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.”

Browns coaching candidates, ranked

Terry Pluto has a good list of candidates. DBN has some more, including who is getting ready to interview. I’ll rank them. Note that Cleveland hasn’t actually scheduled interviews with some of them, so it’s pure speculation on his (and my) part. I’ve left Jerome Henderson off the list because he’s probably going to Miami with Adam Gase.

10. Tom Coughlin — No interview scheduled, but he’s my least favorite choice. I know he’s a successful coach, but he’s the oldest school of old school among the bunch, which makes him a poor fit for the analytically-inclined New Browns.

9. Doug Marrone — He reminds me too much of Pettine. Pluto says he’s pretty thin skinned and can’t take criticism well. The defense needs help, but I don’t think he’s the right guy to fix it.

8. Teryl Austin — Austin is something of a cipher to me. I know he’s the Lion’s defensive coordinator, but Detroit wasn’t much better than Cleveland this year. By DVOA, they were 16th, with Cleveland at 29th. However, there was only about nine percentage points between them.

7. Paul Guenther — Nothing scheduled for the Bengals’ defensive coordinator, but he’s another one like Austin that I just don’t know that well. The Bengals were pretty good defensively this year, but they also have a much better secondary than we do.

6. Chip Kelly — I think he’s a good fit with the new regime, but I question how willing he’ll be to accept a situation where he has little control over the roster (which is Brown/DePodesta). He’d be top three if I knew he could accept less control.

5. Hue Jackson — The other Bengals’ coordinator, he doesn’t have a track record of developing QBs, but he does have head coaching experience. He’s also well-liked and well-spoken; Cleveland could use one of those guys.

4. Lovie Smith — I don’t know how responsible Smith was for developing Jameis Winston, but he’s got a really good track record as a head coach. No interviews yet, but I would venture Cleveland comes a-calling at some point.

3. Sean McDermott — The more I hear about the defensive coordinator for Carolina, the more I like him. He wants to coach in Philly, so I don’t think Cleveland has a great shot at him, but Cleveland needs a good defensive guy to change things up.

2. Tom DeFilippo — I don’t know if the Browns even want Flip to be a head coach. I love his offensive schemes, though, and with more talent he’d look even better. He creatively got people involved (Duke Johnson, for one). I don’t know if other teams want to interview him, but I’d rather he be HC than lose him.

1. Matt Patricia — Unless, of course, we get this guy. Patricia is a brilliant guy and extremely analytical. He’s gotten the most out of an aging defense. He’s never been Head Coach, which will make the Browns job attractive. If we hired this guy, I would feel better about Cleveland next year than almost any other hire.

Vladimir Guerrero: Hall or Not?

Fangraphs says probably not, given that Jim Edmonds and Larry Walker were clearly superior, yet nobody’s heart would be broken if he got in.

I personally liked him quite a bit. He was fun to watch. He’s got good, not great, numbers. Unlike the other two important guys on the HOF ballot next year, Ivan Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez, there’s never been a hint of PEDs on him. For the record: both would be first ballot HOFers in my view. I think the electorate will give Pudge the nod on the first ballot, but maybe not. After all, as I grudgingly accepted, Piazza was better than Pudge, and Piazza didn’t get in on the first ballot. Then again, maybe Piazza didn’t make it because of the one time he called a press conference to say he wasn’t gay. Or maybe the fact that he secretly thought Hispanic players were conspiring against him, personally? (Piazza was a weird dude, is what I’m trying to get across.)

If I had to put 10 guys on my ballot, there’s no way Vlad makes the cut. Especially when he was a really bad baserunner, maybe the worst of all time. (See the Fangraphs article.) He was also bad defensively except for having a really good arm.

Still, I enjoyed thinking about Vlad as a candidate, almost as much as remembering how hilarious Piazza was. Mickey Pizza, you rascal you.

Go go Team Analytics!

As time continues, more is revealed about the ouster of Pettine and Farmer. While Pettine and Farmer fought each other, they also teamed up to fight Sashi Brown and Alec Scheiner. The latter two would basically say “you guys suck and here’s why, try sucking less next time?” The first two would say “You guys don’t know football, how could you possibly understand it?” And so on.

It was in an effort to create a culture of analytical analysis that the Browns hired Paul DePodesta from the Mets. ESPN, for one, thinks positively of the move, and so do I. His formal job title will be “Chief Strategy Officer,” although Brown is the guy in charge.

The one concern that the original article brings up is that there are no available head coaches who will buy into this philosophy. A lot of them will not take kindly to criticism from people outside of football. I have a suspicion that Brown/dePodesta wouldn’t confine their criticism to purely roster construction; they might start chiming in on stuff like schemes and actual play calls, and very few head coaches would tolerate that willingly.

My proposal: hire Flip to be Head Coach. His inexperience at the highest level would be an asset, not a liability. His job would be to implement the front office’s goals, tinging them with his own experience as a player and coordinator, without being set in his ways.

We shall have to see how the coaching carousel progresses, but I like the idea of trying some new and innovative. I’ll post more as I learn more.

Your 2016 Hall of Fame Class is…

Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey Jr. Full voting results are at Baseball Reference, and paint an interesting picture. To whit:

— Bagwell has 71.6% of the vote, while Tim Raines has 69.8% and Trevor Hoffman has 67.3%. One or all of them could make the Hall next year. There’s one obvious first ballot guy in 2017 (Ivan Rodriguez) and another who should get in but probably won’t because of his positive PED test (Manny Ramirez). Early prediction: Pudge, Raines, and Bagwell get elected next year, with the possibility of Hoffman.

— Every other first timer is off the ballot except Billy Wagner, who got 10% of the vote. Also gone are Alan Trammell and Mark McGwire, who hit their 15 and 10 year marks, respectively.

— Schilling got a huge bump to be over 50%, which means he’ll probably get in some day. Bonds and Clemens broke 40%, as did Edgar Martinez and Moose. Those are good totals, and none of them have been on the ballot for long, so they should get in eventually.

— Two different human beings thought that David Eckstein deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. That’s one more than Garrett Anderson and one less than Mike Sweeney, both of whom were vastly superior players.

— With the 10 year limit, I don’t think Fred McGriff or Larry Walker will get in. I think that’s fair: both players were very good, but neither were slam dunk cases, and they’ll get some attention from the Veterans Committee.

— Griffey was only left off of three ballots. The three guys who didn’t pick him haven’t made their ballots public because they are cowards.