The UFL hasn't even started yet, but It's already proving to be a disappointment. The recently-merged XFL and USFL announced some of its rules recently, which give an insight into how the league's managers are approaching the sport. And it isn't good.

Easily the single best idea that the XFL implemented was its lower-risk kickoff rules. This rule lined the kickoff coverage team at the receiving team's 35 and the kick return team at their own 30 -- only 5 yards apart from each other. The only 2 players not lined up on these yard markers are the kicker (who kicks the ball from his own 30), and the returner (who lines up around his own 10). No return blocker or coverage player may move until the ball has been fielded by the returner or has bounced no the ground. This rule put all of the players only a few yards apart from each other, instead of staggering the blockers across the half the length of the field. This eliminates the high speed collisions that resulted from coverage players running into blockers or the returner at a full sprint, and was expected to dramatically reduce major kickoff injuries (the kickoff being one of the most dangerous plays in all of football).

There has been talk over the years of eliminating kickoffs from football entirely, because of the danger inherent to the high speeds on the play. But the XFL rule provided perhaps the best opportunity to save the kickoff. It was such a smart idea, that both the NCAA and the NFL have considered adopting the XFL's kickoff. Neither has done so yet, but they should. If kickoffs are going to stay in football, I think this is how it will be done.

The XFL's old kickoff rule should be the standard for all football leagues -- but apparently not the UFL.

But the UFL apparently doesn't think so, as the UFL's rules managers are apparently opting to ditch the XFL kickoff rule in favor of the traditional, higher-speed, kickoff.

The UFL is claiming that the XFL kickoff did not result in a significant reduction in injuries, but I'm skeptical of that claim. The league only operated for 2 seasons, and teams didn't play more than 10 games in either of those 2 seasons. That's not a whole lot of time to establish long-term trends. It's not like major injuries are happening in NFL kickoffs every single game. It would take years to establish whether the rate of injuries is actually lower than the NFL, or if it is substantially higher than on any other football play from scrimmage.

Other than a flimsy excuse that the XFL kickoffs didn't apparently reduce injuries in the highly limited sample size that was available, the league's head of football operations, Daryl Johnston, said "the stationary kickoff [...] just didn't look like football.". So the XFL rule is at least as safe as the NFL rule, but the UFL provided no justification (that I could find) based on fair competition -- only a superficial preference that the traditional kickoff "looks better".

In fact, the UFL is actually moving the spot of the kick back to the kicking team's 20 yard line (instead of the 35 yard line in the NFL, or the 30 yard line in the XFL). This is their attempt to eliminate touchbacks and force more returns. This means that the UFL's kickoff rule will likely end up being more dangerous than the NFL's kickoff rule because the UFL will have a higher rate of kickoffs being fielded and returned, which means a higher rate of players running into each other at a full sprint and risking major injuries.

The XFL's kickoff, by the way, had more than a 90% return rate. So it also successfully resulted in almost all kickoffs being returned.

If this lack of forward-thinking is going to be common in the rationale that the operators of the UFL are using to create their rules, then I have zero faith in their ability to run a successful football league.

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We've been hearing all year that the "analytics" say that going for it on 4th and short situations results in (on average) more points and more wins, compared to punting or kicking a field goal. The fad for the past few years has been for teams to more frequently attempt to convert 4th and short situations, even when they are not in "comeback mode". More and more teams are refusing to punt the ball from inside the opponent's 50 yard line, or to kick chip shot field goals from within the opponent's 5. So far, this has been working out for teams more often than it has back-fired.

I've been a vocal opponent of these overly-aggressive play calls throughout the entire season, and have been insisting that these decisions are going to start to bite teams in the ass. That finally happened in the NFC Championship game, when the Detroit Lions found out the hard way that maybe they should have just taken the points.

The Lions refused to kick field goals on 2 separate occasions in the 2nd half. On both occasions, they failed to convert the 4th down. They left 6 points on the board, and they ended up losing the game (and their hopes of going to the SuperBowl) by 3 points.

In the 3rd quarter, after the Lions left the first 3 points on the board, I told the people watching the game with me that I thought this was the wrong move. The 49ers had scored a field goal with their first possession of the 2nd half to reduce the Lions' halftime lead from 17 to 14. Had the Lions simply kicked the field goal (and made it), they would have kept parity with the 49ers and maintained their 3-score lead. When they opted to leave the 2nd 3 points on the board, the Lions were only down by 3. That field goal would have tied the game, or it would have taken the lead if the Lions had already made the previous field goal.

The Lions left 3 points on the field twice, and lost the NFC Championship against the 49ers by 3 points.

The Lions lost the NFC Championship because their coach, Dan Campbell, dogmatically obeyed the analytics. I would have hoped that Dan Campbell would have learned this lesson after the failed 2-point conversion shenanigans against the Cowboys that cost the Lions the number 1 overall seed. But he didn't. He doubled-down. They lost out on the opportunity to host the NFC Championship game, which probably would have made all the difference for them. And now they've lost their chance at going to the SuperBowl.

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Chicago Bears alt logo

The NFL regular season has ended. Teams are starting their annual fire sales on coaches and coordinators. Some of the early casualties include Patriots' head coach Bill Belichick, Chargers' head coach Brandon Staley, Washington Commanders' head coach Ron Rivera, Chicago Bears' offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, and others. That's on top of mid-season firings of Raiders' head coach Josh McDaniels and Carolina Panthers' head coach Frank Reich. During the second half of the season, speculation about which coaches would get fired was accompanied by fans arguing over whether these bad teams were "tanking" the season (or should tank the season) to improve their draft picks. The Bears were one of the most talked-about teams in this regard.

I don't pretend to know what goes on behind closed doors in NFL front offices, and no NFL front office has ever (to my knowledge) actually come out and said "we're deliberately tanking this season", so whether or not a team might be tanking is pure speculation. But if you ask me, no professional sports team should ever deliberately tank a season! And this goes double for any team that is operating with a 1st or 2nd year coaching staff or general manager, as is the case for the 2022 and 2023 Chicago Bears.

Many fans speculated (and even wanted) that the Bears would tank in 2022. And after a 1-5 start to the 2023 season, some fans even began to think the Bears were tanking this season too. Reddit was awash with posts insisting that the Bears' should tank in order to get the top 2 picks in the 2024 NFL draft (the Bears own the Panther's first round pick, in addition to their own pick). This would allow the Bears to cut Justin Fields and draft Caleb Williams, as well as get some other top-tier elite talent.

Caleb Williams
Photo credit: John McGillen, Photography LLC.
Many fans expect the Bears to cut or trade Justin Fields in order to draft Caleb Williams.

Personally, I am willing to go on the record as saying that I do not agree with this popular consensus that the Bears should draft Caleb Williams. I am still on the fence about Justin Fields' potential, and would like to see him stay with the team. I would prefer that the Bears trade down to get more draft capital, and focus on taking an elite receiver (Marvin Harrison Jr.), offensive lineman, pass rusher, and/or cornerback. But my feelings on the Bears' specific 2024 strategy is neither here nor there. The main point is that regardless of the Bears' plans with Justin Fields (or any teams' plans with any roster), no team should ever deliberately tank a season.

The thing about tanking is that "tanking" is practically indistinguishable from actually sucking.

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University of Nevada, Las Vegas

I really didn't think this would happen, but UNLV is back to 2nd place in the Mountain West Conference after Fresno State was blown out by San Jose State last night. UNLV is now a full game ahead of Fresno State with only 2 games left on the schedule.

Next week is a matchup against Air Force, who still holds onto the number 1 position in the conference. But, Air Force has looked vulnerable lately, decisively losing to both Army and Hawai'i in the past 2 weeks. What seemed like a sure loss for UNLV earlier in the season is now a very winnable game for UNLV. UNLV's rush defense is one of the team's strengths, and Air Force almost exclusively runs the Flexbone Triple Option.

If UNLV can beat Air Force on the road, it will move UNLV up to the number 1 spot in the conference and give UNLV a tie-breaker against Air Force for home field advantage in the Mountain West Championship. In fact, if UNLV beats Air Force, I think the only way they could be eliminated from the Conference Championship is if they lose to San Jose State, and also Fresno State wins its last 2 games. Fresno's last 2 games are against New Mexico and San Diego State, and both are very winnable games for Fresno.

San Jose is a bit of a surprise contender themselves, having won 4 straight against New Mexico, Utah State, Hawai'i, and Fresno. A win against UNLV in the final week of the regular season could potentially give San Jose a conference championship birth. Suddenly, the matchup against San Jose is actually looking even more worrisome than the matchup against Air Force.

These upcoming games against Air Force and San Jose are going to be among the most important games in UNLV's football history, and will certainly be the biggest games of head coach Barry Odom's inaugural year with UNLV.

I'm hoping to be able to see UNLV host a Mountain West Conference Championship at Allegiant Stadium!

If UNLV makes a conference championship appearance, I fully intend to attend the game. I honestly never expected to see UNLV competing for a conference championship in my lifetime, so whether it be here at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, or at Colorado Springs, Fresno, Boise, or San Jose, I intend to be there.

I'll also be tentatively planning on attending any bowl game that UNLV gets invited to, so long as the trip is affordable. If UNLV goes to the Hawai'i Bowl, I might not be able to afford tickets, since I was stuck having to pay for some expensive home repairs due to storm damage that insurance refused to cover (thank you, climate change!), and then also bought a new gaming PC so that I can play Cities: Skylines II. So I may not have the disposable cash on hand right now to afford plane tickets to Hawai'i. Hopefully UNLV gets an invite to a bowl here in the contiguous states, such that a much less-expensive road trip is viable.

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University of Nevada, Las Vegas

I suspected that UNLV's football team would have to crash back to reality at some point. Last wee, the team and its fans were flying high after a comeback win against Colorado State made UNLV bowl-eligible midway through the season, had them receiving votes for national Top 25 ranking, and had them looking like a contender for a Mountain West Conference Championship. UNLV has played like a championship-caliber football team all season long, with the exception of one quarter against Fresno State last night. That one quarter may be the quarter that costs UNLV a chance at the championship.

I did say that the remainder of UNLV's schedule would contain its toughest matchups of the season, and Fresno was one of the toughest. They also still have Wyoming and Air Force as major roadblocks on their remaining schedule. I expected that UNLV would drop at least one of these games, but it's heartbreaking to lose it in the way that they did.

UNLV is now ranked 3rd in the Mountain West behind Fresno State.

UNLV was in total control of the game at Fresno State, with the exception of a dismal 3rd quarter in which they turned the ball over multiple times, gave up 24 un-answered points, and surrendered the lead that they would never take back.

The collapse began on the opening drive of the 2nd half, with Jacob de Jesus muffing a punt return after a Fresno 3 and out. This gave Fresno State the ball in the redzone for an easy touchdown and completely shifted the momentum of the game. Junior return man de Jesus had been a reliable, explosive player all year, and this mistake was uncharacteristic of him. Later in the quarter, freshman quarterback Jayden Maiava threw an interception that resulted in another Fresno field goal, and running back Jai'Den Thomas surrendered a fumble on UNLV's next offensive play from scrimmage that Fresno converted into the lead-stealing touchdown. Personally, I think he was down by contact (of course), but the camera angles were inconclusive and insufficient to overturn the officials' call on the field.

The 3rd quarter collapse started with Jacob de Jesus muffing a punt.

UNLV would surge in the 4th quarter, however and bring the game to within a single score. However, they failed to convert a 4th and goal late in the 4th quarter. Personally, I think that coach Barry Odom should have kicked the field goal at this point. There was still 5 minutes on the game clock, UNLV had timeouts, and UNLV had clawed back the momentum. This was not a do-or-die situation. A field goal would not have tied the game, let alone taken the lead, but UNLV's defense would have to make a stop regardless. A field goal would have meant that if UNLV stopped Fresno and took the ball back, they would be playing for the win instead of overtime.

The decision ended up being moot anyway, as UNLV failed to score a touchdown in the closing seconds of the game. They had an opportunity, but senior receiver Senika McKie dropped an open pass in the endzone on 2nd down, and Maiava would throw an interception straight to a lurking linebacker on the ensuing 3rd and goal.

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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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