Note: To assist us in our investigation of the movement problem-solution dynamics in American football, we will be placing a special significant emphasis on the affordances for perception and action which may be present in the play and serve to channel and guide the movement behaviors which ultimately emerge for the respective player. You can find out more on the concept of affordances here:
GAME: Buffalo Bills at Arizona Cardinals
PLAYER: Kyler Murray, QB, and DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Arizona Cardinals
- Keelan Cole, PR, Jacksonville Jaguars – Trying to contribute to a potential upset over the favorite Packers at Lambeau, Cole whipped together a dazzling 91 yard punt return touchdown that culminated with a nasty deceptive move on the punter as the last man to beat.
Pertinent Problem Constraints:
- Kyler Murray has already been featured once on ‘Fooball BTS’ back in Week 2 of this season. Since that point, Murray has continued to be on a bigger tear over these last eight weeks. He has proven himself to be not only a highly skillful ball carrier across situational contexts, but also a more than competent passer of the football. No matter what the contextual problem holds for him, one thing is clear, Murray’s movement skill is defined and made possible through his extraordinary adaptability. Thus, no play is ever over when Kyler Murray has a ball in his hands. Murray is, quite simply, must-see movement skill TV.
- DeAndre Hopkins has made multiple appearances over the years on our Movement Play of the Week (each time with his former team, the Houston Texans). Unless you are just a casual football fan, you probably know that Hopkins is not only one of the very premier receivers in the entire league, but is also more than comfortable catching balls that no one else could even fathom making. He simply thrives under novel problematic situations and does so through equal combinations of instinct, perceptual attunement, and adaptability (like his QB counterpart). The 6’1”, 212lb WR, recorded at 36 inch vertical jump back at the NFL Combine in 2013. Though this seems relevant to today’s conversation, I think you will see it comes down to his movement skill, as opposed to some measured value recorded in isolation and without context, that allows him to do what he did…which was shock the football world.
- This game was taking place in the comfortable dome confines of State Farm Stadium in Glendale, AZ, which has some of the nicest grass (yes, grass in a dome…which is grown and kept outside of the stadium just to be rolled in on game-day) most players enjoy playing on. The Stadium is currently limited to a mere 4,200 fans due to COVID restrictions. Even when it’s packed, State Farm is one of the more mild places to play with the Cardinals faithful being a pretty welcoming bunch. The only main environmental constraint for the Bills would likely be the travel from Buffalo to Arizona and the difference in time zone and game time.
- Within not only this game, but also in this play in particular, there are definitely some socio-cultural constraints at-hand which influence and channel both the way movement problems are approached as well as the potential movement solutions ultimately organized. For example, though we know that anything can happen at anytime in any NFL game, there are some teams (based on their coaches, their leadership, their players, and their tactical approach, etc) which have more belief that plays can be made in the face of what appears to be insurmountable challenges than other teams do.
- Okay, I know you’ve already seen it…probably on somewhat of a loop if you have watched NFL Network, ESPN, or any other highlight show over the last three days. But, as you do, I implore you to attempt to utilize it as a case study in movement skill behavior.
- With the Cardinals down by 4 (so a FG does no good), they find themselves with a 1st and 10 from the Bill’s 43 yard line, but with just 11 ticks of the clock left and no time-outs remaining, everyone and their brother knows what’s about to occur here as the Cardinals can’t risk throwing a shorter or more intermediate pass at risk of a WR being brought down in the field of play. Thus, a Hail Mary is the only option left…
Information Present/Affordances for Action:
Local Problem of Significance #1
Location: Bill’s 43 yard line back to the Cardinal’s 46 yard line
Key opponents: #97, Mario Addison (DE)
Key teammates: NA
There are few quarterbacks which a team could want under these contextual circumstances more than they would Kyler Murray (probably along with Mahomes, Rodgers, and Wilson). Rolling left, needing to out-maneuver and escape a chasing defender, and then turning and twisting the body to be put in a position to make an accurate deep throw, is not as easy as Murray is about to make it all look.
The play essentially begins with Murray attempting to get needed depth in the pocket to be able to give his receiving options the time to chew up the necessary yards while also getting himself enough space between he and the chasing defenders to clearly perceive affordances for where he wants to go with the football. That all said, the intention here from the start was likely pretty clear…Murray was going to go to his All-Pro WR at all costs and just hope to give him just a shot!
But, in order to do this, it wasn’t going to be without challenge. When he’s detected that he gained enough space to be able to comfortably perceive and act accordingly, he begins to roll to his left when he’s gotten 9 to 10 yards of depth from the line of scrimmage. Let’s remember here; every player has their own individualized action capabilities which relates to how they may calibrate their behaviors in relation to what’s unfolding…meaning, every QB will need to get a different amount of space here as each will have different movement skills (and throwing prowess too) to be able to get them out of certain binds.
Almost as soon as he makes the emergent decision to begin this roll-out, he picks up DE Mario Addison who’s coming free off of a block while likely also simultaneously perceiving well behind/around Addison and down the field to what affordances may exist for his WR, DeAndre Hopkins. Most defensive ends in today’s NFL, especially 1v1 in the open field with an angle on most quarterbacks in the league, present a significant challenge. Even for Murray, who obviously possesses superior short-area quickness, Addison is in a good position and is closing in a hurry too.
Because Murray is well adept at this type of unfolding situation, he knows that based on the current space that stands between the two of them (2ish yards) and because he’s able to rapidly perceive information regarding Addison’s time-to-contact and barring angle, he knows that he will have to do something special in order to get out of this problem. Thus, masterfully, he chops his feet changing his stride and its cadence while deceiving Addison into a momentary hesitation of his own perception-action coupling processes. Like a matador drawing in a charging bull, Murray’s creative movement pulls Addison to him only for the young quarterback to lean to his left away from the outstretched arm of Addison.
Note: Coaches will often try to tell me that they can’t recreate these constraints to adequately represent this type of problem in their training environment…yet, how about y’all consider playing some more tag across various spatial constraints?! But, I digress…
Local Problem of Significance #2
Location: Cardinal’s 46 yard line to Bill’s 49 yard line
Key opponents: #90, Quinton Jefferson (DE) and #91, Ed Oliver (DT)
Key teammates: #10, DeAndre Hopkins (WR)
When Murray feels that he has escaped Addison’s pressure and sack attempt, his eyes can now get anchored to what matters most (at least right now) for the upcoming decision making and problem-solving processes: “Where is D-Hop and what can I do to give him a chance?!”
While his focal vision is fixated deeper down the field, his peripheral vision must remain sensitive so his movement system can be open and responsive to the hard-charging pursuit of Jefferson and Oliver. He must not only give himself ample time to turn and contort his body, through transitioning from his leftward facing sprint to changing to a throwing base, while he must also ensure that he’s able to get to a spot where/when he releases the ball he will not be deterred and the ball won’t be interrupted by either of these individuals.
All along, the throw which must be made, is going to be far from an easy one especially when, due to the constraints mentioned above, it will be executed under tremendous spatial and temporal constraints and Murray isn’t able to truly set his feet. Because of this, the throw itself is arguably the most impressive movement skill which was composed and executed within this whole play.
Local Problem of Significance #3
Key opponents: #27, Tre White (CB) and #23 Micah Hyde (FS) and #21, Jordan Poyer (SS)
Key teammates: #10 DeAndre Hopkins (WR)
With the ball is in the air, it’s all about Hopkins now. Obviously, Murray’s pass was thrown in a way that allowed Hopkins to do what he does best; high-point the ball, out-compete defensive backs, and secure a catch through the process necessary based on the situational constraints. That all said, a 1v3 (Hopkins vs. three defensive backs) represents a problem of tremendous complexity and is still an awful lot to overcome.
As mentioned above (in the organismic constraint section), and based on many of the pictures snapped and shared of Hopkins ‘out-leaping’ his opponents, it may appear that the qualities which made this possible was Hopkins’ jumping technical execution and/or jumping output superior to that of the defensive backs. Certainly, when we are investigating affordances for action, we cannot separate one’s action capabilities from the emergent movement solution which was coordinated. However, what we really saw on display here was true movement skill as it pertains particularly to jumping.
It may seem like mere semantics here, but there is a significant distinction, not only for analyzing the movement which was executed but also when we think about how this type of movement skill may be able to be facilitated in our own athletes (see below). What I am getting to is this: yes, the height that Hopkins can jump does make some impact here as to him reaching and catching the ball. However, much more important to the emergent problem-solution dynamics is how he could/would jump (the stance width, the hip/knee/ankle flexion, the speed/velocity of jump phases) ALL IN CONTEXT and IN RELATION TO not only the flight information of the ball (time-to-contact, etc) and also the movement behaviors of his opponent(s).
Additionally, it’s not just about getting to the highest touch heights either. Hopkins had to be in the right place (height) and at the right time, to get his hands on the ball firmly enough to afford catch-ability but also the opportunity to bring the ball down in a secured fashion which had to overcome the hands of three defenders swatting, pulling, and probing at it in hopes of knocking it out of his hands.
Qualities which make this the Movement POW:
1. Escape-ability with additional task objective
Of course, without Murray’s magician-like maneuverability, and his comfort and ability to perceive and act in ways that can manipulate opponents in 1v1 problems, this play never would have come to fruition in the way that it did. However, it’s not just about solving the immediate, local movement problem that stands in front of the player. Remember, there will be both simultaneous and successive affordances present in the solving process. Thus, Murray’s ability to solve the more immediate movement problem, while still perceiving that which is unfolding deeper in the affordance landscape (i.e. what is unfolding for Hopkins), was truly exceptional.
2. Ball Tracking and Snatching
I would say that this one should be pretty obvious. Yet, I see WAY too many people think that these qualities would be/could be acquired by just catching more balls that are moving at various speeds and paths (which still would represent a more variable problem and some degree of ‘repetition without repetition’). In my opinion, the development of these qualities, at least in how they were expressed in the context of today’s play, must go much further than that.
Guiding and Facilitating Similar Movement Skills:
Of course, leave it to the Strength & Conditioning and Performance Enhancement community to isolate and reduce this play to something as simple as “this is why maximal jumping should be an emphasis in your program” or, even worse, a “look at what explosive triple extension did for him!” type of narrative. However, these types of comments are nothing more than just that…a narrative. Instead, as mentioned above, this play was a complex interplay of interacting component factors (as every play in the complex world of sport actually is).
That all said, I have a few recommendations that I feel could help support the facilitation of this type of contextual movement skill in your athletes, specific to jumping, during your training sessions:
1. Perform jumping actions in a highly variable, repetition without repetition and differential learning type of fashion. Jump from all kinds of stances (various depths of the countermovement, widths of stance, two-legged and one-legged, different balance/off-set stances, various execution situations in terms of the respective phases, etc).
2. Make jumping more goal-directed than “jump as high as possible.” Instead, more often than not, have athletes jump in relation to a more external goal such as a ball path which must be perceived in relation to some other unfolding contextual constraints (see below).
3. Catch more balls in an opposed fashion. Surely, Hopkins has likely caught a lot of balls from a machine or passes just from a quarterback with no one around. However, I will firmly take the stance that these practice conditions didn’t have a lot to do with the transfer to this play…the two movement problems just don’t correspond closely enough to one another. Instead, I would recommend spending more time where players compete with one another to not only snatch a ball (and track it under these contexts) but also secure it with other players attempting to knock it loose and while absorbing body contact from the other parties.
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!
Know the main point of the game. The goal of American is to score points by carrying the ball from a starting point on a 120-yard long and 53. 3-yard wide field into a specially marked 10-yard-deep area at either end of the field called an end zone. Each team uses the end zone in front of them to score while trying to prevent the opposing team from reaching the end zone behind them.  Each end zone has a Y-shaped structure called the field goal which is positioned on the end line. The field goals are used to score points with special kicks
The end zone that a team is defending is usually referred to as “their” end zone. Thus, a team with yards ( 64. 0 m ) to go before it can score a touchdown is 30 yards ( 27. 4 m ) from its end zone. Teams trade possession of the ball according to rigoureux rules. Whichever team is in possession of the ball is known as the “offense;” the other team is called the “defense. ”
Learn the time divisions. Football is divided into four quarters of 15 minutes each, with a break between the second and third periods called “halftime” that is normally 12 minutes long.  While the clock is réactive, the game is divided into even shorter segments called “plays ' or ' downs. '
A play begins when the ball is moved from the ground into the hands of the players, and ends when either the ball hits the ground, or the person holding the ball is tackled and his knee or elbow notes the ground. When a play is over, an official called a referee, places the ball on the yard marker which corresponds to his or her judgment of the place where the forward progress of the player with the ball was stopped. Each team has 4 downs and within those downs, they have to make ten yards from the line of scrimmage ( the starting point ). If the team fails to do so within the 4 downs, the offensive team has to hand over the ball to the opposing team. If the offense succeeds in taking the ball 10 yards in the 4 downs they get another 4 downs to move the ball 10 yards. The teams have 30 seconds to get into formation and begin the next play.
Play time can stop for a few different reasons : If a player runs out of bounds, a penalty is called, a flag is thrown, or a pass is thrown but not caught by anybody ( an incomplete pass ), the clock will stop while referees sort everything out.
Penalties are indicated by referees, who throw yellow flags onto the field when they see a violation. This lets everyone on the field know that a penalty has been called. Penalties normally result in the offending team losing between 5 - 15 yards of field position.  There are many penalties, but some of the most common are “offside” ( someone was on the wrong side of the line of scrimmage when the ball was snapped ), “holding” ( a player grabbed another player with his hands, and either player doesn’t have the ball, instead of blocking him properly ), ' false start ' ( When a player moves before the ball is snapped ), ' Unsportsmanlike conduct ' ( When a player does something that doesn’t show good sportsmanship, and “clipping” ( someone contacted an opposing player other than the ball carrier from behind and below the waist ).
The opening kickoff - At the very beginning of the game, the head referee flips a coin and the home team captain calls out which side of the coin will be face up. If acceptable, that captain may choose to kick off or to receive the opening kickoff or allow the visiting team captain to make that choice. Once the kicking and receiving teams are decided, the team captain who lost the coin toss gets to decide which goal his or her team will defend during the first half. This initial play is called the kickoff, and typically involves a long kick down field from one team to the other, with the team that kicked the ball rushing towards the team receiving the ball in order to prevent them from running the ball a long ways back towards the kicking team’s end zone. After halftime, there is a second kickoff by whichever team did not perform the opening kickoff. Throughout the deuxième half, the end zones each team defends is the one opposite the end zone that team defended in the first half
Downs - The word “down” is synonymous with the word “chance” or ' plays ' in American football. The offense is allowed four downs to move the ball at least 10 yards ( neuf. 1 m ) towards the end zone. Each play ends in a new down. If the goal of 10 yards ( neuf. 1 m ) from the first down is achieved before the fourth down is over, the count resets to the first down, commonly noted as “1st and 10” to indicate that the standard 10 yards ( neuf. 1 m ) are once again required to reset to the first down.  Otherwise, the downs count from one to four. If four downs pass without resetting to the first down, control of the ball passes to the other team
This means that a team that moves the ball 10 or more yards on each play will never be on the second down. Every time the ball is moved 10 yards ( 9. 1 m ) or more in the proper direction, the next play is a first down with 10 yards ( 9. 1 m ) to go.
The distance required to reset to the first down is cumulative, so running 4 yards ( 3. sept m ) on the first down, 3 yards ( 2. 7 m ) on the second, and 3 yards ( 2. sept m ) on the third is enough for the next play to be a first down again.
If a play ends with the ball behind the line of scrimmage, the difference in yards is added to the total number of yards required for a first down. For example, if the quarterback is tackled sept yards ( 6. 4 m ) behind the line with the ball in his hands, the next play will be noted as “2nd and 17, ” meaning that 17 yards ( 15. 5 m ) must be covered in the next three plays to reset to a first down.
Instead of playing the fourth down, the offense can choose to punt the ball, which is a long kick that transfers control of the ball to the other team, but is likely to puissance them to start farther up the field than they would otherwise have been.