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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Chicago Bears alt logo

I was really impressed with Matt Nagy's first year as the Bears' head coach. I wasn't the only one, as Nagy was named the Coach of the Year by the NFL itself. The accolades were warranted, as Nagy was routinely out-scheming the Bears' opponents in game after game last season.

The coaching prowess wasn't limited to Nagy either, as defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was also named the NFL's Assistant Coach of the Year. Fangio was helped by the shocking trade of Khalil Mack to the Bears at the end of preseason, who provided immediate results to the team.

After tripping over their own two feet in the 2017 NFL draft, it was starting to look like the Bears' management (including General Manager Ryan Pace) were finally putting together winning personnel. This was the smash-mouth, ground-and-pound, suffocating defensive team that I want the Bears to be. I could finally stop hating the Bears and start to love them again.

Chicago Bears - Matt Nagy Chicago Bears - Vic Fangio
The Bears had two coaches of the year in 2018!

New defensive coordinator

I'm not sure if it's going to last though. I expect Nagy to have a long and [relatively] successful career with the Bears, but my immediate expectations have sunk due to a few key changes in the team during the 2019 offseason.

The first bit of bad news came in the form of losing former Assistant Coach of the Year Vic Fangio. Fangio accepted the head coaching job with the Denver Broncos. Congratulations to him, as he deserves it! I think his schemes will work very well for the Broncos' defensive personnel, so it's real good news for Broncos fans. But damn, that stings for us Bears fans.

They get Vic Fangio from us, and all we ever got from them was Jay Cutler and John Fox?! This is not a fair deal at all...

Chicago Bears - Chuck Pagano
Former Colts head coach Chuck Pagano will replace Vic Fangio as defensive coordinator.

The silver lining is that the Bears' new defensive coordinator is head-coach caliber. Chuck Pagano (formerly with the Indianapolis Colts) accepted the job as the Bears' defensive coordinator going into the 2019 season. I stopped paying as much attention to the Colts after Peyton Manning left, so I can't really speak to how successful I think Pagano might be. The most optimistic stat line for Pagano is that he helped coach Colts' safety Mike Adams to be tied for takeaways in the 2014 season. That bodes well for safety Eddie Jackson, who very well might have been the Bears' best defensive player if Khalil Mach hadn't been getting all the attention.

So maybe the loss of Fangio won't be as painful as it might have at first seemed.

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I was inspired a few weeks ago by a Twitter post from Ryan Moody (@ShutdownSafety), who asked why people are being so negative about football video gaming, and why people aren't making content. Well, I decided that I'd make some content sharing some of my optimism about the future of football video gaming in the next few years. I posted a video to my YouTube channel, but loyal blog readers can read the full transcription here.

YouTube: Will 2020 be a good year for football video games?

Football video games have been in a rut for a while now. The exclusivity deal between the NFL and EA didn't only kill NFL 2k series, it also may have killed the NFL Gameday, NFL Fever, NFL Blitz, and other series as well, some of which had game releases as late as 2004. All Pro Football 2k8 is now eleven years old. Backbreaker came and went nine years ago, leaving EA as the only major publisher still making football video games. EA's own NCAA Football series is now in the fifth year of its hiatus (the optimist in me still prefers to use the term "hiatus" instead of "cancellation"). This has all left football video gamers with nothing but mediocre Madden releases for years.

EA's NFL exclusivity may have put the final nail in the coffin for other games besides just NFL 2k.

All that being said, I am actually very optimistic about football video gaming come 2020 or 2021.

New indie games on the market

First and foremost, Madden's 5-year complete monopoly on consoles was broken this year with the releases of Canuck Play's Maximum Football 2018 and Axis Games' Axis Football 18. For the first time since 2013, there are football games on consoles not called Madden, and for the first time since 2009, there are football games on consoles that are not published by EA.

So why do I still consider football gaming to be in a rut?

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Chicago Bears alt logo

I think I might finally be buying into this 2018 Bears team. They locked up an NFC North division title by beating the Packers this past weekend, and might still be able to clinch home field advantage if the Bears can beat the 49ers and Vikings, and if the Rams and Saints manage to drop their last two games. In fact, the Bears have the head-to-head tie-breaker against the Rams, and would be the second seed if they tie. I don't think it's gonna happen, but it is possible...

While the Bears do seem to finally have a complete team with talent at every level of both the offense and defense, I really feel like most of the credit deserves to go to first year head coach Matt Nagy. After suffering through the years of Mark Trestman and John Fox, I am finally happy with Chicago's coach hiring decision. Nagy is regularly out-scheming and out-coaching the Bears' opponents and putting his players in position to make plays and let their talent shine. Trading for Khalil Mach from the Raiders seems to have pushed the Bears from a good team to a legit playoff contender. Finally, this organization is making the right decisions!

I was actually pleasantly surprised to be in this position. I had some initial concerns with the hiring of Nagy. He's an offensive-minded coach with the pedigree of one of the best QB coaches of all time, Andy Reid. Chicago has tried hiring offensive-minded coaches, and they have all failed miserably. Nagy was also coming off of an offensive collapse by the Chiefs in the playoffs, so there was some doubt about whether he was really as good as Alex Smith's Pro Bowl-level performance was making Nagy look. My expectations were not particularly high. I figured that Nagy would get a better performance out of the offense than Trestman and Fox (and even Lovie Smith) were ever able to do. He also benefits from not being burdened with having to deal with Jay Cutler. But I prefer watching smash-mouth football with dominant defense and a battering run attack. I was not expecting that from Nagy's team.

Nagy is really getting quality performances out of his players.

I was wrong. The Bears are playing "Bears football". The kind of football that I love to watch. They are devouring teams defensively, and making the offense look good by giving them plenty of opportunities with the ball. What's really surprising me, however, is that the offense looks to be genuinely good on its own. Unlike that 2006 Bears' Superbowl run, this team's defense does not appear to be carrying the offense.

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Axis Football 18 - title

This is the one indie football game that I was most looking forward to. Unfortunately, it is also the one that ended up being delayed almost to the point of irrelevancy -- at least on consoles. The game did see a PC release on Steam in September, but the console versions had to wait until much longer. The XBox One release didn't make it out until after Thanksgiving. The PS4 release had to wait even longer, not seeing a release till after Christmas! I was trying to hold out for the PS4 release, but the college season was coming to a close, the NFL was well into its second half, and I was jonesing for some football gameplay. I ended up buying the Steam version when it went on sale (only a couple bucks off) for Black Friday.

Many football fans probably gave up on the season long before Axis Football showed up on storefronts.

If they want to be successful in the future, Axis is going to need to make sure that they get their game out on time! In fact, they should probably follow Canuck Play's Maximum Football and try to release before Madden hits shelves, and thus capitalizing on the period of greatest excitement and anticipation for the football season. Being delayed until after Thanksgiving on consoles surely hurt Axis' chance at success. I'm sure Lions, Bills, Raiders, and ... yes ... UNLV fans have long-since given up on the football season and may have also lost interest in playing football video games.

I still hope that Axis sees decent sales on all platforms. Hopefully, Axis has learned lessons about the certification and release process so that they can get their game out on time next year. Hopefully they can also spend less time going through certification, and more time working on ironing out the rough edges on this game. Axis is definitely a more feature-complete product than its direct competitor (Maximum Football), but its on-field gameplay might lag a little behind Maximum in some areas. And both games are light-years behind Madden.

Third and long

There's a screen-shake to accompany tackles and make the action look more visceral. It's ironic, however, when this shake accompanies a tackle animation in which the tackler didn't actually collide with the runner. Simply grazing a defender can often cause the runner to fall to the ground. This can sometimes happen with a couple yards of separation between the tackler and runner, and sometimes even with the tackler on the opposite side of a blocker. I also see defenders shift through blockers, such that the blocker is behind the defender, yet the blocking animation continues as normal.

Runners are frequently tackled without actually colliding with a defender,
or the defender phases through the runner and misses the tackle.

The game also lacks a robust set of catching animations for receivers, or swat animations for defenders in coverage. Many passes feel like a crap shoot because the receiver and cover man both stand there waiting for the ball, and it could be a completion, and interception, or a drop, without any real appropriate animations playing to accompany the action. Players don't seem able to jump or dive for passes. They just kind of put their arms out, and the ball either hits them (in which case, it's still random whether it's caught or dropped), or it misses.

There's also no blocking or block-breaking animations. Linemen and defenders just kind of magnetically attack to one another until the block is broken. At that point, the defender just kind of steps away from the lineman with there not really being any indication that the two of them had ever interacted at all. There's no hand-swatting, or jostling, or swim / rip moves, or anything.

Receivers and defenders don't put much effort into catching or swatting balls in the air.

More generally, the game is in desperate need of a better locomotion system. Players don't feel like they have much weight. It takes a moment for a player to get up to speed, but once at top speed, they can cut, change direction, and go in circles without much (if any) loss of speed or momentum. In general, players feel like they're skating rather than running. Axis' controls feel less jerky and more fluid than with Maximum Football, but Maximum's players at least feel slightly more tethered to the ground.

Even though the on-field play has a lot of problems, at least it is never taking control away from me in order to play scripted animations. Aside from the crap shoot that is catching passes, I always feel very in-control of my player, and most mistakes are on me.

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A gamer's thoughts

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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