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: Lindsay opening up in the open field
Video of the Play:
Game: Broncos at Bengals
Player: Phillip Lindsay, Running Back, Denver Broncos
Other contenders this week:
- Desmond King, Cornerback, San Diego Chargers: The Charger second-year man was a spark of momentum in the San Diego comeback versus the Steelers on Sunday night when he dashed and dazzled his way to a punt return touchdown through and around Pittsburgh traffic.
- Adrian Peterson, Running Back, Washington Redskins: In an otherwise lackluster performance by the Redskins offense, the greatest RB of this last decade showed that, even at 33 years old, he can still pick ‘em up and put ‘em down with the best of them when he hit a single cut and then got off to the races pulling away from the entire defending Super Bowl champion’s defensive unit to go 90 yards for the longest touchdown of his career.
- Saquon Barkley, Running Back, New York Giants: He hurdled yet another guy in a totally different, unique fashion. Ho hum…no big deal, nothing to see here…though IT IS something to see (it’s crazy to think that the rookie RB is making these novel, coordination creations this second nature at this point in his career!).
Pertinent Problem Constraints at-play:
Organism – Each and every year during the NFL Draft, plenty of qualified players worthy of being selected go without hearing their name called on Draft night (showing the un-exact science of talent identification by NFL personnel evaluators). I think it’s safe to say that one player every decision maker missed out on in 2018 was rookie Bronco running back, Phillip Lindsay. When the season began, no one was really sure what the Broncos were going to be bringing to the table from their RB position group that included a number of young fellas including several rookies. I will say that a friend of mine, current Denver Head Strength & Conditioning Coach, Loren Landow, was the first to mention Lindsay to me as a guy to keep my eye out for. Having trained Lindsay at his facility prior to taking the Broncos job (for Lindsay’s Pro Day preparations), Loren certainly had gotten enough of a glimpse of Lindsay’s rare athletic traits to know what a gem the team was getting when they called him after the Draft was complete. It didn’t take all that long for the rest of Denver and those across the National Football League to realize that the Broncos had struck gold, as well. Even though Lindsay went undrafted, the Colorado native is blessed with a whole host of athletic gifts. Though standing only 5’8” and coming in around 190lb, the dude can get out and run with the best in the class having recorded sub-4.4 at his Pro Day. Though he does also possess a good amount of short space agility skills (that aren’t always present with linear speedsters at the position), it is his ability to utilize his speed in purposeful, functional fashions in situations on Sundays that have led to him coming into this game with the league’s highest yards per carry.
Environmental – Ohio is one of those places that you never really can be sure what weather you are going to get for a December afternoon football game. On this particular Sunday though, you probably couldn’t ask for much better football weather with temperatures in the low to mid 60’s with clear skies and a bright sun shining. Generally speaking, the 65,000+ strong Bengal fan base is a pretty low-key one to be around for an opposing team who usually has to deal more with getting accustomed to the new synthetic turf field at Paul Brown Stadium than they do any verbal onslaughts from Bengal fans. As far as additional socio-cultural constraints to deal with, the Broncos came into this game riding a few game winning streak looking to stay in the playoff hunt and bring their record to 6-6 while the Bengals were reeling a bit coming off of the loss of their quarterback and hanging onto playoff hopes as tightly as they could.
Task – This play sits half-way through the third quarter during Sunday’s outing with the Broncos already up 14-3, with a 1st and 10 from their own 35 yard line. Lindsay is the single back behind quarterback Case Keenum while the Bengals, who very rightfully respect Lindsay’s capabilities, have 10 guys in the picture within 6 yards of the line of scrimmage. The Broncos here run a toss crack to the right and let Lindsay do what he does better than almost any skill player in the league right now…exploit defensive pursuit angles…
Information Present/Affordances for Action
As with any play, the link between the movement solutions of the performer, interacting with the dispositional properties of the unfolding problem, occurs continuously/dynamically and is present within the affordances contained in the information which exists that the player’s organized movement actions must be always coupled to. When you have 11 opponents on the other side of the ball from you, all with their own specific intentions and movement qualities, it can get rather daunting to understand from a complexity standpoint. However, to better study what is being offered to Lindsay by this unfolding global problem, we can view the problem in snapshots to try to put ourselves in his shoes (knowing again, what is the ‘right’ movement solution for one performer, is almost always never exactly most ‘correct’ for another). All in all, what we must remember though is, as human organisms with complex adaptive human movement systems, ‘we perceive to act and we act to perceive.’ This is JJ Gibson’s fancy way of saying, let’s look at the information present that Lindsay was seeing and think about what it meant for his ongoing movement coordination and control.
As Lindsay begins to bend this first corner through the gap created by the crack block, we see him on the 31 yard line with a solid seal block for him to get the edge and with teammate numbers on his side (his offensive lineman, #72 and #77, in space about to take on #22 and #55 for the Bengals, respectively). Depending on what happens as the next one to three steps unfold, he’s likely going to have a decision to make to try to hit the sideline or bring it back slightly inside.
As he gets to the 35 yard line, we can follow his visual gaze and pattern likely fixated on the dynamic relationship interacting between his OL-#77 and the LB-#55 for the Bengals. In a split-second, Lindsay must perceive the affordances of both his teammate and his opponent here and begin to understand that the behavior of Burfict (#55) is telling him that he’s currently charging to cut off Lindsay at the sideline.
Two more steps occur and Lindsay finds that though Burfict is now decelerating, he’s stuck in a positional never-ever-land and thus, Lindsay has the gap calling his name behind Burfict’s hip (with additional Bronco players looking for blocking work) and with more than enough of the requisite speed to pass through this opening.
The information keeps flowing, and the affordances for action remain open when Lindsay passes the 40 yard line; he has made the decision to go where he had initially intended as he can recognize that Burfict’s body position doesn’t afford a good position to bring the RB down (and Lindsay likely never second guessed himself based on the way that he covers this ground from the 35 to past the 40).
Lindsay gets past Burfict as planned and expected while leaving him falling backwards in any last ditch attempt at bringing him down. Now there’s really only one man truly to beat in the safety that over-pursues and quickly realizes that he must stop on a dime and attempt to re-accelerate. This task was way too daunting of one as Lindsay already has his foot fully on the gas pedal now and the young RB breezes by the safety with ease as he struggles to effectively get going again.
What qualities stick out that make this Movement Play of the Week?
- Gap affordances: Though most will look at this play and immediately gravitate towards Lindsay’s exceptional speed and football-specific sprinting skills, I personally feel as though it’s his perceptual qualities (namely his vision) which allow him to really break this one open into the long gainer that we witness. This unique quality to perceive in prospective fashions where one will be in time and space in reference to one’s opponents is a special one that is reserved for only the game’s most skillful movers.
- Curvilinear running skills: At least once a season, a play/player is recognized as the Movement Play of the Week simply because of his ability to navigate the curvilinear paths present on the field better than his peers. This unique movement skill is one that is often goes under-discussed and under-developed in many American football training programs but it places completely different demands on the athlete, both from a perception and action standpoint. More to come on this below!
- Open-field breakaway speed: Of course, once Lindsay gets in the open field with green grass in front of him and around him, it’s a wrap! It’s here that we see that more traditional drilling of sound technical execution could potentially begin to shine through. However, as you may notice, even with that precise biomechanical model in place, it’s still imperative that he continues to problem-solve within the execution of each and every step in order to properly and effectively make decisions on the exact path of where it’s most efficacious to go and how to control his speed accordingly to match the demands of the pursuing defenders. On that token though, I don’t know if any other NFL player right now sprints with the type of ‘run like your hair’s on-fire’ mentality that Lindsay currently does.
How could we potentially guide athletes to acquire similar movement skills?
Through the first 12 weeks of the season, we have highlighted the use of practice environments to drive the acquisition of adaptive movement skills as they connect to affordances that emerge in the information which exists in the problems present on the field. Today, I want to draw attention to how we may assist athletes in the abilities which could create more stabilized curvilinear movement skills. I feel as though this movement skill should be more of a priority for more individuals in American football, especially once the physical capability playing field begins to even out at the NFL-level. What I mean by this is that when players are at lower levels, their unique athletic gifts will often allow them to compensate in ways that beat defenders at the college level (because they are that much more gifted than their opponents) but will quickly become ineffective when everyone is fast (aka the NFL). Thus, I spend a great deal of time here attempting to develop a wider bandwidth of movement capabilities with this skill especially with younger players.
As anyone and their mother, father, sister, and brother could imagine, I personally elect to address these movement skills with my own players through a repetition without repetition fashion. What this often looks like is, with each and every repetition, I change the angular path that I am requiring the player to run. I could do this on more acceleration-based days where our emphasis is on opening up an individual’s affordances for action through increasing the physical capacity of the human movement system. These activities then would be more closed in their nature but still would change rep to rep (one rep could be a curvilinear path of one respective angle/distance while the very next rep would be of a different angle/distance, etc). Generally-speaking, these types of training sessions almost always find themselves in my programming earlier in the offseason.
As the season sneaks up on us, this type of movement demand begins to show itself most often in our open environment/open system work where the path is determined based on opponent’s place on the field as well as the speed and angles that both parties (offensive skill player and defender) are running at. Thus, it emerges just like it will during the course of an NFL football play. Again, in this way, it is programmed in a repetition without repetition format but now there is a heightened problem-solving demand on the human movement system where the individual must continuously perceive information, make decisions, and act accordingly (such as changing their own speed and path).