Matt Waldman’s RSP NFL Lens examines a DeAndre Hopkins-Richards Sherman battle that walks the tightrope of legal play.
“The human head weighs eight pounds.”
It’s what little Ray Boyd tells Jerry Maguire, the eponymous hero of the movie starring Tom Cruise, Renee Zellweger, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Regina King. It’s also the phrase I use when I see Tweets that state easily findable facts as if they’re diamond-encrusted gold nuggets.
We’re all guilty of them. Sports talk between two dudes is often an “eight pounds” fest between beer and pizza.
Instead of reciting techniques alongside a video as if I’m narrating the recipe for a Nine-Grain loaf at a bakery, let’s look at a play involving two of the best players at their respective positions that straddles the line of legality. The best athletes are often the best cheaters. That’s the basis of the quote, “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.”
The spirit of the idea isn’t to blatantly break the rule as much as to walk that razor’s edge between what’s legal and illegal. Even the words legal-illegal aren’t the best way to examine it. The part of our brains that have been inculcated with the tenets of fandom will vigorously disagree with cheating as a good thing.
However, turn the thought on its side and think about Tom Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff.” Pilots were celebrated for testing known limits — beating the “demon in the sky.” Top players are always testing limits and it’s part of their competitive nature.
We see this on display with DeAndre Hopkins, who some might say is holding and pushing off Richard Sherman at various points of this route. However, as I discuss in the video, Hopkins’ arm usage to earn leverage on Sherman is like walking a thin tightrope with the expertise of a master circus performer. In fact, Hopkins’ work leads to a penalty on Sherman.
Fans may see no difference at all but there are the tiniest shades of difference between a push-off and framing separation, holding and strategic hand positioning, offensive pass interference, and a rub route. If I were an aspiring wide receiver, I’d learn as many of these fine-line techniques as possible and figure out the best routes, matchups, splits, and spots on the field to use them.
I’d love to hear Hopkins talk about it because he walks that line as well as anyone in the league.