Where I’ve Been And Where I’m Going

I have been neglectful of the blog lately, and I hope to change that soon.

For now, here’s a quick schedule of where you’ll find me over the next few months:

  1. On Saturday, February 6th, I will be speaking at SQL Saturday Cleveland.  My topic is integrating Hadoop with SQL Server.
  2. On Tuesday, February 23rd, I’m going to be speaking at the Triangle .NET User Group Polyglot Programming SIG.  Don’t tell anyone, but I really need to start that talk soon…
  3. On Saturday, February 27th, I will be speaking at SQL Saturday Tampa.  I’m not sure yet what my topic will be.
  4. On Saturday, March 5th, I will be speaking at SQL Saturday Chicago.  I will give my introductory Hadoop talk there.
  5. On Thursday, May 5th, I will be speaking at the Roanoke Valley .NET User Group.  I’ll be giving my APPLY Yourself talk there.
  6. On Tuesday, July 5th through Thursday, July 7th, I will be a presenter at DevTeach in Montreal, Canada.  I will give two talks there, one on integrating Hadoop with SQL Server and one on the nice security features in SQL Server 2016.

This is shaping up to be a busy year for me as a speaker, and hopefully you’ll be able to catch me somewhere.

Harvard grads and the Browns: gotta catch ’em all!

Cleveland added its Vice President of Player Personnel, Andrew Berry, who will sort of be the GM. He’ll do player evaluations, make the original draft board, and have input on the final roster (although final say goes to Sashi Brown). Waiting For Next Year has an awesome write-up.

Overall, it seems like a great move, and fully in keeping with the new philosophy. It’s so smart, I’m slightly suspicious that it isn’t Brownsian enough. We are getting ourselves quite the front office!

A bevvy of new coaches for Cleveland

Cleveland has a new defensive coordinator (same as the old coordinator?) and a bunch of offensive assistants now.

I don’t like Ray Horton. I’m mystified as to why Hue Jackson hired him. He’s not Jim O’Neill, so +50 points for that, but Horton was mediocre at best in the past. Maybe he’ll turn things around, but I’m not confident that Horton was the right man for the job.

Al Saunders and Pep Hamilton won’t be offensive coordinators, but some sort of vaguely titled offensive assistants. Hamilton has a good record in college and worked well in Indianapolis for a year. Saunders, allegedly the senior offensive assistant, is a good find, albeit one who normally ran a complex offense.

Kirby Wilson helped run some of the finest rushing attacks in football in Pittsburgh and Minnesota; he’s a solid pickup. Hal Hunter is supposed to be the new offensive line coach; he’s another guy with a good track record.

Horton is the only hire I don’t like. I don’t know what kind of scheme he intends to install, but I just don’t like his record. Hopefully Hue Jackson sees something in him that I don’t.

End of Madden 16

I haven’t officially traded it in yet, but I’ve deleted it from the PS4, so there’s that. I thought I’d share some final thoughts about Madden 16 and what could be improved for next year.

— The email system needs an overhaul. I would love to get useful emails, like “Joe Thomas retired and entered the Hall of Fame” instead of “you won your game 56-14.” The game I just finished.

— The franchise UI could use an overhaul too, but I consider it less important than a working email/news system. I gradually figured out where stuff was. Now, I hope they don’t completely change it again next year.

— Defensive XP needs to be addressed. They added Franchise sliders in the last patch, which is a good short term fix, but for next season, it needs rebalancing. The problem is unrealistic defensive stat goals; your season/weekly goals give you most of your XP, but if you’re playing 10 minute quarters, you’ll never get 100+ tackles. Interceptions are so hit or miss that you can’t rely on them; same for passes defensed. The result of the present system is that defensive players rarely get a lot better unless they’re heavy pass rushers. I don’t know how useful the franchise sliders might have been to fix this problem, but I would definitely set them to the highest possible setting to try to mitigate the fact that you’ll probably never hit most of the goals unless you play straight 15 minute quarters.

— The game doesn’t keep track of past awards any more, which is kind of sad. Stats tracking is equally disappointing; no hurries, no drops (except on a game to game basis), etc.

— I’d like to see a more dynamic contract system, but I think the contract AI is better this year than in years past. Players typically don’t ask for mega contracts unless they deserve one. I’d like to be able to restructure contracts, but honestly, it’s hard to get into cap troubles without seriously pigging out on free agents. Build through the draft and you’ll be fine.

— Speaking of the draft, I think it’s really well done. You can try to trade for picks, trade down, etc. It’s harder to dump picks, because the AI is smarter at figuring out your likely pick value. I can’t win three Super Bowls and expect the AI to automatically think my pick is worth a #5 overall. Smart scouting will still find you steals. I would love to see UDFAs automatically added to your team from time to time; I miss cut day being meaningful. They also tell you immediately what your pick is worth after choosing; I like that, but also miss finding out how good they are over the course of the preseason. It made the preseason feel relevant.

— I would like scouting to be slightly more in depth. Finding out the top three skills is nice, and helps you get a good amount of info on every player. I like bringing back the Combine stats. What I’d really like is a) shortlists so I can remember which players I liked and b) a way to get a little more information if I invest more heavily into one or two players. If I need a linebacker, I want to be able to scout nothing but linebackers and get lots of information.

— As far as gameplay goes, I played on Pro with no slider tweaks. In past years, I’ve used sliders to optimize my experience, but this year I was more or less okay with the base experience. Once I figured out the playbook and maximized the west coast offense’s potential, I won most games pretty easily. However, the stunted defensive growth meant that, in season 4, I was scoring 50+ but allowing 30 points a game. Stopping the run was usually easy enough, but stopping the pass was much harder. The biggest problem is dumb cornerback play. Basically, the key to stopping the other guy is a consistent pass rush. If you can’t get it, you have to rely on your DBs to make great plays, and they just don’t. I appreciate the amount of time that went into individual wide receiver/cornerback battles. It’s added a new dimension to the game. However, when your 90+ OVR cornerback consistently misjudges the ball, it’s disappointing. I can’t tell you how many times Joe Haden would try to jump the pass instead of playing the receiver and fail, miserably. Goal line passes almost always work against me because the DBs would always stand at the very back of the endzone. I almost never saw linemen get their hands up. Also, every tight end is Rob Gronkowski unless you have the greatest middle linebackers in the world. Tight ends shredded me regularly because nobody could cover them. I don’t deny that part of the problem might have been my low quality linebackers and young corners, but I shouldn’t be utterly helpless without a pass rush.

— They desperately need to bring back defensive assignments. There’s a lack of easy ways to make substitutions, especially if you choose your plays by play type. Unless I go into one of the other playbook modes, I can’t easily bench my HB without altering the depth chart for a few plays. Because auto-subs don’t work, unless you use your depth chart smartly, or purposefully choose low stamina guys, you’ll have a guy who gets 300+ carries every year.

— Speaking of making defensive adjustments, I hate how hard it is to make them in-game. In the past, for example, receiver spotlight (make your team pay more attention to a single player) was R2 + the receiver’s button. Now, it’s four different button presses. You might be able to get that in before the AI snaps, but probably not, and you certainly couldn’t make other adjustments. Offensive adjustments are much easier, and I like that they introduced offensive line shifts this season. It shows you play art for audibles before you choose them, which I also like. Defense requires more effort, which is a shame, because it’s defensive adjustments that need the most help.

— All of the above said, Madden 16 simulates football better than any other game I know. Gang tackling works beautifully. Timing the snap count on defense is tricky, but usually worth it. The receiver battles do make the game more exciting and makes tall receivers very much worth having. The depth chart you access in the Franchise screen is wonderful, provides a lot of information, and helps you see your team’s strengths and weaknesses easily.

— Since I’m much better at running an offense than a defense in Madden 16, a few pointers there. First, learn your scheme and target players for your scheme. Confidence is important, and players who fit will play better than players who don’t. You can afford a misfit or two, but by and large, stick to your scheme. The game helpfully labels every player in the game, so if I want a West Coast QB, I can find them easily. Second, your QB determines your offense. For example, for seasons 1-3, I had weak armed QBs. Speedy receivers who couldn’t jump were worthless, because I couldn’t throw far enough to lead them significantly. In season 4, I got a strong armed QB (who was still considered West Coast because his base deep accuracy stunk), and my goodness, did it open up my options. I couldn’t fit balls into tight spaces, and he wouldn’t always be on target, but he could actually lead receivers enough that the DBs were helpless. All three of my QBs had clear advantages and disadvantages. Third, use speed burst judiciously. Wait for holes to open before you hit them. Try to save it for when you need just a bit of extra speed to get past a defense.

I might have more thoughts later on, and I’m happy to answer questions if you have them, but otherwise, this will probably my last post on Madden 16.

 

No more Flip :(

Hue Jackson decided to retain special teams coach Chris Tabor (yay!), but since he is calling his own plays, decided not to have an offensive coordinator. That means the Coach Flip (FLIPFLIPFLIPFLIP) era is now over. If Minnesota approves, we’ll have our running back coach too.

For defensive coordinator, the situation is murkier. Terry Pluto reports that Jackson wants old DC Ray Horton back.  I think that’s a mistake; he’s never been especially impressive in the role. Cleveland.com ran a segment on other possible choices. I love the idea of adding Leslie Frazier or Jim Schwartz, both of whom ran successful defenses in the past. Maybe we can still get Matt Patricia if he becomes an assistant head coach?

Another important role to fill is QB coach. One possibility is Pep Hamilton, who had a hand in developing Andrew Luck. Of course, we need to find a QB too. I think we’ll be looking very hard at Jared Goff or Paxton Lynch in the draft.

The Browns have a new head coach

He was #5 on my list, but he was #1 in the opinion of Jimmy Haslam and company. Say hello to Hue Jackson, new coach of the Browns! On one hand, I like the move: Cleveland will need a good offensive guy to (finally?) get the running game working again. On the other hand, I still wanted Matt Patricia. Cleveland’s offense was mediocre, but the defense was actively terrible. A healthy Joe Haden will help, but not enough to make the defense good enough for the AFC North.

One of Hue’s first decisions: so long, Johnny Manziel. I can’t imagine we’d get much in a trade, but his bizarre behavior over the last couple of weeks of the season all but doomed him. We have to hope Jerry Jones really wants him. I think he’s more likely to be cut than traded, but we’ll see.

The good news is that with the #2 pick in the draft, Cleveland has its pick of QBs, since Tennessee is extremely unlikely to take one. Cleveland could also trade down and fill some other holes, hoping that McCown can get things done for a season. In any case, we’ll have to see how Hue Jackson deals with the new analytical approach of the Browns.

Buffalo’s Defense Will Be Worse

The Bills hired Rob Ryan.  Rob and Rex will run the defense while “defensive coordinator” Dennis Thurman will handle defensive backs.

Considering that Rob Ryan is probably the worst defensive coordinator in the NFL and that Rex Ryan took a 4th-ranked defense and turned it into near the bottom of the barrel, this is a terrible sign for Buffalo.

The truest thing anybody ever said about Rob Ryan comes from Mike Tanier:

Coverage: The Saints have trouble getting the play in from the sidelines. Defenders are looking at Dennis Allen on the sideline shrugging their shoulders. Kenny Vaccaro is actually calling Rob Ryan on his cellphone. Also, there are only nine Saints on the field.

Other teams think: Quick-snap the ball and just fling it to Johnson, the way the Jets did when the Titans got mixed up and left Brandon Marshall uncovered!

The Lions think: We need to be unpredictable. This might be a good time to get T.J. Jones involved.

Yeah, we’re having a lot of laughs at Jim Bob Cooter’s (and Dennis Allen’s) expense. But it would be worse if Joe Lombardi were still coordinating the Lions plays and Ryan were trying to stop him.

Fan in the stands: “Johnson is going to clear out deep, with Tate running an in-route.”

Guy on Twitter: “Johnson is going to clear out deep, with Tate running an in-route.”

Richard Sherman, watching from home: “Johnson is going to clear out deep, with Tate running an in-route.”

Lombardi: “Let’s have Johnson clear out deep while Tate runs an in-route.”

Ryan: “I smell a running play.”