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Video Game Football - Tips to Improve Your Game 
Posted on September 22, 2011 at 01:17 AM.
OFFENSE - Passing
  • Don't just snap the ball quickly. 80% of the play is won pre-snap reading the defense's alignments and coverage, and perhaps making adjustments, audibling, hot-routing, line-shifts, motioning, or putting a TE/FB back to block.
  • Before the snap, pick two go-to-guys. At the snap, during the automated drop, quickly decide who seems open, so that when the QB plants his feet completing his drop, you can quick-release a pass to the most open receiver.
  • If controlling the QBs drop yourself or moving around in the pocket, release the Left thumb-stick to ensure his feet are planted before passing the ball, otherwise you will spray the ball more.
  • If passing over the top of coverage, whether short/med/deep, use more loft. If passing into a tight space, whether short/med/deep, use more velocity.
  • A split-second after pressing the pass button, use the Left thumb-stick to add touch on the pass. It gives the ball extra direction where you push it, so your receiver will leap or run towards that direction. The idea is to put the ball where your receiver has the best play on the ball.
  • If you have time in the pocket, pump-fake to make DBs with lower awareness bite.
  • If you drop back and see a blitz coming from a particular place, generally that means there should be a receiver open there, or a receiver on that side of the field left in single coverage.

OFFENSE - Rushing
  • Pre-snap, analyze the defense's alignments and coverage. Are you out-numbered to the side of the ball you're running to? Change the direction of the play. If you chose an outside rush and the defense is spread out, audible to an inside rush. And vice versa. Is there a LB on the edge of the LOS that might pose a problem? Shift the line's blocking.
  • Depending on the design of the rushing play, some require you to sprint the second you get the ball into a gap, some require you to be patient and allow a gap to open.
  • The exact same rush play against different defensive formations/plays, and different LB/DL shifts, will cause your blockers to behave differently every time.
  • Learn to read your blocker's behavior at the snap. Follow them as they take out defenders, or maybe alter direction towards a gap that appears elsewhere.
  • Don't just receive the hand-off and robotically push the thumb-stick in a direction. Rushing requires more art. Really work the Left and Right thumb-sticks and buttons on every rush.

OFFENSE - Receiving
  • Generally, if your receiver is wide open, it's better to let him catch the ball. While if he's crowded or has work to do to get to the ball, it's better to user-control him and user-catch.

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DEFENSE - Pre-Snap Adjustments
  • Learn to be quick and decisive with the menu-adjustments as you will only get a few seconds before the offense snaps the ball. Focus on the more important DB/LB/DL adjustments than the individual player adjustments.
  • Analyze pre-snap how your defense's alignment looks against the offensive formation being used. Take note too of where the ball is placed, on hash-marks or not, in terms of where open spaces are. If you read run, see if you're outnumbered to the weak side, strong side, or the middle. Shift the DL/LBs around so that you're not outnumbered. If you read pass, see if their receivers look to be in open spaces, and shift the LBs/DBs to congest the spaces or call an audible to man up unguarded receivers.
  • The offense is trying to read your defense and also play cat-and-mouse, with fake or real audibles/play-flipping. Mix up from down to down what you're showing and what you're doing. The aim also is to hedge your bets as best you can by ensuring you are not vulnerable pre-snap. Or maybe pretending to be vulnerable where all the blitzers or coverage is actually coming from.
  • If you have LBs with high awareness and play recognition ratings, watch them pre-snap how they move around and signal. They often tell you if the play is a pass or run and to which side of the field a run/pass may go. They're not always right, but it's worthwhile to watch them for hints.

DEFENSE - Manual Control Of Players
  • If you control a LB, understand what a real-life LBs assignment and gap control is about. Try to play that down keeping your player in accord with the designed play, otherwise you will blow your assignment and become a weak-link in that play. The LBs on a run play work together like an elephant-chain with their pre-set gap assignments, and sliding/strafing together as a run play develops mindful of cut-back lanes whilst containing the edge. In pass coverage, they often are in zone coverage. If a receiver enters their zone, they man up on him until he leaves the zone or another receiver enters their zone. If they're in man coverage, they focus on their assignment (RB/TE). If the RB/TE stays back to block, they either provide coverage support, zone the middle, or blitz the QB. So when controlling a LB on a pass play, your eyes should be focused on yourself and letting the CPU-controlled players do their thing.
  • If you control a Safety, more often than not your assignment will be deep coverage. Ensure you're keeping your player in accord with the designed play, and don't blow coverage. If it's a pass play, keep your eyes on yourself, watching the receivers entering your side of the field, providing support to your CBs. If it's a rush play, you need to come down and mop up.
  • If you control a DL-man, you can focus on attacking the QB, especially as he will have his eyes downfield and not notice how well you got past the OL. If it's a run play, your eyes are still always focused on the QB, so you can keep barging thru to hit the RB. When switching from a DL-man to another player during a pass-play, be careful not to keep holding the thumb-stick down in case the QB passes just as you switch, giving you control of a CB and accidently blowing his coverage.

DEFENSE - User-Controlled Button Actions
  • There are times when it's better to manually control a DB for an intercept/swat and times it's better to let the CPU do it. When you do decide to user-catch, press and hold the button right thru the animation. Don't press it and let go or press it multiple times. Same with tackling, press and hold right thru the animation.
  • Use the strafe button as part of LB gap assignment or as a Safety coming across to mop up. Strafing helps you contain the edge if you have the right angle whilst guarding inside cut-back lanes.
  • When hit-sticking, make sure you have a good angle on the ball-carrier, an angle he can't evade, due to other defenders around you having corralled him.

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SPECIAL TEAMS - Field Goals and PATs
  • When attempting long-distance FGs, push the direction arrow all the way down. Like hitting from the tee in golf, a low-line drive for maximum distance.
  • When attempting short-distance FGs/PATs, push the direction arrow bar all the way up to avoid it getting blocked.
  • On 4th and short FGs, use the play-clock and fake snaps to ice any manually-controlled defenders looking to jump the snap early. It can get you a first-down.

SPECIAL TEAMS - Punting
  • When using the max-cover punt, if your kicker is right-footed, steer the ball to your right as that's where the extra gunner (the Upback) is positioned.
  • When you need a long raking punt but also minimize a return, hang-time is important. So don't push the direction arrow down. You'll get less distance, but your gunners will get there sooner and prevent a return.
  • If you're punting on the half-way line or thereabouts, aim for even more hang-time. So push the direction arrow all the way up and lessen the punt power.
  • With really short-field punts, you can also push the direction arrow all the way down but punting with almost zero-power.
  • To perform coffin-corner punts, aim the point of the direction arrow in the general direction of the hash-marks on the screen with some extra height.

SPECIAL TEAMS - Long Kick-Offs
  • Normally, don't touch the direction arrow, just give it max-power. In some game situations, however, it's better to loft it high so the ball drops short of the endzone. Eg, 5 secs left, wanting to avoid your opponent getting a touchback and one last play.
  • Generally, a kick down the middle of the field is safest to prevent kick-returns. If you kick far left or right, you will have fewer players there who can be beaten easily.
  • It's difficult to perfect, but using the accuracy meter or direction arrow, you can force touchbacks where the endzone pylons are. It's a much shorter distance than trying to kick it thru the back of the endzone, which is very rare without a strong breeze at your back.

SPECIAL TEAMS - Squib Kicks and Onside Kicks
  • Using the power/accuracy meter and direction arrow, you can trickle a squib kick deep that stays inside the sideline. Then switching control to a fast gunner, you can sometimes recover the ball, or at least trap the returner for minimal gain.
  • Using the power/accuracy meter, the best way to recover onside kicks is having the ball trickle 10 yards forward. Higher chance that either an immediate recovery from your player occurs, or it bounces off an opponent into your player's hands. A key aspect is to switch control to the nearest player as soon as the ball is kicked so you can take an angle and get speed.
  • If you suspect a Sneaky Onside Kick, control the middle defender and push up on the Left Stick as soon as the ball is kicked.

SPECIAL TEAMS - Kick and Punt Returns
  • If you intend to catch the ball and return it with gunners on top of you, always protect the ball after the catch so you don't fumble. Or just fair-catch it and avoid an horrendous turnover.
  • If you have more time and a chance to make a big return, it's like the art of rushing. Really work the Left and Right thumb-sticks and action buttons, don't just sprint or hold one course of direction. Use your lead blockers too, let them engage defenders, and steer them left/right by your returner changing course of direction.

SPECIAL TEAMS - Performing FG and Punt Blocks
  • To block FGs, manually control a LB and guide him either thru the LOS behind one of your DTs, or put him as an extra guy wide of the LOS guiding him diagonally thru, and jump or dive the moment before the kick.
  • Alternatively, control the wide-most defender, and jump the snap by first pushing down on the Left Stick to get around the blocker, then diagonally head to the kicker and dive.
  • To block Punts, call a Punt Block formation, manually control the furthest player, position him a few yards wider outside, try to beat the snap, and diagonally head for the punter, jumping the moment the punter drops the ball to his foot. Often, the pressure alone will cause a shanked punt.

SPECIAL TEAMS - Defending Against Fake Kicks and Punts
  • To defend a fake punt run, call a Punt Return Middle or Punt Block play. Control a player from the other side of the LOS and place him on the edge of the gap where the Upback is positioned. Move him so he's over the gap, take him back a few steps, and beat the snap sprinting into it and hit-sticking as you meet the Upback.
  • To defend a fake FG pass/run, use either a Punt Block play or use a Goalline man play, whilst also manually controlling a player on the edge of the LOS to guard the flat zone.

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COACHING - Playbooks and Audibles
  • When choosing an offensive playbook, factor in your offensive personnel, the strengths/weaknesses of your roster. Look for playbooks that compliment and highlight your offensive weapons. Some HBs are inside pounders, some speedy scat-backs, some balanced. Some receivers are tall and slow with high jumping, some are small and agile with high elusive ratings. Some QBs excel at med/deep passing, some excel at short/med passing, some have high play-action ratings, some low.
  • It doesn't matter what defensive scheme you use. 4-3, 46, 3-4, Tampa-2. They are all equally effective. The key is to use a scheme that suits your personnel. The 4-3 requires one NT, one UT, two speedy DEs, and three linebackers that are good at both run-stopping and have good coverage skills. The 3-4 requires one NT, two DEs that are like 4-3 UTs, two OLBs that are like 4-3 DEs, and two ILBs that are good at both run-stopping and have good coverage skills.
  • Customize your audibles and save one lot of settings for all your game modes. Reasons being....1) inside games, you only have a few seconds to make audibles and adjustments, so know your audibles like the back of your hand, experienced running them, aware of their strengths/weaknesses.....2) not good every time you start an online game making your opponent wait for hours while you go thru setting your audibles....3) there's a trick the offense can do where you will be told he's called 2 RBs, 2 TEs, and 1 WR, but actually come out in a 5 WR shotgun, so custom audibles can spare you timeouts.
  • When choosing custom audibles, find out first in practice mode what the default audibles are from formations you intend to use. On offense, all formations have default "run", "deep", "play-action" and "quick" audibles. On defense, all formations have default "Cover 2", "Cover 3", "Man", and Blitz" audibles. So when adding your custom ones, avoid doubling-up on those default ones. Maybe choose Cover 4, Zone-Blitzes, Contains, in your defensive custom audibles. Maybe choose Sweeps, Screens, RB dumps, in your offensive custom audibles.

COACHING - Play-Calling
  • Don't be too predictable with your play-calling on either offense or defense. Your opponent will easily figure out your tendencies if you lean on anything too much.
  • On offense and defense, play mind-games in down-and-distance situations to keep your opponent off-guard. 3rd and short: Big-I dive play, 4 WR set RB dive, Big-I play-action deep pass, 4 WR deep pass. 3rd and long: shotgun draw play, I-form toss play, 4 WR set deep pass. Defense, 3rd and long: heavy blitz whilst not showing blitz, or heavy zone whilst showing blitz.
  • In layman's terms, play-calling is about when cycling thru a playbook seeing all those diagrams of plays, with only 5-10 seconds to choose something, knowing what you're selecting and what it's designed for, because you're pre-guessing what your opponent is going to do with his next play. It's an art, learning your opponent's tendencies during a game. It's purely instinctual, feeling, mind-reading. The more you understand the architecture of formations, what kinds of plays they're designed to house, the more you acquire mind-reading ability and make good adjustments and audibles.
  • On defense, always wait for the offense to call their play first, as it will display how many RBs, WRs, and TEs are in on that play. This is crucial so that you select the appropriate defensive formation. It can be handy to use AskMadden/GameFlow from time to time or in a pinch, but don't rely on it when on defense.
  • 2 RBs, 1-2 TEs, 1-2 WRs....call 3-4, 4-3, 46, or Nickel on passing situations.
  • 0 WRs, 2 RBs, 3 TEs...call 46 or Goalline.
  • 3 WRs, 2 RBs, 1 TE...little trickier, sometimes 3-4, 4-3, 46 is good, sometimes Nickel is better.
  • 4 WRs, 1 RB....Call Dime mainly but Dollar and Quarter can be good too.
  • 5 WRs.....call Dollar or Quarter.

COACHING - Practice Mode
  • After choosing a default offensive playbook, treat Practice Mode like OTAs/Camp. Think of yourself as the actual starting QB having to commit to memory the entire playbook, comfortable with every play, knowing what every play is capable/incapable of. Inside games, you will face many down-and-distance situations, many defensive looks and ploys. So that within a few seconds you can know exactly where a play is located and why you're choosing it.
  • Likewise on defense, think of yourself as the actual starting MLB, having to commit to memory the entire playbook, knowing the architecture of every play. Inside games, you will face many down-and-distance situations, and offensive looks. So that within a few seconds you can know exactly where a play is located and why you're choosing it, and how those plays utilize different defensive ploys so that your pre-snap defensive adjustments compliment them.
  • It's advisable to spend hours on end in practice mode, rather than playing online games, for the purpose of experimenting, honing skills, and learning the strengths/weaknesses of plays, understanding the architecture of formations, and scouting your opponent's playbooks.
  • The best way to practice is to first be on pass offense. Put the defense in Random Play mode. Choose a play that has many different routes being run in it. This way you can keep snapping the ball and throwing to all different types of routes, learning the timing required for each one, honing that quick eye-to-hand reflex needed when switching from one intended receiver to the next using the right amount of loft/bullet and lead-receiver thumb-stick pressure.
  • Whilst in pass offense, also speed up your dexterity in making multiple hot-route changes, motioning players, flying thru your pre-set audibles knowing exactly what each audible button gives you.
  • Then choose rush offense, Random Play mode for the defense. Now perform that one rush over and over, getting better at dodging thru traffic, or barging thru it, or speeding around it. Refining the actual ball-carrying techniques for each type of run play, following blockers, reading the defense and making line-shifts.
  • In both pass and rush offense mode, keep re-spotting the ball every 20 minutes. Learn how defenses play-call at different parts of the field, and how certain routes perform differently in various field positions.
  • Then switch to defense, put the offense in Random Play mode, and call a specific defensive play, say Cover 2, and sit there snap after snap for 20 mins learning the architecture of a Cover 2, its design principles, strengths/weaknesses, what types of offensive plays it works well/bad against. Then choose varieties of plays and formations doing the same.
  • Next, choose a specific offensive play you have trouble defending in games, and choose Random Play mode for yourself. Go thru snap after snap seeing what kinds of defensive plays it fails/succeeds against. Then choose a specific defensive play you think works, and test it against that offensive play snap after snap.
  • Also, while on defense, master that dexterity needed making multiple DL/LB/DB adjustments quickly before the QB snaps the ball.
  • Finally, switch to the various Special Teams options, and master kick/punt returns, kick/punt coverages, coffin-corner punts, defending fake punt runs, fake FG passes.

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MANAGEMENT - Rosters and Drafts
  • Management is very much personal philosophy. But there are only three types of players....1) Pure athletes, 2) Football smarts, 3) Combination of both (superstars and first round draft picks).
  • When building a team, a manager's football philosophy will guide his scouting. In video games, the first two player types are not redundant. Some will be adamant that speed/size/strength kills and ignore ratings aligned to football smarts. Some will be adamant that football smarts ratings are key and pass up pure athletes. Both are right. Both types of players have their strengths and weaknesses highlighted and exposed by the AI. A manager can always work those two different types of players into a roster at key positions, or he could work one player type thruout his roster.
  • Pure Athletes: Ratings to look for are essentially QB arm strength and height. HB speed, agility, elusiveness, strength, trucking, weight. WR/DB height, speed, jumping, agility, acceleration, elusiveness. FB/TE/OL/DL/LB strength, height, weight, agility. KI/PU leg strength.
  • Football Smarts: Ratings to look for are essentially QB awareness, play-action, accuracy. FB/HB carrying, catching, vision, blocking, awareness. WR/TE route-running, release, catching, catch in traffic, awareness, blocking. DB/LB play-recognition, awareness, man/zone, tackling, pursuit. OL blocking, footwork, awareness. DL awareness, shed blocking, finesse/power moves, tackling.
  • A basic management consensus is.....if playing a lot of man/blitz, pure athletes are the core element at DB/LB. If playing a lot of zone/blitz, football smarts are the core element at DB/LB. That's about where on defense player types hinges on. DL/OL either football smarts or pure athletes can be used no matter the scheme. If you're a precision passing or heavy-pass team, a QB with football smarts is crucial. If you're a run-heavy or short-passing type of offense, pure athlete QBs are serviceable.
  • Overall player ratings aren't the be-all and end-all when scouting. There are a lot of late-round gems with good football IQ, some with amazing athletic prowess and some IQ but lacking badly in other IQ facets. There are some high-rated early-round players that are over-rated, the football IQ lacking far too much. Scouting draft boards and FA pools and picking up steals and avoiding busts is a huge factor in your teams on-field fortunes, the whole football department hinges on good/bad Management.

MANAGEMENT - Depth Charts and Trading
  • When compiling your depth charts, a lot of the philosophy mentioned before comes into play. Where you put certain player types to emphasize their strengths and hide their weaknesses.
  • A speedy WR with poor football IQ, could be used at the #2 Split-End position to stretch the field and create space for your slower but surer receiver at the #1 Flanker position. Perhaps you have a short and light athletically freakish WR with a very low overall rating. Putting him in the #3 or Slot position despite having many taller better receivers higher-rated than him on your roster.
  • Choosing appropriate playbooks to compliment your management scouting/philosophy is key, as every playbook is purpose-built already highlighting different types of players and talents. Also, every playbook has different types of packages within to allow you to utilize players only for specific situations or plays.
  • Choosing a defensive scheme for your team plays an important role in your scouting, rostering, and depth charts. If going 3-4, you'll need a plethora of highly athletic LBs, and very few DT/DEs rostered. If going 43/46, it'll be the reverse.
  • This leads to another important facet of management, which is player trading. Knowing which players are dispensable, which have a high market value in your league, that you can trade for players at other positions that you either are in need of, or that you might want to stock-pile in.
  • When trading, a common mistake managers make is being all-out for a win-lose situation. Over-valuing their own players and under-valuing other teams' players. It can be the difference at the end of the season. Where they have a dispensable high-rated player, but a desperate need at a position that could take them all the way. But bull-headed or insulting trade offers leaves them with that problem all season, was the difference in the end costing them playoffs/championship.
  • On the flip-side of that, another mistake is managers who gut their rosters for the fun of trading, or trying to re-invent the wheel instead of complimenting an existing strong roster with a few acquisitions.
  • Yet another mistake is managers who are too inactive with their rosters and trading, missing out altogether in a highly competitive market-place full of buyers and sellers.

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Comments
# 1 ubernoob @ Sep 22
Let me say this is a well thought out, informative post. Kudos.
 
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