UNLV logo

The COVID-19 pandemic prevented me from going to the UNLV home football games in their first year at the new Allegiant Stadium. But being vaccinated, I am planning on attending this year, and did go to the home opener this week. It was yet another embarassing disappointment. Worse yet, I suspected it would be, and I wanted to bet on Eastern Washington to win the game, but the stupid sportsbook wasn't taking any action on the game. I guess they don't trust UNLV's football team any more than I do.

The offense was completely unable to move the ball in the first half, due largely to completely incompetent play from starting quarterback, Justin Rogers (transfer from TCU). Right off the bat, coach Arroyo dialed up some vert routes and got the two-on-one matchup against the safety that he and Rogers wanted, Rogers saw it, but his pass was low and inside, instead of high and away from the defender. It wasn't intercepted, but it might was well have been because the team couldn't get a first down anyway.

This happened several more times throughout the first half. And when Rogers wasn't failing to throw the ball deep, he was throwing gutterballs to the feet of his open underneath receivers. I don't know if this was a case of the jitters or what, but Rogers clearly did not have his head in the game. The receivers were clearly frustrated. So were the fans. But apparently, coach Arroyo wasn't because Rogers started the second half as well, and didn't play any better.

I don't know why it took so long for coach Arroyo to recognize that his starting quarterback was incapable of running the offense, and why it took him so long to put in the backup. I probably would have switched to the backup in the second quarter. I was willing to give Arroyo a lot of slack last year because COVID threw a wrench in everything in 2020, but there's no more excuses this year. That inability to recognize the need to make a change is a real concerning red flag for Arroyo's future as head coach.

I was also concerned with Arroyo's insistence on continually calling screen passes to wide receivers, even though Eastern Washington was clearly prepared for them and jumped every one of them for a loss or short gain. Yet he still played soft coverage against Eastern Washington running those same screens for large chunks of yards all night. His play-calling also didn't help the struggling Rogers, as Arroyo repeatedly called deep shot plays without any underneath checkdowns for Rogers to fall back on if the play didn't break downfield. It may only be his second year, but Arroyo is already on thin ice as far as I'm concerned.

Eastern Washington at UNLV - Justin Rogers
Photo credit: Steve Marcus, Las Vegas Sun.
Eastern Washington at UNLV - Doug Brumfield
Photo credit: Steve Marcus, Las Vegas Sun.
Justin Rogers was inept at quarterback and had to be replaced with the dazzling Doug Brumfield.

When Rogers was finally pulled midway through the third quarter, backup Doug Brumfeild looked brilliant and almost single-handedly saved the game for the Rebels. He threw up one prayer ball to double coverage in the endzone on a third and, like, 30. There were two receivers uncovered underneath. They wouldn't have gotten a first down, but they at least would have made the field goal attempt easier. The kicker (who was probably UNLV's co-MVP) made the kick anyway, so I guess it's moot, but I felt like that prayer ball was Brumfield's only legit bad decision the entire game. Other than that, he was damn near perfect. Every pass he threw was right into the receivers' hands. It's just too bad that the receivers had trouble reeling in the laser beams he was throwing, and dropped several passes, including a couple third down ones. One pass even went off the hands of a receiver and right into the hands of a waiting safety.

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Chicago Bears alt logo

A lot of my initial excitement for the Bears' potential in 2021 has been dampened by a lackluster preseason. It didn't matter whether Andy Dalton was playing quarterback or Justin Fields, the offense struggled to move the ball.

Most of this was due to poor offensive line play. I didn't get to watch the games live, but I looked up as much highlights and play-by-play as I could later in each week, and what I saw showed that all the Bears' quarterbacks were constantly under pressure. There was very little time to stand in the pocket and throw. The running game wasn't particularly dominant either, and the Bears had to endure a lot of three-and-outs.

Dalton looked fine when he had time to throw, but he rarely had time and wasn't able to make things happen while under pressure. Fields seemed to have the better preseason, but this was mostly owing to his ability to get out of the pocket and run for yardage and first downs. He had very little time to throw as well and didn't exactly look spectacular throwing the ball. Though he did make some very nice improvisational plays in the final preseason game against the Titans.

Bears 2021 preseason - Andy Dalton pressure
- photo by Nam Y. Huh, Associated Press
Bears 2021 preseason - Justin Fields pressure
- photo credit unknown
All the Bears QBs had to struggle with constant pressure.
Justin Fields at least has the mobility to get out of the pocket and make something happen.

There is a lot of popular demand to start Fields in the regular season, but I'm not so sure that is a good idea. If this offensive line cannot play better in the regular season, I would worry about the long-term health of Fields. He would likely take a lot of sacks and have to run and expose himself to lots of hits.

A big reason for the offensive line struggles is that the Bears are short at left tackle. Their other big-name draft pick was tackle Teven Jenkins, who may miss most (if not all) of the season after having back surgery in the summer. The Bears were so confident that he's be able to step in and start his first year that they released their previous starting left tackle, Charles Leno Jr.. With Leno (perhaps their best pass blocker last year) gone, and Jenkins out indefinitely, pass blocking is probably the single biggest area of concern.

Teven Jenkins - photo credit BearsWire
Teven Jenkins' injury is straining the O-Line.

Yes, the Bears did win 2 of their 3 preseason games, so perhaps that is something to be optimistic about. The defense played well in 2 of those 3 games, and the offense did do just enough to take and hold a lead. But most of that success was against backups after the first quarter was over.

As far as preseason stand-outs, receiver Rodney Adams and tight end Jasper Horstedd had some exciting and explosive plays. I think Adams will definitely earn himself a position on the team, even if it's in a rotational receiver role.

Honestly, as excited as I am to see Justin Fields leading this team, I do worry that maybe this isn't the best situation for him. Unless the Bears can shore up their offensive line with a free agent signing or two, or a trade for an upgrade at one or both tackle positions, starting Fields might just be setting the poor kid up for failure.

I have tickets to the Bears road game against the Raiders in October. I suspect that Fields will be the starter by that time, especially if the Bears offense under Dalton is as bad at converting third downs as they were in the preseason. But I also worry that if he is starting by that time, that he might not finish the season.

Allegiant Stadium
Photo by Orlando Ramirez, USA Today Sports
I'll be seeing my first ever NFL regular season game in-person when the Bears visit the Raiders in October.
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Madden NFL - title

I don't think I've ever played a football game that feels like it truly nails special teams play. Madden has been especially bad at this phase of football for a very long time, and has largely neglected it year-in and year-out. Every now and then, a release comes out that focuses on special teams, but the upgrade is never as comprehensive as it should be. I was considering making a video about all of special teams, but that's too big a topic to tackle in a single video, so I decided that it would be best to make shorter videos that each focus on specific aspects of special teams play.

While drafting the script for my previous video about pass blocking and pass rushing, I had started thinking about issues with blocking and rushing in special teams, and thought I'd do a video about one specific specialist position that has been a personal crusade of mine for quite a few years now. I'll surely discuss more of Madden's special teams failings in future videos. But for today, I want to talk about how Madden completely fails to do justice to an oft-overlooked and under-appreciated specialist position: the longsnapper.

The full video on YouTube contains additional commentary and examples.

I'm looking at this specific position for two reasons:

  1. I played on special teams in high school and worked alongside our longsnapper. He spent extra time before and after practices honing that skill.
  2. And the 2nd reason I'm covering this topic is: unlike other highly specialized positions like holder and kickoff coverage gunners, Madden actually includes Longsnappers as a position in the depth chart, but has never included any mechanics or rules that actually make the longsnapper a meaningful position on your team, or which differentiate who is a good longsnapper versus who is not.

As for my high school teammates on special teams: there were several of us who never would have seen playing time if not for our special teams duties. Instead of resigning ourselves to a life on the bench, as some other reserves had done, we carved out niches for ourselves, so that we could see more playing time. We worked hard to earn our positions, and the coaches noticed the hard work (especially if it was extra-curricular in nature), and they rewarded us with extra rotational reps on both offense and defense in relief of tired starters. My experience has lead me to respect special teamers, probably much more than most football fans.

Some of us reserve players would have never seen playing time if not for our specialist roles.

A Knee-Jerk Reaction

I remember proposing a "Longsnapping" rating on a YouTube comment or Madden forum like 6 or 7 years ago, and received absolutely vitriolic responses that largely boiled down to "having the outcome of a game decided by a random fluke like a botched snap would be horrible game design." It's a sentiment that does makes a certain degree of sense. Determining the outcome of a match by a die roll does seem like it would be bad video game design -- at least, outside of digital craps.

But hold on a minute. Is it really bad game design...?

Running backs have a rating that determines their likeliness to fumble. Quarterbacks have several ratings that determine the accuracy of passes. Receivers have several ratings that determine their likelihood to catch a pass. Linemen have ratings that determine if they whif on a block. Defenders have ratings that determine the likelihood of missing tackles. DBs have ratings that determine whether they blow a coverage. Kickers have ratings that determine if they miss a kick. Every player has ratings that determine if they get injured on any given play. All of these ratings can affect the outcome of a play or an entire game based on a random die roll. Heck, even coaches have ratings that determine how much players develop in the offseason or how likely free agents are to sign a contract. Ratings semi-randomly deciding the outcomes of games or entire seasons is apparently OK for literally every other position both on and off the field, but somehow having a rating that determines if a snap or special teams hold is botched is a bridge too far?!

Nobody complains about other positions having ratings that can randomly decide a game.

To be fair to the critics: if you're playing a 5 or 6-minute quarter pick-up game online or in Ultimate Team, and each team is only getting between 3 and 5 possessions the entire game, it does make sense that you wouldn't want your one and only attempt at a punt or field goal to go awry because of a fluke like a botched snap. In such a shortened game, it would swing the game wildly in one direction or the other, with little-to-no time or opportunity for a team to overcome such an unfortunate outcome. (I keep saying, every installment in this series is probably going to refer back to that first essay about quarter length.)

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Madden NFL - title

In the previous essay in this series about how Madden fails to simulate football, I discussed how QBs in real football go through their progressions to find open receivers to throw to. And then the second half pulled a bit of a bait-and-switch and turned into a pitch for the return of the QB Vision mechanic, or something analogous. Surprise!

I also briefly talked about how the goal of the defense is to cover the primary receiving threats long enough for the pass rush to disrupt the play. In the best of cases, the defense can cover the receivers long enough to sack the quarterback, or force him to make a bad throw into coverage that is intercepted. But sacks and interceptions aren't really the goal of the defense. The defense will, of course, be happy to take them when they happen, but no defensive play is really designed to force a sack or an interception.

The full video on YouTube contains additional commentary and examples.

Truth is that a lot of relatively mundane outcomes can be complete successes for the defense. Forcing the QB to throw before he can make his reads and set his feet so that he throws an inaccurate ball is a success. That is true whether the QB deliberately throws the ball into the sixth row of the stands, or if his rush to release the ball puts it inches out of reach of the receiver's outstretched fingertips, or if his inability to set his feet results in a weak, wobbly ball that bounces harmlessly at the receiver's feet. Or maybe the defense tips the pass or knocks it down such that the play gains no yards. All of those outcomes represent unqualified defensive success.

Defenses don't need sacks or turnovers to "win" a series.

If a defense can do this for three consecutive plays and force the offense to punt, then the defense did it's job, even if it isn't flashy, doesn't show up in a Chris Berman highlight reel, and doesn't light up a stat board. Heck, even forcing a check down that is completed for positive yards, but which does not result in a first down is still a success for the defense! Especially if it happens on 3rd or 4th down.

Of course, the defender who wants to pad his stats with a sack or interception, and get a big payday next time contract negotiations come along, might disagree.

EA's Madden video games apparently disagree as well. Since the pace of play in Madden is sped up to facilitate the shortened length of quarters, gaining yards and making first downs is really easy for the offense, but yet sacks are paradoxically too common.

Get used to hearing statements like that. Quarter length and game pacing was the first essay of the series for a reason! -- because it really is so fundamental to almost everything that is wrong with Madden. I would not be surprised if every single essay of this series will refer back to that first episode at least once or twice!

For much of Madden's history, pass rushers either have no impact on the play (because the QB can see the entire field and can hit any receiver on the field with the press of a button), or the pass rush downs the quarterback for a seven yard loss on a sack. Sometimes two or three times in a row if the game's scripting or an X-Factor ability decides that the defense should win this particular possession.

Playing Madden on 15-minute quarters, it's not uncommon to see each team pile up 5, 6, or 7 sacks by the end of the game. For reference, good NFL defenses usually average 2 or 3 sacks per game. You can adjust the difficulty level or the "Pass Blocking" A.I. sliders to reduce the frequency of sacks, but then this leads to the opposite problem of the pass rush being almost completely irrelevant, and QBs having the opportunity to complete more deep shots that inflates completion percentages, passing yards, and final scores.

On 15-minute quarters, it is not uncommon to see each defense record 5 or more sacks.
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Over the past year and some change, football video game fans have had some huge pieces of good news. Last year, 2K announced that it would be returning to the NFL-licensed football game market; albeit with a "non-simulation" licensed game -- and we still have no clue what that is going to entail. Earlier this year, EA announced that it would be resurrecting its college football series under the apt banner "EA Sports College Football".

For years, there were no football games at all except for Madden, so the boom of indie football games starting around 2018 / 2019 created a little renaissance of competing products looking to fill the vaccum left by the absence of competition and lack of niche titles like a college football games. As good as the news of new games from 2K and EA is, one thing that worried me was whether or not the indie football games (Axis Football, Maximum Football, Sunday Rivals, Legend Bowl, and so forth) would survive the impending release of new, big-budget football games entering the market. Well, the first indie casualty of the AAA announcements came on Wednesday night.

David Winter, the founder, owner, and lead developer of Canuck Games announced Wednesday night over Discord that plans for future versions of Maximum Football have been canceled, and the company Canuck Play is terminating its business operations. Apparently, Winter is offering the Maximum Football IP (and I think also the game code) up for sale. It's possible that another studio may purchase rights to Maximum Football and resume development, but it seems exceedingly unlikely that any new Maximum Football games will be coming out.

David Winter, owner of Canuck Play, announced the cancellation of Maximum Football and closure of the studio.

In his announcement, Winter cited several factors in the decision. Perhaps the most important one is his own health. He had been working himself 7 days a week for lengthy periods of time, and said that he had to be hospitalized for stress and fatigue. I'm a huge supporter of a stable and healthy work / life balance, and no job is (in my opinion) worth working yourself sick; least of all a video game. I certainly can't fault him for his decision, and I, personally, probably would have thrown in the towel a lot sooner if I had been in his shoes. Take care of yourself, David. Your health (both physical and mental) comes first.

Winter also cited EA's announcement of its upcoming college football game as a major contributing factor in the decision. In 2019, Maximum Football rebranded itself from being a Canadian football game to being a college football game, with the introduction of a college Dynasty mode. Personally, I always thought that this was a bad move. I understood it as a business decision at the time, as there was huge desire for a college football game, and nobody was filling that market demand. However, this move shifted Maximum Football away from its core identity as a Canadian football game, broadened the scope well beyond the ability of such a tiny group of developers to reasonably handle, and introduced a massive set of new challenges for the developers to overcome. I always feared that as soon as a bigger studio came along with a more polished college football product (whether it be EA, 2K, or even IMV with its crowd-funded Gridiron Champions that never saw the light of day), then Maximum Football would be kind of dead in the water. I didn't expect it to happen so quickly, but I figured it was an inevitability.

Maximum Football moved away from its Canadian football roots.

If another company does actually buy Maximum Football, I hope its another Canadian studio, and that they re-focus the game as a Canadian football sim. Doubling-down on its Canadian identity would give the game a unique selling point, would fill an otherwise vacant niche, would expose a larger audience to Canadian football, and might provide a consistent base of support from existing Canadian football fans. That doesn't mean they would have to abandon the college dynasty. They can still include a Canadian college dynasty if they want. Rather, I think they should focus on having a robust, quality game using Canadian rules first, before branching out to extensive U.S. pro and college rules and modes.

XFL logo

Nevertheless, it looks like we'll have to go through 2021 and 2022 without a Canadian or college football game to speak of while we wait to see what EA has to offer when EA Sports College Football releases in 2023. Or who knows? Maybe Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson will buy Maximum Football and turn it into an XFL-licensed game? Hey, that's as realistic a possibility as him buying the XFL!

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Grid Clock provided by trowaSoft.

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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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