Feature Article
Bolster Your Madden Rushing Attack

As we close in on the two month mark since the release of Madden 08, the jury is still out; is this the best football game to ever hit consoles, or is it just another mediocre next generation Madden?  Is the defensive artificial intelligence better than it has ever been, or has it been made unrealistically overwhelming?  Is getting rid of John Madden’s voice a blessing in disguise, or does that homer of a radio announcer need to go? These questions are all opinionated issues that are certainly up for debate. But here is one complaint I cannot begin to grasp: “The run blocking in this game is horrible! Tiburon really dropped the ball on this one.” This is just not so, and I plan to divulge the secrets to a successful rushing attack, whether your featured halfback is Stephen Jackson or Brandon Jackson.

Right off the bat, some of you may be asking, “Why should I bother running the ball?” Well I'll assume that's a question raised largely by the many Bostonians who are blessed with Moss, Stallworth and Welker at wide receiver, Watson at tight end, and Brady at quarterback. But not everyone has a Madden dream team at their disposal and can afford to pass eighty percent of the time! Now that that’s out of the way …

It is important to commit yourself to an equal (or close to equal) ratio of running the ball to passing the ball.  A 50:50 ratio is ideal, but 60:40 either way can work as well so long as you don’t digress any further. Running the ball, even if it doesn’t appear to be effective in yards gained or yards per carry is invaluable in other ways.

First and foremost it keeps opposing defenses off balance.  If your rushing attack is not a threat, or even worse, if the possibility of you running the ball is not a threat, then the defense can have their linemen and any blitzing members of the linebacker corps or secondary pin their ears back and rush the edges all game long. This, in effect, can cause your passing game to suffer as well.

Take a look at the alternative then, where running the ball can actually help your passing game.

 Even if your tailback isn’t tearing through the defense and averaging seven yards per carry -- the important factor is forcing the defense to acknowledge the run, most likely opening things up for you in the passing game. Of course, if your stud coming out of the backfield is breaking into the secondary on a regular basis, this is even more helpful in the passing game.

There are few things which a defense finds more frustrating than watching a running back find seams and shed tackles effortlessly en route to consistent gains. This frustration often causes the defense to commit a safety or two to attack the line of scrimmage and help out with run support, leaving a cornerback on an island with your wide receiver deep down the field. Therefore, the playaction pass can be absolutely lethal if you have the run game clicking -- leaving the opposing quarterback on the sidelines wishing his team could run the ball as effectively as you.

Now that we know why it is of such great importance to run the ball, how exactly can it be done?  It seems that in this year’s version of Madden, the defensive line is sporadically blessed with a special gift to break through the line of scrimmage virtually untouched, leaving the running back flattened for a big loss. It also seems that, when we most need a big run, the guard just whiffs on the block. How can that be countered?{mospagebreak}

The first and most obvious piece of advice is to know your runner. Take it from my experience as an avid fan of the Philadelphia Eagles: Running a sweep with Tony Hunt is not quite as effective as running a sweep with Brian Westbrook. Every back in the game has their strengths, and it is your job to take advantage of them. While backs like Westbrook can run the ball between the tackles, he is unquestionably more effective at bouncing the ball to the outside and outrunning the defense; while his understudy, Senor Hunt, can get you those tough yards between the tackles.

Once you know what kind of players you are dealing with, the issue becomes what plays to pick. Whether you run dives, slams, counters, sweeps, fake handoffs or draws, each has their perks and each has their weaknesses. The important thing, however, is to utilize many plays. Of course, some of these runs will work better than others, but it's nonetheless important to mix it up, because if you don’t, eventually it will come back to haunt you. 

 For example, the counter is a favorite run of many, and with good reason. If the defense bites and commits to the right side of the field when, in fact, your running back is taking off down the left side of the field, that's huge.

But if the defense sniffs out the play's frequency, your running back is left fully exposed in that split second where he’s planting his feet to take off in the other direction, and is a sitting duck for an easy tackle for loss. A final note on run selection. It is important to run out of any and all formations; thereby avoiding the trap that many fall into by running almost exclusively out of two-wide sets.

So now you know your personnel, you know what plays you want to run, yet you still can’t get any positive yardage. What gives? A common flaw in many rushing attacks throughout the “Madden Nation” is the tendency to snap the ball as soon as the option to do so arises. This act is in direct violation of one of the most basic fundamentals in football; making the pre-snap read.

Pay close attention to the defense before you snap the ball. Are any defenders blitzing? Which blockers are going to pick up which defenders?  Asking yourself these questions will allow you to form an educated guess as to where your run will take you, acting in assistance to the play diagram which tells you where the run SHOULD take you.

But now that you know approximately where you’re going to run, how do you get there? Another big complaint in the running game this year is that blockers either won’t get out of the running back’s way or they completely miss blocks.

There are two “inconvenient truths” here and no, I am not talking about Al Gore's documentary. First, lead blockers will occasionally plow straight past a defender as they do in real life and second, the running backs are meant to follow the blockers as in real life, not run into them. 

The key to this whole mess? Follow your blockers! Don’t hit the sprint button as soon as the ball is in the running back’s hands because here’s the well-kept secret: Your running back is faster than your lead blocker. Shocking, I know, but if your tailback is sprinting as soon as he has the ball, that is when you run into or past your blockers again -- much like real life. 

Reggie Bush is a big name, a talented athlete and an amazing pass-catcher, yet for all of his skill and stardom, his rushing career so far in the NFL has been nothing short of sub-par. Reggie does in real life what many “Maddenites” do in the game, abandoning his blocks and leaving his speed/evasiveness to do the rest. This method has not brought him much success, nor will it you.

 Think of it like this: If you are running past your lead blocker, in effect taking him out of the play, isn’t that the equivalent of having ten men on the field? Sounds to me like a significant disadvantage. So wait until your blockers engage and then give your runner a speed boost.

To wrap things up, there are a few other miscellaneous tips that should solidify any rushing attack. First, stick with it! Whether you’re up big and perhaps getting bored with running, or you’re down big and don't feel like there's time to run, either way you have to stick with the rushing game. If you forget about the run entirely, that is when the interceptions begin raining down and believe me, when it rains it pours.

That said, do not rely on the run to the extent that you are hesitant to pass. If the defense is coming out with eight men in the box, make them pay for it via the air attack. As LaDanian Tomlinson is finding out these days in the real life NFL, going up against a stacked box is an impossible task regardless of how talented you may be. Lastly, fatigue is a very real factor in this year’s version of next gen Madden. It affects the offensive line, it affects the defense, and it affects running backs. Make use of the Spell HB package to keep your backs fresh and less prone to fumbles while simultaneously tiring out the defense.

On that note, I would be a fool not to acknowledge the very prevalent (and most problematic) fumbling issue in this year's version of Madden.  If you can finish a game with fewer than three fumbles, it is fair to call that a successful day; that is, of course, unless you cover up the ball.  Holding the cover button, particularly when you're running between the tackles, will slow your running back down but will greatly increase your chances of keeping the ball off the turf.

It is my hope that after reading this article you will have great success running the football in Madden 08, regardless of which Jackson you may have in the backfield.