July 1, 2013 by Sean Childers and Kahyee Fong in News with 2 comments
When New York’s Pride of New York (PoNY) went into their halftime team huddle down one point, there was a sense that they were on the verge of something exciting and might even pull off an upset. Instead, NexGen employed a powerful deep game and blitz transition offense to dominate the second half and pull away for the 15-11 win.
The driver of PoNY’s first half success was efficient defensive line offensive play. Though New York’s OLine was broken early on, their defense managed to get turnovers – often in NexGen’s own half – and took advantage with a couple quick scores. NexGen’s early man defense was a bit tighter and more consistent than PoNY’s. But there were unforced NexGen errors that undermined their workrate: A rare throwaway by Jimmy Mickle on a slippery flick grip, an odd low dump throw to Dylan Freechild.
What changed in the second half? Both teams moved to throwing more deep balls and kept trading field position. But NexGen’s hucks, height, and athleticism were a bit better — it added up. The best second half play epitomized the skill gap: Freechild saw a receiver streaking deep and unleashed a 50-yard inside-out break backhand. A disc that appeared to start six inches off the ground rose a few feet right in time to hit his teammate in the endzone. It was a throw that even the best throwers would love to call their own, and it will certainly be on many NexGen highlight reels.
Even during their second half run, NexGen showed some signs of weakness: turnovers on their own deep shots, tired legs on some marks (most notably in a point when NexGen moved Aaron Honn, rather than Trent Dillon, onto PoNY handler Chris Mazur). NexGen’s Simon Montague emphasized that this team was trying to be less huck-happy than last year’s team, which Ultiworld statistics noted as particularly in love with deep shots.
“We talked before the game about where we wanted the hucks to come from,” said Montague. “We want to be more about the continuation look.” But a second half transition offense that moved the disc quickly after every turn – often deep – showcased that downright scary NexGen style. PoNY players took note. “In the second half, they started shooting like crazy,” said Mazur. “In the first half, discs hung and we had a chance to make a play on them. In the second half, no one could make a play because they were throwing dimes . . . it’s a good thing those guys can’t play in the series.”
Emerging PoNY Handler
Mazur has had quite the Ultimate ride in the past few seasons. Cut early on by PoNY a few years back, Mazur helped lead tri-state area mixed team District 5 to two strong nationals appearances. Now he’s crashed back into the Open and Major League Ultimate scene and shines as New York’s most involved handler.
Late in the MLU season, Mazur suffered a high ankle sprain, one that probably should have slowed him tonight. On one of the few points when Mazur didn’t see defensive workhorse Dillon, he caught every other pass before making a stunningly well-calculated hammer throw (in wind) for the assist. A dynamic thrower who likes to have the disc and take risks, it will be important for PoNY to find the right balance for his usage as he moves into an offensive line role. If this game was any indication, he’s up to the challenge.
“My entire career I’ve been a defensive player, I’ve always had the mentality that if I get it, I can throw to the endzone,” Mazur told us. “Now I have way more responsibility to control the tempo and make sure that the possession is really valued.”
Simon Montague And The Stars That Run NexGen’s Offense
All of the initial offensive metrics we’ve crunched so far point to Simon Montague as the team’s impact leader: he has the highest usage rate, catching about one-fourth of all the passes when he’s been on the field for NexGen, a rate rivaled only by Freechild.
Montague, as well as the usual offensive wrecking crew of Mickle and Freechild, were simply beasts. Montague had over 500 involvement (throwing + receiving) yards; Mickle, Freechild, and Driscoll each had over 200. Montague admitted that being on the team in the past helped him learn how to play with other all-star players. But that trio of Mickle, Montague, and Freechild seem uncannily comfortable taking on leading roles and – equally impressive – the rest of NexGen seems very accepting. Mickle noted that the shorter roster size can help with chemistry and does make it easier to gel, but that there were also “notable differences in chemistry from game to game.”
“Where we’re at, even in game five [versus PoNY] is further along than where we were in the Revolver and Doublewide games,” he said.
The Matchup Critique of our New Defensive Metrics
Earlier today we published an article introducing our four defensive metrics and an overall defensive rating for each NexGen player. A lot of the comments on that piece pushed back on matchup concerns: The best defenders on a given team take the toughest matchups, and that might give the best defenders on NexGen the worst Ultiworld D ratings. People specifically asked how Trent Dillon – a shutdown defender for Pittsburgh and a former club teammate of mine – could have such a low rating.
I wanted to give the matchup critique a good in-person eye test. Based on what I saw tonight, Dillon did indeed take one of the toughest matchups (Mazur) and played it well, though definitely not perfectly. Mazur’s verdict was that Dillon “was the real deal” and played strong defense. And, interestingly enough, if we were only looking at defensive data from this one game alone, Dillon would be a top-five NexGen defender.
I asked Dillon after the game if he had any thoughts about the metrics.
“Honestly, I haven’t played my best defense,” he said. “I expect more of myself. I’m always looking for constructive criticism, and I’m waiting for my standout defensive performance.” Dillon noted that he was a step behind his other stud teammates in one defensive area that our metric weighs highly – getting the block every time he makes the layout bid. Indeed, there was one play in the game where Dillon took off, making a great attempt, but barely missing tipping the disc. He said that he is challenging himself to add that extra element to his defensive game.
Montague, when asked about the metrics and his stellar scores, drew special attention to Dillon’s tight man defensive style. But he also drew a contrast with his own play. “I’m not a pocket defender like Trent,” he said. Instead, Montague said he prefers to take away the upline handler cut first and play some help defense downfield. “I like to leave my guy when I don’t think he’s going to get it, then try to meet him where I think he’s going to go next.”
I talked with PoNY captain and the team’s best player, Jack Marsh (who is also my New York Empire teammate), who said that the NexGen team looked a lot more practiced and cohesive than PoNY right now, but that the PoNY roster is just coming together. He (rightly, in my opinion) praised his team’s effort level and said they cherished the opportunity to play really open lines in a competitive game early in the season.
With a lot of new faces and a serious injury to star player Dan Heijman, PoNY has challenges ahead of it to guarantee a repeat nationals appearance. It’s hard to say anything definitive, though, in a second half that was really more about NexGen execution than PoNY mistakes.