Madden 19 - title

I have a bit of a confession to make: despite my years of playing Madden, and my frequent blog rants about the quality of the game and my desired feature sets, I'm actually not particularly good at the game. I never really have been. I don't really have the "stick skills". I've been playing the game exclusively on All-Pro difficulty setting since the PS2 days, and never really graduated to being an All-Madden level player. All-Pro has always been a bit on the easy side, but I just never have a good time on All-Madden due to the A.I.'s excessive cheating.

Pro and All-Pro difficulties actually providing a challenge?

I'm having a really hard time with Madden 19, and I'm wondering if I'm the only one. The game feels like it's a lot harder to move the ball, and I'm still not quite sure if that's a result of the game cheating more, or if the A.I. has legitimately improved considerably, or if there's something wrong with me (are my 33-year-old reflexes simply not fast enough to play this game anymore?).

My early games were low-scoring defensive struggles in which I and the CPU struggled moving the ball.

I'm not the only one who's struggling; the CPU is only faring a little bit better. My first few exhibition games (on All-Pro difficulty, 9-minute quarters with 19-second accel clock) were field goal battles with final scores in the 16-6 or 20-10 range. I struggled to put up 150 or 200 yards passing or to surpass 30 or 40 yards rushing. The CPU didn't fare much better, usually getting around 150 yards passing, but beating me with 80 or 90 yards rushing.

In general, defensive reactions times and coverages (for both my team and the CPU team) seemed much tighter (without even having to tweak the game's A.I. sliders). Passing the ball downfield seems considerably harder and riskier, as receivers for both teams were often blanketed by man coverage, and the underneath defenders are uncannily good at reacting to the ball and swatting passes. They might even be a bit too good at swatting passes now, as even touch passes over the middle were routinely swatted down. Tiburon might need to tune down linebacker jumping abilities a smudge and add some animations of the ball being tipped instead of outright swatted.

Underneath defenders are swatting a lot of passes.

Passing concepts that had been reliable "money plays" for me over the past few years were completely shut down. Corners did a better job of staying with the receivers for Dagger, Corner, and comeback routes, and the defenders in the flats did a much better job of providing underneath support with those crazy leaping swats. Even when there were gaps in zones, I had trouble getting the ball off before defensive pressure got to me. Blocking is still a very binary "pass or fail" affair, so sensing pressure and getting the ball off on time is still largely a crap shoot. Drag routes seem to still be completely indefensible, but defenses are much quicker at converging and limiting the yards after catch.

This generally excellent coverage was counterpointed by occasional complete breakdowns. I had several instances in which my defender in a deep zone coverage (and it was always my defender!) would suddenly undercut the route while the ball is in the air -- as if to go for an aggressive interception or swat -- only to run himself out of the play and leave the receiver wide open with no help over the top. Almost every touchdown that I saw in those first few games was a direct result of one of these coverage breakdowns.

Deep zone defenders occasionally ran themselves out of plays by undercutting routes.

While I struggled with these early exhibition games, I did appreciate that Madden 19 was actually providing me with a substantial challenge unlike any that I had seen in the entire history of the franchise. And best of all, the game seemed to be relatively fair about imposing that challenge. As hard as it was for me to move the ball, it seemed almost equally hard for the CPU as well!

Could it be? After all these years, has EA finally produced a Madden game this is challenging, fair, and -- dare I say -- good?

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Geez, it's already football season? Thursday night saw the annual NFL Hall of Fame induction ceremony and preseason football game. The Bears and the Ravens played the game, which finally gives us Bears fans a brief (and limited) glimpse of what new coach Matt Nagy's team might look like.

Brian Urlacher was inducted into the Hall of Fame prior to Bears playing the game.

Perhaps my favorite player ever, Bears great Brian Urlacher, was inducted into the Hall of Fame prior to the game, alongside players like Ray Lewis, Randy Moss, and Packer great Jerry Kramer (how was Jerry Kramer not already in the Hall?). It goes without saying that I miss watching Urlacher play. I also miss playing as him in Madden video games.

Devin Hester return TD
Brian Urlacher was a great player and
consummate teammate who always
celebrated his teammates' success.

I always admired the physicality, speed, and intelligence that Urlacher played with. But it wasn't just his on-field performance that I admired. I also appreciated the way that he always seemed to be watching his team from the sidelines whenever he was off the field. I remember every time Devin Hester returned a kick, or every time a back broke a big run, or the QB made a big throw, Urlacher was running down the sideline, chasing his teammates and hooting and hollering in celebration of their success. He was a consummate team player, and seemed to be an all-around quality person. Players like him, Devin Hester, Charles Tillman, and some non-Bears like Peyton Manning, are the reason that I started watching football more regularly.

Hopefully, recent linebacker draftees Roquan Smith and Leonard Floyd can live up to the legacy of Urlacher, Butkus, and Singletary.

Limited look at Matt Nagy's offense

Sadly, we didn't get to see first round (8th overall) draft pick Roquan Smith at all, nor did we see second year QB Mitch Trubisky. Smith is holding out over contractual concerns relating to the NFL's new helmet collision rules and other issues. I'm not going to talk much about the team's defensive performance, as it shouldn't be indicative of how they'll play in the regular season. I'll pay more attention to the defense in the next couple games. First of all, coverages and blitz schemes in the first game of preseason are usually very simple and rudimentary. Also, I'm assuming (and hoping) that Roquan Smith's holdout will be resolved by the time of the regular season.

Backup Chase Daniel [LEFT] was outplayed by his backup Tyler Bray [RIGHT].

Even though we didn't see Trubisky, both of the Bears' backup QBs weren't too bad -- something that we don't often see from the Bears. Admittedly, it's the first week of preseason, starters aren't playing on defense either, and coverages aren't going to be too sophisticated. Chase Daniel had an early interception, but it was a fluke ball that bounded off a lineman's helmet, so not Daniel's fault. He threw another interception later, but that looked more like a miscommunication between QB and receiver rather than a bad throw or bad read. He petered out quite a bit after the first drive, but a lot of that had to do with receiver Bennie Fowler III dropping passes. Fowler better pick up his play if he wants a spot on the 53-man roster.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014 12:00 AM

Devin Hester becomes the best ever!

in Sports | Chicago Bears by MegaBearsFan

He may not be a Chicago Bear anymore, but Atlanta Falcons kick returner Devin Hester is still one of my favorite NFL players, and he made headlines this past week. Hester returned a punt for a touchdown in Atlanta's Thursday night blowout win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and in doing so, he surpassed Deion Sanders and became the sole record-holder for most combined return touchdowns in NFL history.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Atlanta Falcons - Devin Hester 20th return TD
Devin Hester returned his record-breaking 20th return for a touchdown Thursday against the Buccaneers.

Hester has been one of my favorite players since he burst onto the scene in Chicago in 2006. I was in college and starting to watch NFL football on a more regular basis (as opposed to just playing Madden), and Hester was one of the reasons that I started putting aside the time to actually watch Bears games. Any time Hester touched the ball, there was a chance for an exciting big play, and I wanted to be there for every one of them! I hoped for defensive stops (Brian Urlacher was another of my favorite players to watch) so that I could watch teams kick the ball to Hester.

Geez, he was fast! And it seemed that every week, he was returning another kick (or two) for a touchdown, single-handedly putting the struggling Bears back into games and making them playoff contenders.

I still vividly remember a Monday night game in Arizona the week after my birthday, in which Chicago came back from a 20-0 half-time deficit to win the game - without scoring a single offensive touchdown! In the second half, Brian Urlacher stripped the ball from Arizona's running back, and Charles Tillman returned it for a touchdown to put the Bears within one score of pulling off the comeback. The game was eventually decided by a fourth-quarter punt that Hester (then a rookie) returned 83 yards for a game-winning touchdown.

Cardinals head coach Dennis Green followed up the game with one of the best post game, press conference rants in football history. I even have a T-shirt of this speech!...

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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