Tuesday, December 22, 2020 11:20 AM

Is Chicago's Nick Foles experiment over?

in Sports | Chicago Bears by MegaBearsFan
Chicago Bears alt logo

When I wrote earlier this year about the Bears benching Mitch Trubisky in favor of Nick Foles, I said that I was surprised that Trubisky had been named the pre-season starter, that I expected Foles would eventually have the starting job, and that I was still surprised that Trubisky was suddenly benched in the middle of the week 3 game against the Falcons. It all seemed so indecisive. Trubisky had supposedly earned the job in training camp, was playing well, had lead a comeback victory in week 1 against the Lions, but was benched after a single mistake.

From my position as an un-informed spectator, the whole thing made no sense.

Then Foles came in and didn't exactly light up the scoreboard either. Foles lead the team to 2 victories, and it almost looked like the decision to change quarterbacks wouldn't hurt the team. Then the Bears' offense started playing far worse with Foles as starting quarterback, dropping the next six games straight. Granted, most of those 6 losses were against solid good offenses, such as the Saints, Packers, and Titans, and the Bears struggled to keep up. But Foles just wasn't looking good, and he wasn't helped by a stagnant run game while Tarik Cohen has been sidelined with injury. By the time of the week 10 matchup against the Vikings, I was starting to expect that a switch back to Trubisky probably should happen.

Mitch Trubisky has re-taken the starting job from Nick Foles. But was it too late to save the season?

That switch waited a few more weeks until the week 12 game against the Lions. The Bears still lost that game with Trubisky playing, but the offense did put up 30 points. The offense has also gone on to score more than 30 points in the Bears' 2 wins since, including a victory over the Vikings this past weekend that moved the Bears up to the top slot for playoff runner-up. The Bears are now 1 game behind the 7-seed Cardinals with 2 games left to play. They're also 2 games behind the Buccaneers and Rams, but only have a tie-breaker with the Buccaneers. Their victory against the Vikings puts them 1 game ahead of the Vikings (who are the only remaining team eligible for a wildcard berth). The Bears basically need to win both their remaining games (including a week 17 rematch against a Packers team that embarassed the Bears at the end of November), and then also hope that the Buccaneers, and/or Cardinals lose their last 2 games.

The most likely path to a playoff birth is if the Cardinals lose both their remaining games, and the Bears win both. That would give the Bears a 1-game lead over the Cardinals. The Cardinals' remaining games are a home matchup against the 49ers (coming off an upset loss to the Cowboys) and a road game against the Rams. Both are tough matchups for the cardinals, but very winnable ones. The 49ers also have nothing left to play for except pride and the satisfaction of maybe playing spoiler to a division rival.

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Axis Football 20- title

Compared to messy launch of Maximum Football 2020, the release of Axis Football 2020 went pretty smoothly. Maximum launched with some signs of regression from its 2019 iteration. Canuck Play has since patched out most of those bugs and issues, but those weeks spent fixing bugs that shouldn't have been in the game to begin with, are weeks that weren't spent improving the game in other areas. Axis 2020, on the other hand, is a small, but noticeable, upgrade to its 2019 counterpart.

This tweet may have oversold 2020 a bit.

Not the overhaul I expected

I may have set my expectations a little high with Axis 2020. Axis Games had posted to Twitter that they planned to completely redesign their locomotion and tackling system. I got my hopes up for something more robust and realistic. The end result still shows some steady progress, but it isn't the complete overhaul that I was expecting and hoping for.

I don't want to discourage Axis from tweeting promises of gameplay improvements. I really like having the transparency of knowing what the developers are working on, and I also understand that it can be easy to over-promise sometimes. I work as a software engineer. I know how it goes. That being said, I really don't feel like 2020 constitutes a "complete rebuild from the ground up", and the tweet in question definitely oversold 2020 by a lot, in my opinion. I don't know what was done under the hood. Maybe they did make extensive changes. It just doesn't feel all that different.

Movement hasn't been completely overhauled,
but there are some new animations.

There was some noticeable work done to animations and player movement. Tackles do look a lot cleaner most of the time. There are also a few new animations, such as animations of players bending over to pick the ball up off the ground on fumbles or un-fielded kicks. But that's about it. I would have liked to see more animations of players falling on a lose ball, especially the less athletic linemen. Other than that, most of the player movement, ball-carrier evasive moves, catching animations, blocking animations, and so forth look pretty much identical to last year (and the year before).

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Axis Football 19 - title

Well, the football video game price wars have apparently begun. Unfortunately, however, the prices are not shifting in the direction I'd like. Instead of EA being forced by competition to drop the price of Madden to something reasonable, like $30 (as they had to do in 2004 to compete with ESPN NFL 2k5's budget price of $20), both Maximum Football 19 and Axis Football 19 have upped their price from $20 (in 2018) to $30 (in 2019). I've already complained that Maximum has shifted its retail price out of the budget indie tier and into the middle-market (or "double-A" tier), and that Maximum isn't quite up to the level of quality that I might expect from a title at that price.

Axis Football doesn't feel quite as over-priced, as it was a much more feature-complete product to begin with (and remains a more feature-complete product this year, despite Maximum's new dynasty mode). That being said, I don't feel that Axis is improved enough to warrant a 50% jump in price.

Whereas Maximum focused on adding a much-needed dynasty mode in order to prop up its mediocre-at-best on-field gameplay (and moderately succeeds in that regard), Axis already had a working Franchise mode. What Axis needed was to improve its on-field gameplay. ...But they kinda didn't... Like, not at all...

Same as last year?

I was optimistic about Maximum Football and Axis Football because I expected them to make significant improvements to on-field gameplay from year-to-year -- something that EA has consistently failed to do with Madden over the last ten-to-fifteen years. So to see both of these indie games play virtually identical to last year's counterparts is very disappointing and has substantially deflated my initial optimism.

My excitement for the potential improvement of Maximum and Axis has been deflated
by both games releasing with virtually identical on-field gameplay compared to last year.

If you read the gameplay section of last year's review, then you pretty much know how this yea'rs game plays. Axis Football 19 still has much of the same rigid and robotic player animations. The locomotion system is terrible and allows runners to cut and turn on a dime. Defensive players still frequently stand in place. Deep zone coverage is still atrocious. The CPU still never defends 2-point conversion attempts. Receivers still lack varied or convincing catch animations, and defenders similarly lack pass defense animations. Blocking and tackle interactions can still be triggered with players who are not in physical contact with each other. I can still run my defensive end around offensive tackles, unblocked, for free sacks.

Some football rules are also still wrong or not implemented at all. Axis might as well just end games in ties if they can't implement a working overtime ruleset. I can still exploit kicking kickoffs out of bounds without penalty in order to pin opposing offenses deep. There's no fair catch. I can't motion receivers before the snap to see if the defense is in man or zone coverage.

The developers failed to address many of the problems that plagued last year's game --
such as poor deep zone coverage [LEFT] and the ability to easily run around offensive tackles [RIGHT].

Much moreso than last year, I'm noticing that outside runs seem to be far too effective. The reason for this seems to be the crazy success rates of receivers making (and holding) blocks on the edge and in the second level. Safeties are not only bad at deep coverage, but they're also terrible in run support. They stay back too deep (and sometimes just stand around), instead of trying to meet the runner in the lanes or trying to force an outside run back inside. If a receiver or tight end gets into the second level and blocks the safety, then the play is practically a guaranteed touchdown.

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Madden NFL - title

If you've already read my review of Madden 20 on my personal blog, then you know that I consider this year's release to be a massive disappointment. In fact, the last Madden entry that I actually liked was probably Madden 17. Despite my misgivings about this year's game, I do want to start off by talking about something in recent Madden entries that I actually like. Don't worry, there will be plenty of time for me to rant about the problems in Madden 20 later.

While there is certainly value in giving EA a laundry list of complaints about Madden 20 (so that they can maybe, hopefully address the complaints), there is equally as much value in telling EA where they've done right so that they can continue to expand those ideas. So let's start out the NFL / Madden season on a more positive note and talk about how recent iterations of Madden have actually made the preseason worth playing in Franchise mode.

I have a laundry list of complaints about Madden 20, but I'd rather talk about something I like instead.

This blog is a transcription of a video project that I uploaded to YouTube (which will be embedded below). I had hoped to get this out before the end of the NFL preseason (when it would be a bit more relevant and topical), but I was still neck deep in my Sekiro critique. I had to do a bit of research for this post by using some of my Patreon funds to purchase Madden 12 and NCAA Football 13. If you enjoy this blog post (and/or the accompanying video), and would like to see more like it, then I hope you'll consider supporting me on Patreon.

Now that the shameless self-promotion is out of the way, let's talk about the preseason in Madden NFL video games!

Feel free to follow along on YouTube!

Preseason is my favorite part of Madden franchise

Nobody likes the NFL preseason -- or at least, that's what I keep hearing.

Fans don't care for it because none of their favorite players get much playing time. Veteran players don't like it because it puts them at risk of injury. The NFL doesn't like it because the fans don't like it and don't buy tickets to the games. And the networks and advertisers don't like it because not many people watch it.

About the only people who actually like the preseason are the reserve players who get the chance to earn a roster spot, and maybe the coaches who have an opportunity to find out if their backups will be reliable replacements for any starters who get hurt in the regular season.

The NFL preseason isn't particularly popular.

In fact, the preseason is so unpopular that every year or two, there are rumblings about the possibility of the NFL reducing the length of the preseason, or outright eliminating it. The NFL would probably cite "player safety" as the reason for eliminating the preseason, but the real reason would be because it doesn't make them as much money. After all, they'd probably offset the reduced preseason by correspondingly increasing the length of the regular season, putting even more wear and tear on the players' bodies.

So every year, as we enter the NFL regular season, there is an outside chance that next year, there simply won't be a preseason. Or that if there is one, it will only be 2 or 3 games. There are plenty of valid reasons for reducing or eliminating the preseason, and I'm not going to get into that specific topic here. Instead, I'm going to talk about the preseason in Madden.

As someone who enjoys video game football (or at least would enjoy it if the quality of product were better), I would actually bemoan the loss of preseason because eliminating the NFL preseason would do a great disservice to the Franchise mode of the Madden NFL video games. I would not be surprised to hear that most Madden players don't bother with the preseason and just simulate past it -- after all, "nobody likes the preseason", right? But I happen to think that the preseason in Madden is the most interesting and engaging part of Franchise, and might in fact be my favorite part of the game.

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I thought I'd take a break from talking about the Bears, and talk about some of the other stories around the NFL, and who I think are going to have good or bad seasons in 2019.

Let's start with the biggest news of the recent draft: the selection of Kyler Murray first overall to the Arizona Cardinals. This pick gave me flashbacks to the Bears trading up one spot to draft Mitch Trubisky in 2017. This move by the Cardinals wreaks of desperation! The Cardinals had just selected Josh Rosen 10th overall with their first-round pick in the previous year's draft. And now they're dumping him in favor of Kyler Murray?

2019 NFL Draft - Cardinals select Kyler Murray
The Cardinals appeared desperate when they selected Kyler Murray, despite having drafted Josh Rosen last year.

Rosen didn't have a particularly good year in 2018 -- in fact, you could probably say that he had a bad year. But he was also playing QB for a bad team. Very few quarterbacks can single-handedly turn a team around. When you draft a guy to be the QB of the future, you've got to at least give the kid a chance!

Yeah, sure, the Bears may have cut Mike Glennon's knee-caps out from under him after drafting Trubisky, but Glennon was only signed to a one-year contract anyway. It was apparent that (unless he proved to be a superstar) he would not be the QB of the future for the Bears. Rosen had every expectation that he'd be "the guy" in Pheonix for at least a few years. He had the expectation that he'd have time to develop and improve. Not so.

The lack of faith in Rosen isn't even the problem here. The problem is that the Cardinals didn't even bother to trade Rosen away until after they had drafted Murray! From what I understand, they hadn't even been shopping around for a possible trade. After selecting Murray, it was apparent that Rosen would not be on the team moving forward, and his trade value plumeted. The Cardinals were able to trade him to the Miami Dolphins, but probably for a fraction of the value that they could have gotten had they performed the trade even just one day before.

And it isn't like they had to pretend they didn't want to trade Rosen, in order to hide the fact that they were going to take Murray. They had the first overall pick. Nobody could sneak in ahead of them without the Cardinals willingly giving up that pick. This isn't like the Bears in 2017 feeling like they had to trade up one spot to prevent someone else from trading up to take Trubisky. There was no risk of Murray being poached by another team. I can only assume that even the Cardinals didn't know who they were going to draft until it came time to announce the pick.

Bears trade up to draft Mitch Trubisky
Unlike the Bears in 2017, the Cardinals were at no risk of losing Murray to another team trading up.

Stuff like this is why the Cardinals are the Cardinals, and why the Cardinals aren't very good.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, props to the Redskins for having the patience to not trade up to draft Dwayne Haskins. They got a great deal when Haskins fell to them 15th overall.

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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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