2019 Play of the Week – WK11 – Lamar Jackson (yes, again!)

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: Lamarvelous Movement Skill TV Deja Vu

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GAME: Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens

PLAYER: Lamar Jackson, Quarterback, Baltimore Ravens

Other Contenders:

  • Marlon Mack, Running Back, Indianapolis Colts: When breaking down Jackson’s movement skill which was organized last week in week 10, I highlighted his spin move and how it was coordinated and controlled to closely meet the needs of the problem. Mack raised those stakes on Sunday when he executed not just one but two spins on the same play to ultimately find himself in the end zone.

  • Deebo Samuel, Wide Receiver, San Francisco 49ers: The rookie WR continued to show traits of a #1 wide-out for the one-loss Niners as he used a host of multi-dimensional perceptual skills when he went up, over, around, and on, a Cardinals DB to snag a ball out of thin air to help his QB on Sunday afternoon.

  • Mark Ingram, Running Back, Baltimore Ravens: Though I ultimately decided to choose the Ravens quarterback again this week, Lamar Jackson’s backfield running mate in Mark Ingram was also shining on a number of instances in Sunday’s outing. One highly adaptable deceleration to change of direction movement solution, where he found himself in what many would claim as ‘a less than ideal’ position, was particularly impressive en route to a second touchdown scamper in the rout of the Texans.

Pertinent Problem Constraints at-play:

Organism –

Yes, this is going to be deja vu throughout today. With what Lamar Jackson has been doing, it’s pretty much a movement skill version of groundhog’s dog where things just keep repeating themselves. But guess what? I frankly don’t care…

1). It’s my blog and I can do what I want to.

2). I know there will be some out there that think that ‘their guy’ is more deserving of receiving the oh-so-glamorous recognition of being featured again on my blog post more than Jackson does for whatever reason.

3). Keeping #1 and #2 in mind, life isn’t fair…get over it.

4). Lamar Jackson is a movement cheat code that is doing things right now that we have never seen before and it all simply must be appreciated…no matter how redundant it may feel at times.

Environmental –

This game was billed from the beginning as a showdown of two of the NFL’s best young signal callers, who represent the new breed of NFL QB, worthy of all of the league’s attention. This was all true but as soon as the ball was kicked off, it was clear that on this day, one of these guys was going to reign supreme (and that guy was Lamar Jackson). Nonetheless, the Texans visited the Ravens on Sunday for this match-up where both teams found themselves in the open air M&T Bank Stadium under constantly overcast skies and temperatures in the low 40’s. Not ideal…but also not terrible either by any stretch of the imagination for what could come in mid-November on the east coast. The Bermuda grass of M&T can get a bit slick in spots at this time of the year though and it’s imperative that players find themselves out on the field early enough in the pregame to feel comfortable with their connection to the ground by selecting their appropriate cleat and calibrating their system to what the surface is affording them on that day.

Task –

Last week I stated that every top player inevitably comes across their signature play in a respective season where both their position and their movement skill shines in a trademark fashion. Well, for Jackson, another week passes, and we find him in the midst of yet another signature play. By now you know that it’s plays like this which make Lamar Jackson the front runner for the 2019 Mover of the Year award, but I would also go as far as saying that it’s also enough to put him ahead of others in certain NFL awards too such as the MVP.

With the Ravens currently blanking the Texans 21-0 with 9:10 to go in the 3rd, Jackson is not satisfied and the entire crew in purple are keeping their foot on the gas pedal, letting Lamar do his thing. The Ravens find themselves in 2nd and 1 from their own 40 yard line. These 2nd and short to go situations seem to be those where any opposing defense will be at its most vulnerable; where the Raven’s run first, heavy option offense has it’s playbook wide open and with no options off of the table. Yet, the Texans elect to load the box to put more bodies near the line of scrimmage…which, for Jackson, seems to only mean more obstacles to toy with and/or more individuals to make infamous on his highlight reel for 2019.

Information Present/Affordances for Action

Local Problem of Significance #1:

Life’s a dance…

It could be said that one of the signposts of the movement skill expressed by several of our past Mover of the Year award recipients was that they were elite in 1v1 movement problem scenarios. Think of guys like last year’s winner, Saquon Barkley, and dating all the way back to our very first Mover of the Year in 2013, LeSean McCoy…they were masters of themselves and their surroundings when they were subjected to having one guy to beat in front of them, these types typically have more than one trick up their sleeve in order to do so. And Jackson certainly fits that same characterization.

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After passing up the opportunity to hand Mark Ingram the ball, Jackson pushes himself into that dance-floor on the field with Texan linebacker #59, Whitney Mercilus. Even though there’s only 2 to 2 and ½ yards separating the two of them, there’s a whole lot of space to roam to Jackson’s left, so Mercilus is in a spot not to be envied…on a string at the disposal of Lamar Jackson’s movement toolbox.

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As Jackson takes a few transition steps to his left he gets Mercilus moving with him while Jackson’s visual perception seems anchored on a relatively neutral spot within his visual gaze. Though his vision isn’t fixated on Mercilus himself, it’s likely that it doesn’t need to be as the clarity in the resolution of his opponent isn’t all that important here to Jackson.

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Instead, he’s just trying to get Mercilus to commit hard to a place where he can’t move adequately from, and then when Mercilus enters Jackson’s immediate visual perspective, he throws on the brakes and cuts to the inside of Mercilus right past his hip.

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Local Problem of Significance #2:

Spatial and temporal navigation at it’s finest…

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Once he knows he has Mercilus dead to rights, based on the haptic/touch information pick-up (from the tackle attempt from behind) coupled with the visual kinesthetic sense and feel of another oncoming tackler from his right, Jackson continues to just ‘feather’ the gas pedal to ensure that he applies just the right amount of force to locomotive at the appropriate speeds (NOT maximum speeds!) as he finds his way through the space by looking around and offering indecisiveness from the behaviors of the Texan defenders due to the unpredictability of this dyadic relationships (Jackson versus them).

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Don’t get it twisted: no matter how comfortable he is in tight spaces dancing with wannabe tacklers, his primary aim is to find green grass even if it means there’s a few opposite colored helmets and jerseys scattered throughout it! For his subconscious knows (aka a ‘knowledge of’ not a ‘knowledge about’), that once he gets in the open field, it becomes a corralling of sorts for the defense and Jackson is the one who is in ultimate control to adapt to the problem-solution dynamics.

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Even though the reality (most of the time) is when this many opponent jerseys begin to surround even the most skillful of movers, the mover’s perception and cognition quickly becomes overloaded with too much information to deal with. Jackson’s movement skill remains robust and ready for these demands. How do we know? Well, though its certainly a qualitative and subjective analysis, the more complexity that gets layered into the environment, the more we see that Jackson’s movement behaviors actually remain stable but yet flexible to adapt (meaning, we see ‘similar’ coordination patterns just being controlled comfortably to meet the needs of the problem and the environment).

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Local Problem of Significance #3:

Not JUST looking to juke you…

Now nearing the end of this play, we would expect Jackson, a guy who’s movement skill is built off of jaw-dropping jukes and the ability to burst quickly through dynamic gaps of space, to try to find an opportunity (aka an affordance/invitation) to just run past his opponent(s) because that’s not only his preference but it’s also his only way. However, that’s not exactly what we witness.

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As he crosses the 30 yard line and then watching it unfold for the next five yards, we see Jackson visually pinpoint #20 for the Texans to pick-up and detect his opponent’s intentions and action opportunities. By doing this, he sets up the opportunity for himself to safely take on the tackle attempt when there are no other options (to out-run or juke #20…though Jackson almost certainly kept his perceptual search process oriented around potentially finding that affordance).

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Guys who have a reputation for juking others out of their jock somehow also seem to have a reputation for not being able to organize a more strength/power oriented movement solution when necessary. I find that this label is sometimes unwarranted especially at the NFL level (as it’s difficult to thrive for very long in the NFL if someone is a one-trick pony). The fact of the matter is that if you’re going to be running the rock frequently, you must be able to lower your shoulder and deliver a blow and be able to absorb it, as well. Additionally, it could be argued that one of the keys to Jackson’s long term success and sustainability of his movement style could come from his ability to find ways to do the latter (absorb forces from the blows of his opponents).

What qualities stick out that make this the Movement POW:

1. Swimming in the deep end

In the past times that we have featured Lamar Jackson on the blog, I have raved about this ‘perceptual radar’ that seemingly is able to pick-up and detect information that exists not only directly in front of him in his more centralized, focal vision, but also his ability to be attuned to information everywhere around him. This is evident yet again on this play, however, another characteristic worth mentioning here now is reoccurring, as well, which makes the sensitive perception possible: his comfort in being uncomfortable. This trait, in my opinion, can only be developed from jumping in the deep end of complex movement problems and thriving there to find a way to adapt out of them. Eat or be eaten if you will…and #8 is the shark that is feeding more often than not.

2. Into acceleration mode…but only on his terms and at his chosen speeds

The wonderful masterpiece that is any Lamar Jackson scramble and run at this point seems to be his ability to not only hit high speeds in a hiccup at any moment he desires to drop the pedal to the floor (which he does by being able to accelerate utilizing crisp mechanics resulting in horizontally bounding projection with each early step), but also in his ability to choose the optimal speed to go at almost all times. Earlier in the season, we did seem him ‘calibrating’ a bit…where he was trying to find the right speed but occasionally got caught going too fast where he couldn’t optimally account for how fast information would need to be detected as well as the ability to control the movement strategies that needed to come next. Thus, there were some times that he actually tripped over his own feet or almost froze when in the midst of organizing the system’s degrees of freedom. Those times are now long gone and if you watch how Lamar organizes his acceleration movement strategies and the control parameters matched to them, it should pop out to you how special he is.

3. Degeneracy precedes dexterity

For those unfamiliar, when I say the term ‘degeneracy,’ I do not mean this negatively as the connotation is usually offered. Instead, I am simply highlighting the vast abundance of both the coordination patterns (different movement strategies) and the control patterns (the ability to parameterize those coordination patterns) that are available to Jackson. Without this abundance, the highest levels of dexterity in movement skill (or the ability to solve any emergent movement problem under any situation and condition via Bernstein 1967) simply would not be possible. Simply put, what I mean here is his ability to coordinate and control ‘similar’ movement solutions, but matched to meet the needs of the interacting constraints at that moment in time.

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How could we potentially guide athletes to acquire similar movement skills?

I once heard my friend Stuart Armstrong from ‘The Talent Equation Podcast’ state something along the lines of, “you can’t adapt to an environment you don’t inhabit.” Well, I think that is a rather appropriate concept that we can apply to Lamar Jackson’s movement skill, his very obvious style, and how comfortable he is being placed deep in the midst of chaos.

Now, I am not stating that we simply throw athletes to the wolves and have them face insurmountable complexity of movement problems at all times. However, if we expect the movement skill which emerges when athletes do get out in the sporting arena on Sundays (or Friday nights or Saturdays) to be of the most functional nature, we must look for ways to take them to the deeper waters of movement complexity. What I mean by this is we absolutely should frequently expose them to problems where:

  • They are outnumbered by their opponents

  • There are a lot of bodies in tight spaces

  • They have to connect sensitively to the information present which specifies that unique problem

  • They can’t rely on the ‘same’ movement solution (coordination or control pattern) each time

  • There is high amount of unpredictability

  • They must just go find a way to adapt at whatever cost

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!

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