already in control (the offensive skill player in this instance; though that isn’t always the case). When these types of situations do arise, RBs sometimes get impatient, over-excited, and rush to the spot to beat the attempting tackler. However, Melvin shows his experience and movement intelligence here now as he controllably handles his pace (aka doesn’t get too far onto the acceleration pedal) to allow him the time/space to accurately perceive the body language and movement problem being presented by Nelson, while also concurrently giving a deceptive, side-to-side movement set-up (giving the impression that he could easily go outside as much as he desires to go inside) before following it up with an outside leg speed cut off his left foot. When he strikes his plant foot into the ground here he does so decisively, and because of this his body takes in a rush of kinetic energy which shoots him out of the cut and to slingshot into acceleration mode.
What qualities stick out that make this Movement Play of the Week?
- Dexterity: Of course, this is a word I use a lot to describe the concept that I feel as though is the hallmark one to acquire if a player is ever to be considered an expert and/or masterful mover. Dexterity is defined as the ability to solve any emergent movement problem under any situation and in condition (per Bernstein). Watching Melvin on this play was a treat because even though I have often felt as though Melvin could do this type of thing, sometimes it has felt as though he’s been locked into a limited range of solutions for whatever reason (sometimes with his body being hampered by certain ailments, other times his intention would be getting restricted by outside sources, and yet in other times he would be rushing the process a little too much and just executing that which he ‘knew best’ even if it wasn’t the best option!). However, on this play, I now see a guy who isn’t restricted to simply organizing a crossover cut executed from a higher center of gravity (as was the case in his earlier days), but instead, I witness a guy who can execute any number of movement solutions depending on what his opponent does. In this play’s case, it could be an outside foot speed or power cut, it could be the aforementioned crossover cut, or it could have been something more creative and novel like a spin or even a hurdle if the opponent behaves in a way that would make this solution most conducive.
- Controlled, patient, movement ownership: These words weren’t always in my vocabulary when describing Melvin (I really hope Mel is reading this too-haha)! In fact, if we rewind back to his college days, and even through some of his time in the NFL, Mel always seemed to be in too much of a hurry in certain situations…almost running as if his hair was on fire (and he’s got a lot of hair to concern himself with too!). He would attack the bubbles of defenders too quickly and out of control that he would essentially run out of options as to what movement solution could be executed (and when and how it must be carried out too). However, fast forward to this play, in both of the cutting actions he finds himself in, we see a tremendous amount of patience and a new, confident ease of movement. He’s no longer rushing into this problem-solution interface. Instead, he’s letting it come to him and when it does, he simply reaches into the toolbox and fluidly organizes a strategy and action execution which authentically takes him past the defender.
- Burst and explosiveness: I remember back to the first time I watched and analyzed Melvin on a football field; it was Wisconsin’s spring game when he was a redshirt freshman. Both of his RB-room counterparts and future NFL players in their own right, Montee Ball and James White, were both out with injury and Melvin, the then unknown, was carrying the ball over and over and over again on a cold and rainy day at Camp Randall. Even with that volume though, and combined with him being a young man who was still trying to ‘figure out some things on-field,’ one thing stuck out that day: whomever this #25 (he has since changed his number) is can pick em up and put em down in a hurry over short spaces especially for a relatively big dude. In fact, the first time I saw him get in the open field that day (and then again many times over the years as a Badger), his explosive linear burst reminded me of another RB that I have spent way too much time studying: the one and only, Adrian Peterson. After the second cut on the play above, we see how special this movement quality is for him as he quickly and easily gaps the entire Raiders defense in pursuit.
How could we potentially guide athletes to acquire similar movement skills?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or have never read my blog posts before), you know that one of the major driving concepts within my training ideas is that of ‘representative learning’ or ‘representative task design.’ In a nutshell, what this means is designing a practice activity (which creates a learning environment) that looks, feels, acts, and behaves like it will in game settings (i.e. it’s representative). I feel strongly that setting up a practice environment that contains a dynamically acting problem which will involves opponents to be perceived upon, decisions to be made about how to act based on what the opponents are doing (i.e. drives one’s intentions), and culminating in the performer carrying out the actions in crisp and fluid fashions which become coupled to those perceptions and intentions, is the way to allow the performer to learn how to use the tools (movement strategies and solutions) they possess within their skill-set.
Thus, in my mind, the way to guide that which we saw from Melvin today is simply through exposure and experience. In fact, taking a trip down memory lane for a moment, I vividly remember almost this exact same problem being set-up in my old facility, with Melvin having to connect to the information in the world around him, with anywhere from one to three opponents coming at him in pursuit from various places, at various angles, and at various speeds, and with various intentions and strategies, with him figuring how to adequately execute agile cutting actions in response to them.
Note: I am NOT, by any means, claiming any ounce of credit for Melvin’s success, simply recognizing that I am very happy for Mel to see him feeling as comfortable as he now is in this type of situation and others like it. He truly seems to be in a place where he has a real connection to how problems are unfolding in front of him and total confidence in the solutions he has available to solve them.