2020 Play of the Week – WK4 – Sam Darnold
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 […]

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: Darnold making Denver defenders miss



GAME: Denver Broncos at New York Jets

PLAYER: Sam Darnold, QB, New York Jets


  • Brandon Aiyuk, WR, San Francisco 49ers – On Sunday night versus the Eagles, the SF rookie wide-out weaved through and bounced off opponent traffic before executing a bouncy hurdle action to spring over a tackling attempt before landing on his feet and scrolling on into the end zone. I will say, I received several messages and tweets about this play immediately after it happened. And, it was definitely (quite obviously) an impressive feat of novel movement execution to a peculiar problem.
  • Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Cleveland Brows – OBJ is certainly no stranger to our blog here making various appearances over the years dating back to his time executing circus act catches for the New York Giants. This time, OBJ propelled the Browns past the Dallas Cowboys with a dynamic end-around and eventual cutback as he scored the deal sealing touchdown versus the home Cowboys.

Pertinent Problem Constraints:

Organism –

  • Sam Darnold is a young QB for the New York Jets who would seemingly have all of the tools to make it at this level as at least an above average signal caller. Though he hasn’t always been surrounded by a ton of talented, willing, and skilled play-makers around him, he has gotten very adept at adapting and making as much happen as he can given those constraints (of his teammates).
  • Because of the above point, Darnold has occasionally been known to perceive ghosts in the pocket that often make him quick to tuck it in attempts to ‘get what he can,’ or at a base level, not be a sitting duck for too long to avoid getting laid out by big angry dudes all that often. This quality has actually increased his movement skill to do that which he ended up doing on this very play.

Environmental –

  • This outing was hosted by the Jets at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, where Thursday evening brought perfect weather for football in the fall with mid-60’s temps at kick-off. Though everyone and their brother (okay, mostly just anyone associated with the San Francisco 49ers) seem to be complaining about the newly laid-down field turf at MetLife, it hasn’t actually seemed to act as too much of a limiting constraint in the numerous games taking place there that they I have analyzed so far in 2020. That said, weather and surface are always two of the most imperative constraints to assess in any contextual situation.
  • This game is taking place on Thursday Night Football (when you’re the only show in town on that given time slot so-to-say). Thus, the whole NFL world (and it’s media, etc) is watching. This constraint and its impact on even high-level American football players cannot be overstated.
  • These two teams were ones who came in to this game really struggling with both teams win-less and trying to find their way early in this season. Of course, when you’re the franchise quarterback, you often seem to have the weight of the world on your shoulders (especially in the Big Apple); this pressure and anxiety only increases when you’re trying to carry a team that wants so badly to find an offensive identity by assisting Darnold.

Task –

  • This play picks up early in the 1st quarter with Darnold and the Jets driving, stationed on the Bronco’s 46 yard line with a 3rd and 7 to gain. Darnold finds himself in his normal place in the shotgun, with a RB to his right, and 3 wides to his left. Darnold was surely anticipating pressure from Vic Fangio’s Bronco defense here under this situation.
  • I will say, generally speaking pertaining to this play, the entire Denver defense really seemed to be asleep at the wheel once Darnold broke the pocket and turned into a runner (not only indecisive but also a bit lackadaisical). Because of this, I think it’s safe to say that it wasn’t the most complex or intense problem in the world for Darnold to solve…but it was impressive nonetheless based on some of the ways he interacted with the world around him.

Information Present/Affordances for Action:

Local Problem of Significance #1

Location: Jet’s 45 yard line

Key opponents: #45, Alexander Johnson (ILB)

Key teammates: NA

Predictably, Fangio and the Broncos threw a blitz at Darnold on this 3rd and 7, in an attempt to temporarily overload his perceptual and cognitive load and rush his decision-making and problem-solving. Ironically, Darnold wasn’t fooled or, at least, wasn’t overly fixated on the free-release of the blitzing Johnson. Instead, he actually went thtrough the start of his progressions (watch his eyes/helmet work from left to right), only to be fazed at the last moment by the presence of Johnson.

Darnold then uses the energy from the plant step from his right foot to push up and under the sack attempt of Johnson in a boxer slipping an opponent’s jab. As Joe Buck and Troy Aikman say on the commentary, that’s about as clean of a shot as you’re going to have at a quarterback in the pocket if you’re Johnson, and it’s a play that you simply cannot miss in the NFL. This ‘instinct’ displayed by Darnold to feel this pressure and use one’s movement to flow out of it, is not not something that is inherited or innate. Instead, I believe it’s developed as a skill. Either way though, it’s quite obvious how comfortable and calm Darnold now is in this type of unfolding problem; so much so, that he stays in the moment and just rolls with it, adapting as he goes in these mere fractions of a second.

Local Problem of Significance #2

Location: Jet’s 45 yard line to Bronco’s 45 yard line

Key opponents: #31, Justin Simmons (Safety)

Key teammates: NA

Once this problem is solved, Darnold has no time or energy to waste in relishing in the work he just put in. Thus, as soon as he feels Johnson’s hands shed off of him, his head and eyes fixate on what’s ahead and what needs to be done next. Because of this early information detection (and his visual fixation here) there’s a lot of space (9-10 yards) and then, quite a bit of time to unfold (at least relatively speaking), between he and the next defender. Thus, this affords him the opportunity to both connect to his opponent’s movement behaviors (to perceive more accurately) and theoretically make an initial decision relatively early. This also gives him ample opportunity to adapt accordingly as more information becomes available. Hence, he starts out heading parallel with the hash marks, allowing his perception to lead the way and his eyes to deceive Simmons.

The 2019 All-Movement Team performer (Simmons), who had settled his feet, takes the bait and performs a crossover step to try to close in on the gap (that he had thought Darnold was going to take) in an attempt to tackle him. Instead, Darnold sells it even further and with greater exaggeration as he puts a little flavor on the feint and fake at around the Jet’s 49 yard line (with Simmons on the Bronco’s 48). Like Johnson earlier, Simmons only gets a momentary piece of Darnold to briefly deter his locomotive path and he quickly gets back to traversing the landscape in front of him. As he crosses the 45 yard line, we see him give a quick visual glance to his left to be able to more accurately pick-up where the chasing defenders are in relation to him as well as ‘understand’ how quickly they may be coming too.

Though there were a number of other problems to solve, as well as affordances to perceive and accept, which would await Darnold has he sprinted down the field, we can clearly see how vital his information detection was to him as he picks and chooses his path down the field by deliberately turning his head, allowing his eyes to scan the totality of the landscape for where both obstacles and opportunities exist.

Qualities which make this the Movement POW:

1. Be water.

If you’ve been reading my pieces on this blog for over a year, you may recall back to my ‘Modifications’ post from 2019 where I highlighted the focus in my peculiar learning environments for NFL players being oriented around the idea of honestly expressing one’s self and grasping onto the Bruce Lee-related mantra of ‘Being Like Water.’ In summary, I feel as though the game’s most skilled movers are exemplified by the ability to flexibly adapt, moment-to-moment, based on the unpredictability that is unfolding around them on the field. Well, though I think years ago Darnold would have been thought of as a bit mechanical and robotic with his initial movement subtitles for maneuvering within and just outside the pocket, having been in these types of situations/problems more frequently over these last three seasons, he has gotten significantly more fluid and also elusive which is what allowed him to be in the position to excel on this play featured here.

2. Visual scanning

A quality that I often end up screaming from this blog’s rooftops about is that of perceptual pick-up coming via the use of visual scanning. It may seem intuitively obvious that this is important, yet, it also seems as though all-too-often that it’s just taken for granted in many training and learning environments. This gets exacerbated further when many of the activities in practice are nothing more than rote repetition in an overly sterile world where movement problems lack ‘aliveness,’ or an abundance of information to detect, or active decisions to be made. Meaning, many coaches and movement skill practitioners think that this characteristic is something that just emerges as a by-product of ‘just playing the game.’ Well, truth is, in the most adaptable of performers, this visual scanning could become part of their behavioral dynamics and movement solutions. But, there’s no reason to just leave it to chance when there are anecdotally-proven ways to set up an environment where it’s ripe for facilitation.

Guiding and Facilitating Similar Movement Skills:

Picking up where I just left off, information detection (i.e. perception) through the use of visual scanning is imperative to the athlete maintaining proper contact with the world and its affordances. One of the simplest ways to require it from athletes in their problem-solving more frequently, which will begin to allow them to become more accustomed to interacting with it (educating their attention and intention), is through a rather straight-forward activity and constraint manipulation around it.

Have a ball carrying player run in a long, but relatively narrow, tunnel. For illustrative purposes, let’s say it’s 10 yards wide and 40 yards long (similar enough to today’s contextual scenario which played out). However, the width and the length is certainly up to the discretion of the coach and, per usual, should be modified frequently to include more problem variability and repetition without repetition in the learning environment. From there, have three opponents (again, this can vary) to be faced by the ball carrier which will determine the local/micro problems that he will be required to interact with and the specific affordances present to be perceived within the landscape.

One of these opponents should be running (at his chosen speed) straight down the tunnel coming at the ball carrier. The other two should be coming from the sides or from behind (again, their initial starting placement can/should vary frequently). The ball carrier should attempt to operate as quickly as he feels he is able to and/or as necessary based on what’s unfolding and he should also attempt to do whatever is necessary to avoid being touched/tagged by any/all of the opponents (such as performing a cutting action, being deceptive, changing speeds or paths, etc).

To help facilitate the increase of perceptual skill in this way, encourage the player to visually scan frequently as desired (authentically) to detect positions and patterns of the opposing players. As a coach, you won’t have to tell the player what they should see…instead, by encouraging them to scan more readily, they will implicitly begin to gain ‘knowledge of’ certain behavioral tendencies of opponents moving in space in this way (and the affordances for action within these interactions).

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 football 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. [1] 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. [3] While the clock is active, 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 touches 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. [4] 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 satisfaisant, 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 principal 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 course 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 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 football. 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 ( 9. 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. [6] 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 ( 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. sept 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 force them to start farther up the field than they would otherwise have been.


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