Note: Just as we did in 2018, throughout the 2019 NFL season we will be placing our scope of analysis during our Movement POW on utilizing the reciprocal relationship between a problem and a solution (and the performer and his environment) as the foundation of our investigation. However, we will be looking to take that another step further this year as we aim to center our discussions on the potential information transactions and energy exchange which occurs between the two (problem and the solver) which serve to channel the movement solutions organized. You can find out more on the importance of this focus here:
PLAY: Must-see Movement Skill TV courtesy of Lamar Jackson
VIDEO OF THE PLAY:
GAME: Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals
PLAYER: Lamar Jackson, Quarterback, Baltimore Ravens
Patrick Mahomes, Quarterback, and Mecole Hardman, Wide Receiver, Kansas City Chiefs: Mahomes was back on Sunday after his right knee cap dislocation injury scare from a few weeks ago and, per usual, he did not disappoint. On one particular play, Mahomes found himself leaving his feet by jumping in the air over the pressure and the outstretched arms to deliver a pinpoint pass to the crossing Hardman who then split through the teeth of the Titan secondary like a knife through butter.
Amari Cooper, Wide Receiver, Dallas Cowboys: Since being traded to the Cowboys last season, Cooper has emerged as a true contender for the top spot at the WR position for the All-Movement Team at end of this season. In his team’s prime-time match-up Sunday night versus the Vikings, Cooper did everything in his power to put on a clinic of kinesthetic sense and awareness with what felt like every repetition and route ran. On most weeks, his overall coordination and control to make insane snags while tiptoeing the sideline, would be enough to give him the nod for our Movement Play of the Week.
Dalvin Cook, Running Back, Minnesota Vikings: Not to be outdone by the aforementioned Cooper, Dalvin Cook continued his weekly decimation of complex movement problems that a RB faces. Though I put Christian McCaffrey ahead of Cook on last week’s Mover Power Rankings last week (with CMC coming in at #2 overall and Cook at #7), don’t underestimate what #33 is doing right now as he seems to keep evolving his craft with every opportunity he gets to let it rip out on a Sunday.
Pertinent Problem Constraints at-play:
After I placed Lamar Jackson on the top of my Mid-season Mover Power Rankings last week, it was inevitable for me to hear a little chirping from others regarding that choice. For whatever reason, people seem to be torn on the idea of a 2nd year Quarterback, who had plenty of naysayers when he entered the league, being the most masterfully skillful mover in all of the NFL right now.
But, if you really sit down and watch him (whether it’s a single play, a string of highlights, or across an entire game), I feel as though the only conclusion you can really come to is, Lamar Jackson in 2019 is the playing the game and solving movement problems like he’s a Madden movement cheat code. Already the recipient of one Movement Play top nod back in Week 3, and then solving the Patriots puzzle last week, Jackson has a firm grasp of the NFL in the palm of his hand. The real question now is, how long can this last and what will his movement skill continue to emerge like as he needs to adapt continuously when NFL Defensive Coordinators across the league continue to throw everything they got and then some his way?
The Baltimore Ravens came into this game surging off of temporarily dethroning the Patriots on prime-time just a week ago. The Cincinnati Bengals on the other hand…well, they haven’t even found a way to stumble into the win column yet. However, this is a division game. So, theoretically, you can sometimes throw records out of the rule book, and expect to see teams battle with a little extra pride, juice, and familiarity of their opponent. Sometimes (not this game this week though, I guess). On this Sunday, Paul Brown Stadium in Cincy became a wonderful backdrop for a football game. With temperatures in the low to mid 60’s, and with clear and sunny skies which met a soft Field Turf field, this all equated to the canvas that Lamar Jackson, movement artist, would get to go paint on.
Okay, okay, let me start here: I know in the past, especially over the last two seasons, I have often mentioned how my approach in assessing the movement skill which was organized stemmed from having the ability to first pay respect to the problems and the layers of information present while a player was under the constraints of the greatest of complexity. That complexity within the movement problem come from the confluence of a whole host of interacting component parts. Additionally, I typically aim to give more recognition to those players that were being faced with problems that look nearly unsolvable. So, I get it…at first glance, the Cincinnati Bengals defensive unit, is certainly not one of the most formidable of groups in the NFL nor did the problem that was required to be solved represent one that technically presents the most complexity (however, this is dependent on various other factors which will interact along with the qualities of the performer in truly determining the level of problem/task complexity).
That all said, each NFL season brings us certain ‘signature’ plays from the league’s top performers/movers which are then used and played on repeat to embody that player’s Form of Life. Well, if Lamar Jackson ends up being named the winner of any regular season awards or the ever prestigious Mover of the Year, I think he now has ‘his play.’ That’s probably why this particular play is already being compared, by some, to the most famous runs thrown down by the one and only Michael Vick. I may not necessarily go that far, but I will say that based on how Jackson faced this task problem, it undoubtedly made it this week’s best.
Already up big 28-10 with 8 minutes and change to go in the 3rd quarter, Jackson is continuing to go to work from the shotgun with a 2nd down and 3 yards to go…
Information Present/Affordances for Action
Local Problem of Significance #1:
Perceive to act, act to perceive…
The first sequence of the bigger global movement problem to solve begins here, with Jackson faking the hand-off to his RB and then deciding to keep the ball and move to his left. He has options in the form of space with the interaction between he and several opponents offering the opportunities to act. Prospectively and online in real-time, he must make the intertwined perception to decision, to either travel vertically up field across the Bengals logo or to bounce it outside of the right hip of the outside Bengal’s defender, #57, who isn’t in all that advantageous of position to go in either direction. Thus, Jackson determines (whether this was a conscious process or more subconsciously occurring) that he has the acceleration capabilities to take the path of least resistance here. Thus, he splits the gap between the defenders (aka the affordance), and it’s time for the real havoc to now be unleashed.
This next local movement problem to solve is where we really start to see the brilliance of Jackson’s movement skill come to life. Where many skill players are covering ground as fast as they can go, or at minimum, as fast as they feel as though they can control (realize the distinction between those two conditions there), it certainly appears as though Jackson is moving at the precise speed (not too fast but also fast enough to out-run the pursuing chasing defenders) that he perceives to be necessary to optimally and most functionally solve the movement problem that lies in front of him in regards to beating the Bengals safety, #30 Jessie Bates, in this 1v1 situation in open space.
While the two dance partners are still nearly 10 yards from one another, we can see that Bates is pretty much up a creek without a paddle…lots of space separating the two of them but also a whole lot of green grass to both sides of him for Jackson to reach into the toolbox and organize what he desires here. Because of that, Bates begins to show his hand early by planting and beginning to settle his feet in preparation to go either way but all while holding on for dear life in hopes that Jackson somehow glitches and can’t connect to the host of information surrounding him (good luck, Jessie Bates).
Jackson gives a bit of a head nod and body lean to his left which strings Bates along and gets him not only leaning himself to that direction but also committing into what he believes (and hopes and prays) is going to be an acceleration into an upcoming tackle attempt in that direction. Instead, as Jackson visually perceives the hips of his opponent moving from right to left (from Jackson’s POV), he leans the opposite direction off of his planted left leg, to use his right foot to take a quick jab transitional step to juke on by him.
Note: if you can’t acknowledge here that the two individuals are a coupled dynamical system dependent on the information and energy exchange between the two of them, then I am sorry to say that you’re beyond help.
Local Problem of Significance #2:
Not just spinning for spinning sake…
I’ve noticed a bunch of players (who will go unnamed) this season, who seem to be executing a spin to look flashy and maybe even show-off, when it isn’t being organized to fit the needs of the respective movement problem. Of course, that statement in and of itself is highly speculative, as I can only ever put myself in what I believe to be, the player’s human movement system as problems unfold in front of him.
That all said, we may be able to make the argument that Jackson could have potentially missed a potential affordance for action in the form of the absolute ocean of green grass in front of of him and to his left after he came out of the juke on Bates, or we could also maybe speculate that he was simply being completely, authentically, himself…and thus, creating by almost toying with opposing players (as we have seen that Form of Life from him not only in a few instances in the NFL but also definitely in college). So, he literally could have been searching for an opportunity to go make guys look silly. This type of intentional aim, playing against the very best in the world at what they do, is often not a very highly advocated for strategy. However, this is also no mere mortal mover and thus, who am I to say what affordances he should accept versus those he should reject?!
Plus, as we can see here, that even if the latter mentioned above is the case, the spin move is coordinated and controlled in a highly functional (i.e. purposeful and fit to the problem) fashion. He first detects the specifying information for where the two oncoming defenders are going to intersect his path, and then he literally sets them up to be subject to this nasty, moderate speed spin move. Now, if he saw the chasing #96 from behind him or not is probably arguable…though he certainly could have ‘felt him’ only to visually perceive him once he was already in the midst of the actual spinning portion of the spin move. But, as luck would have it, he spins at exactly the right time and right out of the way of any potential tackle attempt from #96 as this individual runs right into where Jackson spun the other two Bengal defenders to.
Local Problem of Significance #3:
Information-Movement Coupling is always at play…
Once Jackson has dismissed of several Cincinnati defenders by leaving them tripping over their own feet, he comes out of the spin on the gas pedal while simultaneously scanning the entire landscape for either his next victim or the next patch of field turf to exploit. To adequately perceive and connect to this information and the affordances it contains, you can see Jackson physically turn his head, first right and then left. If you’ve been following along this season, you know that this perceptual behavior floats my boat (as its an under-discussed attribute often necessary for solving agility movement problems in a field-based sport). However, unless you are watching closely, it may be easy to miss that while this is emerging, Jackson also uses other sensory-perceptual sub-systems here to gain a complete picture regarding the information to detect when he sticks his right arm out to feel for where his RB Mark Ingram also is in space. This haptic (touch) perception adds another layer of information for Jackson as he attempts to navigate his locomotive path over the final stretch of this incredible touchdown run.
What qualities stick out that make this the Movement POW:
1. Honest and creative movement expression
When Jackson was awarded our Movement Play of the Week back in Week 3, it was all made possible through the same characteristic also driving today’s extraordinary movement solution, as well, his honest and creative expression of the movement organized. Though I don’t want to beat a dead horse in this respect, I did happen to come across this video below, which I thought was a really cool interaction captured between Jackson and his Head Coach, John Harbaugh, and it may begin to give us all greater insight as to what makes #8 tick and where his movement skill flows from. If you coach any level of player, I think you can probably also learn a little something from this as I did, as well.
2. 360 degree perceptual radar
It seems as though during the movement analysis and breakdowns this year, more than any other previous year, we have frequently witnessed a player who is so obviously attuned perceptually to connecting to the information across the entirety of the visual array/landscape beyond what’s immediately coming in front of him by his gaze being fixated more centrally (as is traditionally thought of as effective). Instead, we see the head as a key component part to organizing this perceptual degrees of freedom to scan and direct the attention to enable the detection of information that exists everywhere. On this note, an additional hat-tip here to Jackson’s perception being gathered from a haptic perspective too; meaning, let’s not forget that perception comes in through multiple dimensions.
How could we potentially guide athletes to acquire similar movement skills?
I could take the cop-out here and simply point you to this section in my Week 3 movement analysis on Lamar Jackson to fill in these blanks here today too. If you will rewind back to that point, I encouraged the use of more representative 1v1 situations in movement practice, while also advocating for your athletes to explore and potentially discover authentic movement solutions under the constraints of diverse task problems (changing various spatio-temporal considerations of the activity). That recommendation obviously still holds true, however, today I will offer another, maybe somewhat surprising alternative recommendation.
This recommendation is actually tied into Jackson himself, as in his post-game presser, he mentioned both visualizing the spin move and practicing it during the walk-through in the days before the game. Now, whether he was half-joking or fully serious, the fact of the matter is that though an athlete will sometimes organize a fully creative and emergent movement solution only while in the midst of the problem itself, there are other times where an athlete (especially of Jackson’s nature) may have practiced variations of how-to execute certain solutions (albeit under different problem-solution dynamics) and acquired that ‘coordination pattern’ potentially while by himself…essentially developing the effectivity (aka the action capabilities to execute a certain pattern).
Though this could be looked at as task decomposition which will involve decoupling the solution from the problem that it will ultimately be organized to fit, it could be a way to get the athlete more comfortable with the control of its execution (aka parameterizing its control variables). Thus, in this way, it could be at least somewhat beneficial. To do this, I personally will have my athletes, occasionally (say during one session every one to two weeks depending on the time of the year) perform a ‘Ghost’ agility activity…where it’s like shadow boxing but with COD movement actions. It goes the way that it sounds; with no opponent initially present, the athlete will get a chance to create and combine any movement patterns together in any sequence over a specific task workspace. I have found that though this activity is de-contextualized, the athlete’s confidence to coordinate and control certain movement patterns (such as the spin move) drastically improves in general. Anecdotally, I feel as though they become at least slightly more apt to attempt it’s execution under the more context-specific problems they may face in the game conditions, as well, too.
Did this breakdown intrigue you and you want to understand sport movement skill and behavior more deeply? Well, you’re in luck! I am part of an exciting new movement education project entitled EMERGENCE which will aim to uncover how many of the concepts, theories and principles live and breathe within movement behavior in sport. Check us out at http://www.emergentmvmt.com and get involved!