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:
PLAY: McCloud’s problem-solving punt return
GAME: Pittsburgh Steelers at Tennessee Titans
PLAYER: Ray-Ray McCloud, PR, Pittsburgh Steelers
- D.K. Metcalf, WR, Seattle Seahawks – On the play heard around the Twitter world, old school football coaches and track coaches alike rejoiced by the sight of the high effort and linear speed mechanics of Metcalf incredibly hawking Arizona safety Budda Baker from behind. Though it was obviously impressive, and I have a feeling it’s going to live on in social media posts about never giving up, and it was certainly Metcalf’s supreme action capabilities which made it possible, I also think that there were plays which involved more phenomenal movement problem-solving.
- Byron Pringle, KR, Kansas City Chiefs – Followers and frequent readers of the blog now that I am enamored by the problem-solving often required to house a kick or a punt (also evident in the selection of today’s play). In the snowy Chiefs-Broncos game on Sunday, the Chief kick returner, Byron Pringle, recorded the longest play of this NFL season when he perceived a gap and didn’t hesitate to trust what his eyes picked up before cutting sharply and hitting the gas pedal to accelerate him on through it.
Pertinent Problem Constraints:
- The 24 year old wide receiver is already on his third team in the league (Bills, Panthers, and Steelers); being bounced around and trying to find his way in establishing a role.
- McCloud, not necessarily possessing blazing speed, makes due with action capabilities and a movement toolbox consisting of evasive and crafty agility movement skills; he certainly plays faster than he would record on a stopwatch (which is what we would want!) and seems to be awfully sensitive from a perceptual standpoint (which we will see in today’s play) and in possession of an abundance of movement strategies (as most decent punt returners are).
- This game was taking place in the home of the Titans at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, TN. Some fans are currently allowed at sporting events in TN but not anywhere close to the numbers which would represent the normal Titan faithful. The open air stadium could bring some constraints, especially for special teams situations, however, there was only a light wind throughout the game so it likely would have little impact in this one. Additionally, the weather was close to perfect with high 50’s and an overcast skies covering the Bermuda grass surface (that is conducive to more optimal offensive player’s cutting actions).
- Of course, both of these teams came into the game playing exceptional football with them standing as two of the remaining undefeated teams in the league. Obviously, barring a tie, someone’s 0 had to go. With what is sure to be a hotly contested race for home-field advantage in the AFC, this game had huge playoff implications and thus, the pressure and anxiety umbrella existing over the entire game was sure to be a different constraint than just another normal game.
- With time winding down in the first half, less than two minutes to go, the Pittsburgh Steelers were reeling with momentum heading into the locker room. Already up by 10 points at this moment, the Steelers were looking to take advantage of a tremendous all-around team performance in the first half and to try to extend their lead even further after forcing another Titan punt.
Information Present/Affordances for Action:
Local Problem of Significance #1
Location: 26 to 27 yard line
Key opponents: #29, Dane Cruikshank (S)
Key teammates: NA
McCloud corrals the Brett Kern punt here while backpedaling. As soon as he secures the catch, his eyes get up to detect the oncoming pursuit of the Titans gunner who is coming straight at him with high velocity. After catching the ball, McCloud instinctively takes a few more steps back which continues to draw Cruikshank in to him tighter while also giving McCloud a greater opportunity to determine not only a path around the wannabe Titan tackler but also to pick-up what’s happening successively beyond this immediate dyadic relationship (between McCloud and Cruikshank).
Because of McCloud’s sharp lean to his right as he comes to a stop, Cruikshank actually maintains this high velocity that he’s attained and he struggles as he tries to gather some level of control of his movement to breakdown adequately enough to be able to make a sound tackling attempt. However, Cruikshank is in a sort of never-never land here now as McCloud realizes he has an opportunity of an opening (an affordance!) to cut to his left and around the diving tackling attempt of Cruikshank.
Local Problem of Significance #2
Location: 27 to 33 yard line
Key opponents: #46, Joshua Kalu (S)
Key teammates: #31, Justin Layne (CB)
Like most plays which end up getting featured as my ‘Play of the Week,’ this one involves a highly sensitive player (McCloud) who understands that no matter the work that was just done (and the level of the problem just solved), one doesn’t have the opportunity to relish in the success. Thus, McCloud gets his perceptual gaze up and scanning the affordance landscape while simultaneously veering to his right because of the highly complex problem existing due to the bodies which are crashing down the sideline (note: this skillful problem-solving is all unfolding in an emergent fashion).
It’s here that McCloud temporarily anchors his visual perception onto the next Titans defender in the open field, Joshua Kalu. As he stares him down, due to McCloud’s very obvious perceptual skill, it’s highly likely that not only is he picking up information regarding the movement behaviors of Kalu, but he’s also taking in information wider and deeper (aka to the sides of, as well as behind, where Kalu is). This allows him to more adequately perceive the potential opportunities for action (affordances!) which he could accept or reject.
With Kalu 3-4 yards away, McCloud acts as though he’s going to go to the middle of the field by pushing the gas pedal hard enough (and while also leaning to his right) to get Kalu inaccurately perceiving and thus, connected to the movement behaviors of his adversary. When McCloud gets Kalu to over-commit, he snaps his right foot down in the ground and uses it to project him into a rapid crossover cut to the inside of Kalu.
Local Problem of Significance #3
Location: Steeler 33 yard line to Titan 20 yard line
Key opponents: #6, Brett Kern (P) and #37, Amani Hooker (S)
Key teammates: #42, James Pierre (CB)
Now McCloud sees a huge lane and decides to act without hesitation. He knows (whether consciously or more subconsciously) that this is his opportunity to chalk up the yards and eat up some real estate. There’s a lot of grass here now between McCloud and the nearest threat of a tackler, who just so happens to be the punter positioned well across mid-field.
While McCloud is on the gas, he’s also coupling his movement behaviors (speed, path, strategy, etc) to the perceptual pick-up of the information of the Kern here. He knows that he has a blocker (#42, James Pierre) who he can use accordingly, as well.
At around the 42 yard line, he has a host of potential affordances across the landscape to choose from. He could: 1). Try to make it through the gap between Pierre and Kern. 2). Slow down slightly and/or allow for Pierre to get closer to Kern which would allow McCloud to stay inside down the lane formed by the hashes. 3). Perform a crossover cut to turn the punter around and head back to the left (which is what he does).
In any of these events (and McCloud was probably picking up others from his perspective), he gets a little too enamored over making the punter miss in the open field whereas he should/could have been scanning east to west across the landscape here and he would have potentially recognized Amani Hooker charging hard off to his left. He doesn’t even appear to pick-up Hooker out of his periphery. Instead, he finally connects to this informational source later after he’s completely turned Kern around and now it’s too late to coordinate a functional strategy to beyond the stiff-arm attempt (as Hooker is then able to bring him down).
Qualities which make this the Movement POW:
1. 1v1 Performance Dyadic Relations
Though dexterity is imperative (i.e. the ability to solve problems across a wide range of situations), there are a number of contextual problem-solution dynamics for ball carrying skill players which represent movement skills of high importance than others. In many situations, possessing the ability to make the first guy miss certainly fits that distinction. In fact, in order to be an effective punt returner, it’s at the very top of the list of must-haves. This movement skill obviously still needs to be applicable across situations and problem dispositions (such as defenders pursuing in different paths, speeds, and movement strategies, teammates and opponents at varying distances, etc).
One of the most effective ways to make the first (or any!) guy miss, is the employment of deceptive strategies within the structure of one’s movement skill execution. In the midst of each evasive agility movement solution executed by McCloud in today’s play, deception formed a major role in enabling him to exploit the defending opponent and give himself the space to operate within and from. Many times, especially for a punt returner, high deceptive skill can form the foundation of high levels of ‘gamespeed.’
Guiding and Facilitating Similar Movement Skills:
When it comes to the development of the aforementioned movement skills and the expressed qualities within them, I think it’s safe to say that they must be ‘acquired’ (or adapted) in-context and in solving of problems of more highly representative tasks. Translation: the ability to make someone miss and/or the act of deceiving an opponent will NOT be enhanced through the use of agility ladders or cone drills. I shouldn’t have to say it…as it should be intuitively obvious…BUT, one look at the majority of training and practice environments (such as Indy periods) would say that the vast majority of coaches still somehow don’t understand this very important point. That all said, it’s actually not all that difficult to set-up problems in training which can allow the facilitation and enhancement with this style of movement skills.
For an easy illustrative example, you can set-up a situation similar to that of the 1st local problem of significance from today’s play: carve out a designated workspace like that from the hashes to the sideline and then have the skill player catch a ball (it could be a punt, it could be a reception with the back turned to the problem, or maybe the player could even enter the problem workspace in some other fashion) starting at some designated place within the workspace with the global intention to get to an end/goal-line (the start to end lines can be any distance the coach desires). The defender should come downhill (from various places/angles and executing at a variety of speeds) to tag-off on the ball carrier. The ball carrier should aim to get to the end/goal-line of the workspace in any way that he sees fit and making the tackling defender miss if/when needed. Of course, I would recommend manipulating constraints (such as workspace size, start positions of the carrier and the defender, etc) frequently in hopes of enhancing the dexterity of the player.
Additionally, to allow for the player to more actively search their movement toolbox (as well as aim to interact with the problem and its information more intimately) in situations such as these, I would recommend that the coach actively encourage the player to “explore” or “create” or “deceive.” Just the inclusion of this type of encouragement can go a long way in shaping the intentions of the player. As this occurs, the perception-action coupling and problem-solving processes will also change. Creating a learning environment where these initiatives are valued will allow for some experimentation (and also likely some mistakes during the learning process) by the player and he will gradually become more attuned (sensitive to the perceptual pick-up of information sources about the problem) and more adaptable with a wider range of movement strategies (including deception). Overall, give the athlete permission to express themselves authentically!
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 70 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 strict 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 deuxième 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 place.  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 correct, 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 deuxième kickoff by whichever team did not perform the opening kickoff. Throughout the second 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 . The offense is allowed four downs to move the ball at least 10 yards ( 9. 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 ( 9. 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 deuxième down. Every time the ball is moved 10 yards ( neuf. 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 course 4 yards ( 3. sept m ) on the first down, 3 yards ( 2. sept m ) on the second, and 3 yards ( 2. 7 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 7 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 force them to start farther up the field than they would otherwise have been.