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: Lamar hits another long one
Video of the Play:
Game: Titans at Texans
Player: Lamar Miller, Running Back, Houston Texans
Other contenders this week:
As I mentioned on Twitter while the games were unfolding, we saw so many players step up with some absolutely extraordinary plays from a movement skill execution standpoint during Week 12. Along with Miller, a few of the top contenders included:
Saquon Barkley, Running Back, New York Giants: The ‘Movement Phenom’ finds his way into recognition yet again this week. Per his established norm, he had several plays on Sunday which just make me shake my head in bewilderment wondering how his movement skill-set has evolved to get to this point. On one of those plays, we see him navigate through traffic obstacles imposed upon him by not only the Philadelphia Eagle defense but also his own players to prove, yet again, that one’s ability to control themselves in time and space in relation to the ever-changing environment around you with its various obstacles (no matter what color of jersey they wear) is the key performance indicator to agility success on a football field.
Christian McCaffrey, Running Back, Carolina Panthers: McCaffrey has been in intriguing case study in his movement skill through this entire season. Last season McCaffrey’s movement skill-set seemed to be almost handcuffed by some of the ways he was being utilized (or not being utilized) in the Panthers offensive tactical strategies. In a new offensive scheme this year, McCaffrey has been a force to be reckoned with, especially as of late, as he has begun to connect to his personal affordances for action within the NFL problem landscapes (which he has needed some time to get accustomed to due to their vast differences to college football problems).
Chris Carson, Running Back, Seattle Seahawks: One of the new Seahawk RBs leading the charge for Seattle’s highly ranked rushing offense tried his best attempt at a hurdle only to underestimate the body positioning of his opponent (honestly, this inaccuracy in his perception may be what cost him the top spot this week) which caused him to get up-ended and flipped in the air. However, Carson made good on the adaptability aspect of his skill execution as he astonishingly landed on his feet and picked up a few more yards after he touched down.
Amari Cooper, Wide Receiver, Dallas Cowboys: The lone non-running back in this week’s group, the former All-Movement Team member (Cooper was a 2nd Team performer back in 2015 while an Oakland Raider) had several stellar movement plays in his first Thanksgiving game as a Cowboy when he slashed his way through the Redskins secondary for a couple of touchdowns.
Pertinent Problem Constraints at-play:
Organism – Quietly having a strong season, Lamar Miller came into the game with over 600 yards rushing in nine outings while averaging in the mid 4’s in yards per carry. Miller is one of those backs that won’t necessarily take your breath away with any particular overriding movement quality, but is well-rounded and cut from a similar cloth as guys like Kareem Hunt. Don’t get it twisted though, even though Miller is 5’11” and a lean 225, he can pick ‘em up and put ‘em down quick (aka he can definitely get out and run in the open field). Proving he’s no stranger to taking plays the distance and housing it from long ways away, Miller became the first running back to record 95-plus yard touchdown runs in NFL history. He’s equal parts speed, power, and shiftiness, all of which are on display to certain degrees in this featured play today.
Environmental – Playing any game on primetime television will always bring out certain arousal responses that can quickly get out of hand and teeter into anxiety for many athletes including those who play in the NFL. We see it week-after-week; players who typically organize movement behaviors in one way if the game was being played on a Sunday afternoon (while there are approximately six other games being played at the same time), will now, almost seemingly out of the blue, find that their movement skills diminish to the movement coordination and control processes displayed by lesser individuals when all of the eyes of the NFL viewing population are now upon them during primetime. This game was played in Houston at NRG Stadium which is sometimes open, sometimes closed (due to its retractable roof), with a grass field that saw pretty comfortable temperatures Monday night in the low 50’s with clear skies. The Texans were riding a seven game winning streak coming into this match-up with one of their division rivals in the Titans who have been playing pretty inconsistently all season long as a unit.
Task – The Texans find themselves backed up on their own 3-yard line with a 1st and 10 while leading by 4 points with 9:36 to go in the 2nd quarter. With a two-tight end, run-heavy look from the Texans, the Titans are coming into the play expecting a run or a short pass with the thought that the Texans are likely just hoping that they will be able to get some breathing room to operate from. Instead, thanks to Miller, they’re about to get breathing room on the scoreboard in the form of six more points.
Information Present/Affordances for Action
Let me put on my Captain Obvious nametag for a second and just state that ‘scoring in the NFL is never easy.’ Scoring from 97 yards out is much, much more challenging yet. The complexity and difficulty level of this challenge increases even more when you must go through and overcome the opponent’s top defenders in order to get there. Well, this is precisely what Lamar Miller did en route to his long house call on Monday Night Football. Because Miller met the Titans defense at their strength (in the interactions with Woodyard and Byard that are to come) we are going to focus on the player-player/player-environment interactions as they took place in those respective dyadic relationships as opposed to looking at the minutia of each step as it unfolded across the 97 yard scamper.
- In the hole with inside linebacker, Wesley Woodyard, #59: One of the more sure-tackling inside backers you will find in the league along with certainly being one of the more athletic ones, as well, Woodyard finds himself on the wrong side of the posterizing that Miller was up to on Monday night. Though Woodyard was dealing with taking on and attempting to shed an oncoming blocker, he has to simultaneously perceive where Miller’s path is going to intersect his ‘reach-ability’ and hopefully his ‘tackle-ability’ too. Miller connects to the gap which is just enough space for him to pass through especially if he hits the gas pedal a bit. With Woodyard still trying to get the center’s hands off of him, Miller senses that the stellar ILB’s base of support is slightly off-balanced and his center of gravity is a bit too high to present an adequate position to bring him to the ground…this then offers Miller an even better opportunity to pass through this lane (as long as he accelerates per his personal functional capabilities) with nothing more than a brush off of Woodyard’s tackle attempt.
- At the third level of the defense with free safety, Kevin Byard, #31: Arguably, the second year safety is the best player on the entire Titans roster; especially from a movement skill perspective. Last year, I put Byard on my All-Movement Team as my 2nd best safety behind only former Mover of the Year, Earl Thomas. On his route to a possible recognition on the 2018 Team, Byard is going to wish he had this play back. Byard, who is playing as the single high deep safety 18 yards deep on the play, accelerates to fill space as soon as he recognizes that Miller is into the second level (with three guys now chasing him from behind). Like in physics were every action has an equal and opposite reaction, movement problems and solutions have opposite reactions (or should I say, interactions?), as well, as we can see unfolding here. For some reason, Byard actually begins to decelerate in what appears to be far earlier than he should have (at around the 17/18 yard line coming to a planted stopped position at the 16 yard line); he likely should have kept attacking at Miller as opposed to stopping his feet and becoming a sitting duck in this problem-solution interface. In any event, this behavior just presents way too much space for Miller to exploit as it opens up a wide affordance landscape with opportunities galore. Miller, who has visually locked into Byard, is able to pick up the nuances of not only his opponent’s poor body position but also begins to calibrate his own actions based on these opportunities that are now presented to him. Namely, Byard’s movement behaviors have presented the availability for Miller to execute through a diversity of movement strategies and/or various movement solution control parameters…it all depends on which one he is being invited to pursue most fully.
What qualities stick out that make this Movement Play of the Week?
- Calm under the chaos: Often times when you can feel guys chasing, particularly when it’s in tight spaces, it’s a natural response for a RB to try to rush into his next solution, often pushing them into an inaccurate decision for a subpar movement strategy and/or the execution of a compromised movement execution. With several Titans defenders pursuing from behind especially early in traffic (but also later in the open field as he runs away from the pack), he can surely feel/sense them breathing down his neck. However, Lamar Miller remains calm here with this; knowing that he’s in control to execute as he pleases as the problem unfolds.
- Exploitation of opponent’s body positions: This aspect of Miller’s movement skill-set on display today tells the story for me. Though it is likely emerging more subconsciously (meaning, he can’t explicitly tell us, “when I see Byard leaning too far too his right in a suboptimal position, I am going to go to my right”), Millers ability to attune to this specifying information and couple his movement behaviors off of it are simply masterful and are one of the hallmarks for a RB being able to solve any movement problem under any situation (aka dexterity).
- Open-field linear speed: Though I chose to focus above on the movement behavior organized by Miller in closer quarters with defenders, without his open-field linear speed displayed here he surely would not have scored. According to his pro day numbers from six years ago (when he was also about 15 pounds lighter), Miller reportedly ran a 4.40 (let’s acknowledge the quick triggers of fingers at some pro days happening at one’s college too). Most readers know how much (i.e. how little) stock I put into quantitative testing for football players as I feel there certainly are guys who are fast by themselves with a clock versus those who are fast on a field with guys chasing and pursuing. Miller is a prime example of the latter (and that’s the one that football players should want to be too). Though another up and coming mover on the Titans defense, Adoree Jackson, was closing ground down the stretch, it was too little-too late. On a side note, I do find it somewhat comical that I’ve already seen some across social media try to push their agenda by highlighting Jackson’s speed on the play as a reason to run track for football (due to Jackson being a participant for USC at the 2015 NCAA outdoor T&F championships in both the long jump and the 4×100)…I mean, being that he actually was NOT successful in catching Miller based on the constraints of a football play especially when he had nearly 90 yards to do so.
How could we potentially guide athletes to acquire similar movement skills?
Though lots of the learning environments I design to nudge the movement skills further for my NFL players are spent on more situational tasks which involve three to five players interacting in various ways, positions, angles, and speeds, I also involve a relatively high volume of 1v1 types of situations. Being that American football is a game played with a large quantity of players (11 on each side) many assume that we can’t fully present representative problems to athletes if we don’t have a full squad to work with. The fact of the matter is though, not only do we not need to have a full roster to simulate the interactions during the situations which will be important on Sundays, but in some cases, we would also probably prefer to spend time acquiring the movement skill-set to excel in these smaller-sided type of situations all the way down to 1v1 task problems. To spend time here it really allows for us to focus on the athlete’s ability to be presented with a variety of situations when presented with these problems (i.e. across a range of movement behaviors presented by the opponent) and explore their movement toolbox for how the solutions should be organized (perceived, thought about, and acted upon) to meet the needs of the various problems. What I am saying here is this: in the various 1v1 interactions at the heart of today’s play (though there obviously was additional complexity presented by the other opponents and teammates on the field), we find it was Miller’s ability to attune to the specifying information in his opponent’s movement behaviors which led to his success…the very same qualities that I believe can be enhanced in the midst of some 1v1 interactive work for football players.