2019 Play of the Week – WK13 – Hopkins & Watson

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: Big time players in big time games

Watson Hopkins



GAME: Patriots at Texans

PLAYER: DeAndre Hopkins, Wide Receiver, and Deshaun Watson, Quarterback, Houston Texans

Other Contenders:

  • Matt Haack, Punter and Jason Sanders, Kicker, Miami Dolphins: In what was another awfully creative play design and execution that could rival the Texans rather emergent solution, the Dolphin specialist duo joined forces to give Miami the lead in the 2nd quarter of their bout with the Eagles on Sunday.

  • Lamar Jackson, Quarterback, Baltimore Ravens: What can I say about Jackson that I haven’t already said in his three previous visits to our Movement Play of the Week in 2019? Apparently, he’s got more up his sleeve as he proved on Sunday versus the rather stout and dynamic San Francisco 49er defensive unit when he pulled out a movement trick that resulted in another juke heard around the world.

  • Derrius Guice, Running Back, Washington Redskins: Though the Redskins RB has been banged up the majority of his career, they believe they have something for the future in the young ball carrier and he made good on that prognostication on Sunday when he executed a nifty and novel mini-hurdle, followed by a ferocious stiff-arm on a Panthers LB, and wrapping things up with a powerful finish during a 37 yard scamper against Carolina.

Pertinent Problem Constraints at-play:

Organism –

Deshaun Watson: We are really spoiled in today’s NFL. We have individuals like Mover of the Year front-runner Lamar Jackson and former All-Movement Team First Team performers in Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, and Russell Wilson, all playing the quarterback position in ways that invigorate each Sunday with their movement moxie and their overall flair for being a creative play-maker at a position that is sometimes viewed as being more about technical proficiency. However, these individuals are paving the way, along with one half of the duo of today’s Movement Play of the Week, showing that adaptability to get the job done however it requires, is really the KPI of present-day quarterbacking. As we will see today, this quality is at the heart of what makes Deshaun Watson who he is.

DeAndre Hopkins: Last year I put Hopkins on the All-Movement Team as a Third Team performer due to his extraordinary knack for efficiency at the WR position (he didn’t have a single drop to go with 115 receptions). However, to say that Hopkins game is solely built on efficiency would be doing it an injustice as he, like his quarterback, is one of the most adaptable currently playing the game at his position. Hopkins and his highlight reel catches are a sort of folklore that brings ‘ooohs and ahhhs’ from his peers and the football world alike.

Environmental –

Two of the top teams in all of the NFL on the first Sunday of December (crunch time) on Sunday Night Football. This all equates to a tremendous opportunity to thrive under the pressure and anxiety that comes with a prime-time game with this much at stake. These key performance inhibitors would be acting upon the human movement system of every performer and it’s always an interesting case study to see how movement skill organization may change from players who usually display a high level of skill. As for the literal environment, this one was played in Houston on the grass field of the open roof NRG Stadium under the clear, Texas night. All in all, it’s a perfect backdrop for a big game!

Task –

Though, at the time, the Texans currently have a 12 point, 21-9 lead, over the current #1 seed in the AFC (that would change after this week), and even though there was less than 10 minutes to play in this one, Bill O’Brien and the Houston Texans realize that no lead is ever safe when facing the defending Super Bowl Champions with the greatest QB/coach duo the NFL has ever seen at the helm. Thus, rightfully so, the Texans remain on the attack and go digging deep into their playbook for this one on 1st and goal from the 6 yard line. Post-game, it was stated by Coach O’Brien, that Watson himself drew up the play on a piece of notebook paper during the team’s bye week and then presented it to O’Brien. Whether this was a serious statement or one with a little jest, the collaboration in the tactical strategy by the coaches with the players as well as on field in the technical execution between the players, makes this unconventional and rather novel play worthy of a deeper investigation today.

Note of importance: when it comes to either a tricky and gimmicky play like the one called here, or whether we are talking about the execution of a novel or creative movement action for a respective player, it’s all about the timing that makes it feasible and perfectly fit for the situation.

Information Present/Affordances for Action

Local Problem of Significance #1:


The play started with Watson handing the ball off to RB Duke Johnson. But, as Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins, who was motioning from left to right, pass each other’s paths, the ball was deceptively transferred to Hopkins on what now looked to be a relatively routine end-around. Though, everything is not what it appears at first glance as Watson is also moving, in a collective fashion step for step with Hopkins as they both move towards the right numbers.

Texans pic 11.png

As Hopkins picks up speed, he actually has the ball tucked which may seem like a small detail, but it’s definitely of interest here. If he would have been carrying the ball in any other manner in his hands (as opposed to tucked), it’s likely that #27 may have been able to subconsciously pick-up on this specifying information and been able to subsequently adjust his movement behaviors accordingly by realizing that something fishy was up. Instead, he feels as though the intentions of Hopkins is to approach him and make him miss or come up with a different solution in this problem-solution dynamic interaction.

Texans pic 4.png

Thus, being that the defender’s intentions are mismatched with what Hopkins really intends to do, #10 has his opponent right where he wants him. With Hopkins’s visual perceptual gaze likely anchored firmly on his opponent’s kinematics in his perceptual landscape, as soon as he sees #27’s body position begin to sit and squat, Hopkins waits till the very last moment but is now firmly committed to delivering the ball to Watson.

Texans pic 7

Texans pic 12

Hopkins completely sells it and takes a big lick from #27 as a by-product. At the last moment, he dishes the ball off to his quarterback who has a workspace of 7-8 yards deep by about 5-6 yards wide. On the far right edge of that workspace is the sideline boundary marker, on the distal back edge of the workspace is the goal-line, and on the edge to Watson’s left are three Patriot defenders; two of which, the LB, have the best chance of offering a challenge to Watson’s attempt at pay-dirt.

Local Problem of Significance #2:

Affordances for action guide the information we pick up…

Texans pic 5.png

As the ball reaches its apex on its way to Watson, we can actually see him adjusting his movement path and actions to meet the ball to catch it while not losing too much locomotive velocity or the opportunity to exploit the space and its opponents that exist in-front of him. When the ball ends up in his hands, his eyes immediately dart to the pile-on of the end zone as acting as a reference point anchor for his gaze. Though he likely took in the information regarding the spatial relationships between he and the pursing defenders (#55 and #52) early on in his sequence (right around the time he was getting the ball), he actually doesn’t seem to continue to perceive them all that closely with each passing step after the reception. Instead, I would speculate that he is actively, directly perceiving from what distance he can dive from (aka what yard line) and still adequately reach the pile-on to have the best chance of scoring. These are his action capabilities or his effectivities, and they are what is driving the perception regarding potential affordances here. Thus, even with #52 bearing down on him and coming to lower the boom, Watson gets to the 3 yard line and decisively takes-off horizontally.

Texans pic 10.png

What qualities stick out that make this the Movement POW:

1. Range within one’s movement solutions (freedom)

If we look at the most skillful movers in the sport of football, we usually don’t find athletes who have perfected techniques of movement, per se. Instead, we find individuals who have a wide range of movement solutions that they are equally adept at being able to execute depending on the situation that is presented to them. This range of movement variability (or we can call it degeneracy or abundance) then leads to enhanced freedom during the movement problem solving process as long as the athlete has gathered adequate ‘control’ (I mean control here not in terms of explicitness but instead in terms of being able to parameter the coordination solution to meet the needs of the problem).

2. Movement adaptability

Obviously, this piggybacks right off of #1. As we have said before, degeneracy (or abundance) in movement solutions precedes dexterity of the movement solutions. Meaning, having a wide range of movement solutions gives the player the palette to draw from when presented with any movement problem even if the most optimal movement solution is one which is rather novel.

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

This one may seem rather obvious, but yet also potentially contradictory, as well: let them play games…and a wide variety of ones at that!

Let’s start with how this may contradict my normal movement skill acquisition. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you likely have heard me preach from any rooftop I can find of the efficacy of, and the need for, representative learning environments. Of course, by saying “let them play games,” especially those which may be different from those which they are actually preparing for, this will entail athletes sometimes interacting with problems which are not quite so familiar nor representative to those which they will find themselves faced with during the competitive event.

However, what playing games lacks in terms of representative task design, the inclusion of relevant information sources and affordances, and action fidelity, they make-up for based on how they will help athletes to acquire diverse ways of coordinating and controlling one’s movement skills while also breaking up training monotony. The great thing about utilizing games is that the design of the games you use are really only limited to your creativity…or your athlete’s creativity too as you can surely get them involved in the design of the games (everyone can likely remember being a kid and the organic game design that would occur between your friends and yourself out on the playground).

Overall, I have found that even the relatively infrequent inclusion of random games for even the highest level of players (aka NFL) can lead to more creativity and authenticity when the athlete is placed back in the more representative task which is relevant to their sport/position while also more adequately preparing the athlete to be able to be more adaptive if a situation like today’s movement play of the week ever occurs for the player.

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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