This preseason did not go as I expected it to. I was hoping to get more of a look at what Matt Nagy's offense will look like, but the starters hardly got any playing time at all.

Chase Daniel dramatically turned his play around after the Hall of Fame game.

A lot of teams this preseason seemed to hold their starters. This is a continuation of a trend that we've been seeing over the past few years or so, as teams wanted to avoid injuries to marquee players. However, rule changes before the season made a huge difference. The NFL changed the rules so that teams don't have to cut any preseason players until after the final game. Teams are going from 90 players to 53 players between the last preseason game and the first regular season game. Because of this, the teams have a lot more reserves still on their rosters that they can continue to evaluate, and they seem to be taking advantage of that.

After a rough outing in the Hall of Fame game, backup QB Chase Daniel pulled his preseason together and was actually the best-performing quarterback on the team. Part of that is because he also got a majority of the snaps. Trubisky didn't even play in the last two preseason games, and Tyler Bray got limited action.

Preseason standouts like Tanner Gentry and Taquan Mizzell were retained on the practice squad.

Tyler Bray did get the start for most of the final preseason game, and he had some pretty good drives. The team couldn't pull out a win, as the Bills' reserves outplayed the Bears' in the fourth quarter.

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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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Maximum Football 2018 - title

We finally have some competition in the football video game sector! Canadian developer Canuck Play recently released PS4 and XBox One versions of its Maximum Football 2018 game. Canuck Play is a small, independent studio with limited staff. In fact, I couldn't find a count of how many employees or developers they have, so as far as I can tell, the whole game was developed by one guy: David Winter. The fact that he could single-handedly put together a functioning football game is, itself, a pretty impressive feat. I wish I had the time and drive to do what he's accomplished.

Maximum Football 2018 is a $17 budget title, so I went into it with pretty low expectations -- as should you. I bought it because I want to support indie developers, and I would love for Canuck Play to eventually grow into a studio with the skill and manpower to challenge Madden. I'm not going to lie though, Maximum Football is not there yet. Not even close.

How do I even play Canadian football?

Being a United States resident and fan of NFL and NCAA college football, I admit that I have only a passing familiarity with some of the rules variations of Canadian football. There was a Canadian football team in my home town for a couple years (the Las Vegas Posse), and my dad and I did attend the games. I remember the basic differences like there being twelve players on each team instead of eleven, three downs instead of four (which encouraged more passing), more generous backfield motion rules, 50+ yard field goals being worth four points instead of three, and a longer field and deeper end zone. But there are a lot of other rules changes that I don't know, and even in the cases of the rules that I do know, I do not understand the strategic nuances of playing under those rules.

Canadian football has some significant rule variation that I don't know the strategy for.

As such, I was very disappointed to see that Maximum Football 2018, which is a Canadian football game, does not include any sort of tutorial or training mode (that I could find). There is an option in the settings menu that allows the game to automatically snap the ball for you after the pre-play motion(s) are complete, but there's nothing in the game that explains how these motions are supposed to work, or how the offense is supposed to utilize them. There's no in-game commentary to possibly provide the player with any insight into the intricacies of Canadian football. Not even so much as some splash screens with some diagrams and explanations. There is a practice mode in which you can test out the playbooks, but you'll have to learn everything through trial and error.

The waggle concept allows multiple offensive players to go in motion before the snap.

To compound this issue, the game lacks explanations for some of its own mechanics and conventions. Receiver routes are highlighted in up to five different colors: red, yellow, blue, white, and sometimes green. What do these colors mean? I assume that one of them is supposed to be the primary receiver and one is supposed to be the hot receiver. So what do the other two colors mean? Are they supposed to represent the QB's receiver progression? If so, then in which order am I supposed to read them? Do they represent the types of motion that they perform before the snap? If so, then it would be nice to have an explanation of how these motion concepts work.

What do all these colors mean?

It doesn't get any better on the defensive side of the ball. Heck, it gets worse. There's no pre-snap defensive play art at all, nor is there any defensive player assist. You're stuck having to decipher the small play art that is shown in the play-selection screen. You have to remember the assignment of whichever defender you happen to select, then fulfill that job completely manually without any in-game indicator of what the player's assignment actually is. The safest options, therefore, are to always select a defensive lineman (despite there not being any controls or mechanics for breaking blocks or steering blockers), or play a safety in zone coverage (if you can actually figure out which safety is in zone coverage).

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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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Chicago Bears alt logo

CBS Sports columnist Pete Prisco has given the Chicago Bears a solid "A" in his 2018 Draft Grades. He's not the only one. The internet is abuzz with analysts praising the Bears' draft this year. Bears fans, on the other hand, seem less enthusiastic.

Maybe us jaded fans are just bitter from years of disappointment and bad decision-making at the highest levels of the Bears organization. Perhaps the analysts are just impressed that the Bears didn't metaphorically trip over their own feet on the way to the podium the way that they did last year with the dumbfounding decision to trade up one spot to draft Mitch Trubisky (a player that the team ahead of them, the 49ers, wasn't even planning on drafting), instead of taking the elite pass rusher that everyone thought they were trading up to get (and which the 49ers did take with that next pick). Was it the right move? Time will tell.

Well the Bears didn't impress anybody by picking up that desperately-needed pass rusher this year either. They had a chance in the second round to take Harold Landry, but instead took center James Daniels. Landry has had some injury issues in his college career, and consistently drafting injury-prone players has been one of Chicago's key failures in recent memory. Maybe Kevin White will finally play a full season this year? I'll settle for half a season.

The Bears drafted linebacker Roquan Smith from Georgia Tech 8th overall.

Top needs addressed and ignored

Despite not addressing their most pressing concern, the consensus among analysts seems to be that general manager Ryan Pace and newly-hired head coach Matt Nagy had one of the best drafts in the league (and one of the best drafts for the Bears in a long time). They picked up an inside linebacker, Roquon Smith, in the first round. He is expected to start immediately next to Danny Trevathan in Nagy's 3-4 defense, and should hopefully give former Georgia teammate Leonard Floyd more room to get pressure from the outside. The big question is: can Floyd or Trevathan stay healthy? Hopefully, Smith doesn't end up being the only linebacker left by the time December rolls around...

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Grid Clock provided by trowaSoft.

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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