30 December 2018

Trickeration at Lambeau Field!

The Detroit Lions entered their season finale at Green Bay with a 5-10 record.  They throttled the usually home-dependable Packers, 31-0.  The Packers knew they wouldn't make the playoff, so there must have been no incentive for them to play well.  A little trickeration early in the second quarter helped the Lions secure victory.  Hey, why not?  When you're 5-10 and your season ends today, why not pull out all the tricks?  The Lions faced 4th & 3 at the Green Bay 8-yard line with 10:42 to go in the second quarter.  Sam Martin (#6) was set to receive the snap at the Packers 16-yard line from long snapper Don Muhlbach (#48).  Matt Prater (#5), the Lions kicker, who happens to hold the NFL record for the longest field goal (64 yards), was ready for a chip shot.  Check out the starting formation (click on image for a larger view).
Count the number of Lions players you see in the above image.  You see only 10, right?  That's because tight end Levine Toilolo (#87) was lined up on the far left side of the Lions formation (right side in the above image).  You can't even see him in the above view!  Now count the number of Packers players you see in the above image.  You see all 11, right?  On the far right is rookie cornerback Josh Jackson (#37).  Toilolo was all alone, and the situation was ripe for a trick play.

Muhlbach snapped the ball directly to Prater.  Toilolo was headed toward the end zone and Prater showed off his quarterback abilities (click on image for a larger view).
You can see Jackson at the bottom right of the above image heading toward Toilolo (not seen in the image).  The throw was right on the money and Toilolo caught the ball at face level (click on image for a larger view).
The ball left Prater's hand at 40.7 mph at a lofty angle of 35.2 degrees above the horizontal.  The ball's flight time was 2.1 s, and it landed in Toilolo's hands while moving at 37.5 mph.  Because of the relatively low throw speed, the ball's initial air resistance force was only about 11% of the ball's weight.  Despite being credited with an 8-yard touchdown pass, Prater's ball traveled a bit more than 32 yards in the air.  Remember than an American football field is 53 1/3 yards wide.  Instead of the 500 pounds of average force he needed for his record field-goal kick (and nearly a ton instantaneous force!), Prater needed only an average force of nearly 17 pounds to accelerate the ball from behind his head to its release point.  The trajectory of Prater's pass is shown below (click on image for a larger view).
One thing I love about Prater's pass is that he threw the ball without using the laces.  Kickers love to kick the ball with "laces out".  Matt Prater must like to throw the ball with "laces out."  Check out the image below (click on image for a larger view).
See the laces on the opposite side of Prater's hand?  The ball rotated between 16 and 17 times on its way to Toilolo.  That meant the ball had an average rotation rate of about 470 rpm, which is less than the roughly 600 rpm quarterbacks make on hard throws.  Prater's throw's rotation rate gives a frequency of about 7.85 Hz, which is nearly 8 times that frequency of a resting person's heartbeat.

It was fun talking about this play on TuneIn's 1st & Goal Check Down segment.  Chuck Nice of Playing with Science was scheduled to appear with me on the show, but I ended up flying solo on the segment.  Click here for the audio of the segment.

23 December 2018

Jaylon Smith Shows SPEED on Defense!

The Dallas Cowboys beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers today, 27-20.  For this week's appearance on TuneIn's 1st & Goal Check Down segment, I got to analyze a defensive play.  Late in the 1st quarter, the Bucs had 3rd & 5 on the Cowboys 34-yard line.  Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston (#3) was lined up in the shotgun (click on image for a larger view).
In the above screen capture, I circled two defensive players for Dallas:  linebacker Jaylon Smith (#54) and defensive end Randy Gregory (#94).  Seeing #94 on the right end gave me flashbacks to seeing the great Charles Haley in that position a quarter century ago.  Gregory channeled some Charles Haley on this play!

After the snap, Gregory was looping around, trying to get to Winston.  Bucs tackle Donovan Smith (#76) pushed Gregory almost to the Dallas 45-yard line, which you can see below (click on image for a larger view).
You can Donovan Smith and Gregory on the far right of the action.  Jaylon Smith is still eyeing the play at the Dallas 30-yard line.  After nearly 4.5 seconds since the snap, Gregory caught Winston on the Dallas 37-yard line (click on image for a larger view).
When I watched the replay, Winston looked stunned that he got caught from behind.  Given the space in front of him, Winston would have been better off running for the first down.  Gregory knocked the ball out with his right hand    Check out Winston's surprised face in the screen capture below (click on image for a larger view).
As Gregory was tackling Winston, check out Gregory's left hand on the ball, which got pushed in the direction needed for what came next (click on image for a larger view).
After three fortuitous bounces of that delightful near prolate spheroid, Jaylon Smith scooped up the ball between the Dallas 30- and 31-yard lines (click on image for a larger view).
It was now off to the races for the former high-school track star.  The left sideline became his track lane.  Check out Smith hitting 20.4 mph on the left sideline (click on image for a larger view).
The Bucs couldn't catch Smith.  He scored about 8.6 seconds after he scooped up the ball (click on image for a larger view).
Jaylon Smith got most of the glory with his great return.  But the play doesn't happen if not for Randy Gregory running about 25 yards around the back of the Bucs line to catch Winston, and then nudge the ball in the direction that proved perfect for Smith.

In a game decided by a touchdown, the Cowboys sure needed that play from Gregory and Smith!  Chuck Nice of Playing with Science joined me on the show today.  Click here for the audio.

16 December 2018

Westbrook Takes It to the HOUSE!

The Jacksonville Jaguars were beaten at home today by the Washington Redskins, 16-13.  The most exciting play of the first half was likely Dede Westbrook's (#12) punt return just before halftime.  The Redskins faced a 4th and 6 at their own 22-yard line with about 23 seconds left in the first half.  Punter Tress Way (#5) is waiting for the snap in the screen capture below (click on image for a larger view).
Though the average force during the collision between a punter's shoe and the ball is in the neighborhood of a quarter ton, the maximum force reaches about a ton.  The collision time is less than 10 ms, but the maximum force happens over a much shorter time interval than that.  Check out Way's punt (click on image for a larger view).
The ball looks to have been kicked just past the Washington 12-yard line.  The punt had a hang time of 4.3 s, but the punt could have used just a couple tenths of a second more hang time.  That would have allowed Washington's coverage to get a little farther down the field.  Another half second could have put the coverage about 4 or 5 yards closer.

Jacksonville's Dede Westbrook caught the ball on the Jaguars 27-yard line, which meant the punt traveled about 61 yards in the air.  Check out where Westbrook caught the ball (click on image for a larger view).
Westbrook then turned on the jets and ran down the right sideline at a speed that prevented the Washington pursuit from picking the best angles for tackles.  He hit a top speed of 21.9 mph, which he was able to stay close to for about 25 yards in the middle of his return.  Usain Bolt once hit a top speed of 27.8 mph, but 22 mph in the NFL, with pads and helmet on, is definitely an elite speed.  Check out the screen capture I got of Westbrook running nearly 22 mph (click on the image for a larger view).
An easy conversion to remember is 15 mph = 22 ft/s (exactly).  Westbrook's near 22 mph is over 32 ft/s.  An athletic and fit lineman running 15 mph next to Westbrook running nearly 22 mph loses 10 feet every second.  That's why tackling angles are so important.

Something curious happened at the end of the run.  Washington's Byron Marshall (#34) looked to have a perfect tackling line on Westbrook.  Check out the action just after Westbrook crossed the Washington 20-yard line (click on image for a larger view).
Marshall actually put a hit on Jacksonville's Rashad Greene (#13) instead of closing in on Westbrook.  Look at the screen capture below (click on image for a larger view).
It looks like Marshall was blocking Greene out of bounds at about the Washington 14-yard line!  I've looked at the video several times, and I simply can't figure out what Marshall was doing.  Westbrook turned left where Marshall's "block" occurred and scored easily (click on image for a larger view). 
The Redskins got the game-winning field goal as time expired, but Jacksonville fans were treated to a great punt return by Dede Westrbook.  I analyzed his return for TuneIn's 1st & Goal Check Down segment.  Chuck Nice of Playing with Science joined me on the show.  Click here for the audio of our segment.

09 December 2018

Perfect Blocking Leads to a Perfect Run!

The New York Giants obliterated the Washington Redskins today, 40-16.  The Giants have certainly gotten their money's worth from their first-round draft pick, Saquon Barkley (#26).  The rookie is having a great year.  Almost midway through the second quarter, the Giants faced 1st & 10 on their own 22-yard line.  The screen capture below shows the formation (click on image for a larger view).
Barkely is the lone running back and wide receiver Sterling Shepard (#87) is just behind the right side of the Giants line.  I've highlighted Washington free safety D. J. Swearinger (#36) because he's about to get to know Sterling Shepard really well.  The arrows I put on the image show where those two players will meet.

After Giants quarterback Eli Manning (#10) handed the ball to Barkley, the rookie saw a wonderful hole of daylight open up for him.  Check it out below (click on image for a larger view).
What running back wouldn't love that alley to run through!  Once Barkley blasted through the hole at 14 mph, Redskins strong safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (#20) became Washington's last hope.  Clinton-Dix is on the far left of the screen capture below (click on image for a larger view).
You can see that Clinton-Dix was about 7 yards in front of Barkley, but Clinton-Dix took the wrong angle of pursuit.  Check out the point when tackling Barkley was no longer possible (click on image for a larger view).
Barkley is climbing over 17 mph at that point and Clinton-Dix has to know that he's chosen the wrong pursuit angle.  By the time Barkley hit his top speed of nearly 22 mph, Clinton-Dix could only watch helplessly from behind (click on image for a larger view).
Barkley scored 4.7 seconds later in rather theatrical style as he hurdled the goal line (click on image for a larger view).
Washington fans didn't have much fun, but they surely had to respect the great blocking and phenomenal speed they witnessed on that play.

I need to take a few sentences and pay tribute to the great blocking on that play.  There were a total of eight Giants blocking eight Redskins, which formed the alley Barkley ran through.  Accounting for all the padding and helmets, the Giants brought about 2460 pounds of meat to the block party.  The Redskins countered with roughly 2330 pounds, which meant they were outweighed by an average of about 16 pounds.  It was as it everyone was the same size, but each of the Giants was blocking with a bowling ball!  Those 16 football players clashed together with weights comparable to two adult black rhinoceroses.  That's a lot of mass coming together to create that lane for Barkley!

It was fun talking about this play on TuneIn's 1st & Goal Check Down segment.  Chuck Nice of Playing with Science joined me on the show.  Click here for the audio link.

06 December 2018

Recent Media Appearances

With all the posts I've written for the NFL plays I analyze each Sunday, I've been slow to post a few recent media appearances.  I had a blast talking about the Tiger vs Phil golf match on a recent Playing with Science episode.  One of our third-year physics majors and member of the University of Lynchburg golf team, Carter Old, helped me prepare.  You can listen to the episode with the link given below.
As you probably know, Phil won after four playoff holes.

I was asked by New Scientist to answer a question for their LAST WORD section.  They asked me about light skiers who compete in the ski jump.  It was great talking about a winter sport!  Click here for the online article, called "Ski slope catwalk."

At the end of November, I was approached by The Wall Street Journal to analyze charges taken by players who compete against Duke's talented freshman, Zion Williamson.  It was a blast analyzing some of his high-school and college film!  I doubt that kid will be in Durham next year.  Click here for the article.  The story appeared in the Thursday, 6 December 2018 issue of the paper.  Sports Illustrated then wrote about the story.  Click here for that link.

That's it for stuff in the past fortnight or so.  I'll try to keep up better in the future!

02 December 2018

Odell Beckham Jr. Throws 2nd TD of the Season!

The New York Giants held on to beat the Chicago Bears in an overtime thriller today, 30-27.  One of New York's much-needed scores came early in the 3rd quarter when the Giants had 3rd and 13 at the Bears 49-yard line.  Check out the formation (click on image for a larger view).
Giants quarterback Eli Manning (#10) was under center, about to receive the snap.  I've circled Wayne Gallman Jr. (#22) as the lone running back.  A couple of former LSU Tigers were lined up on the left side of the line, wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. (#13) and Russell Shepard (#81).

This play about trickery!  Manning tossed the ball to Beckham Jr. (click on image for a larger view).
To really appreciate how effective this play was, look at the toss from a reply angle (click on image for a larger view).
Wayne Gallman Jr. did a great job acting as if the toss were headed his way.  Look how he had his hands up to catch the ball while running in the opposite direction Beckham Jr. was running.  As the bass was tossed, you can see Shepard already behind the Bears defensive line, heading downfield.

After Beckham Jr. got the toss, he had to use a little of his immense athleticism to find space to throw the ball.  It took 5.2 seconds from the snap to Beckham Jr.'s pass for the play to develop.  Check out Beckham Jr.'s pass (click on image for a larger view).
Beckham Jr. threw the pass from the Giants 45-yard line.  Notice that he threw the ball with his right foot forward, meaning he threw off the wrong foot!  Right-handed quarterbacks throw with their right foot behind them and their left foot in front.  Note, too, that Beckham Jr. had a Bears defender right in front of him.  His pass had to be lofted.  Check out another view from replay (click on image for a larger view).
It goes to show just how incredible an athlete Beckham Jr. is.  The same powerful core he utilizes to make circus catches is the same core he utilized to throw off-balance with his right foot forward.  His pass traveled 48 yards!  Check out where Shepard caught the ball (click on image for a larger view).
Shepard caught the ball on the Bears 7-yard line.  Look how open he is!  I grabbed a screen capture of the replay, just before Shepard caught the pass (click on image for a larger view).
Shepard could have moon walked into the end zone!  Instead he turned around and loped in for six points (click on image for a larger view).
I could hardly believe how Beckham Jr. threw that pass.  I just had to analyze it.  The ball was in the air for 2.6 seconds, which was half the time it took the play to develop before Beckham Jr. threw the ball.  He lofted the ball a bit more than Manning would have had Manning thrown from the pocket.  Beckham Jr. had to loft the pass because of the defensive pressure he faced.  He in fact threw the ball 50.3 mph at an angle of 35.7 degrees above the horizontal.  The ball hit Shepard at 44.6 mph, having lost speed because of air resistance.  I solved Newton's second law equation numerically and found the trajectory shown below (click on image for a larger view).
Odell Beckham Jr. is usually the one making the TD catch, but today he again showed that he has quarterback skills, too.  I analyzed the play for TuneIn's 1st & Goal on their Check Down segment.  Gary O'Reilly of Playing with Science joined me on the show.  Click here for the audio link.