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The 3-4 defense is more popular in the NFL than it has ever been. About half the teams in the NFL employ the defensive set for some if not all of their defensive snaps. And since the 3-4 is so popular, it is assumed that the Madden developers have developed this scheme so it is just as effective as it is in the real NFL.
Unfortunately, that is not really the case. While some Madden gamers can use this defense effectively, the game has simply not adapted its gameplay to fit the needs of the 3-4 on or off the field. But the lack of 3-4 friendliness in Madden can be remedied by the developers. And making Madden more 3-4 friendly would help create a more realistic experience when using the formation, and it would also benefit the general gameplay.
If the developers work to solve the problems that plague the 3-4 in the game, Madden 11 could be considered the year of the 3-4. So let us start on the field and talk about how some realism can be injected into the defense.
Reading the D
It is week two of the 2009 NFL season. Jets vs. Patriots. Jets head coach, Rex Ryan, has his defense show blitz to the left of the formation. Tom Brady sees this and calls for his blockers to pick up the defenders showing blitz. He snaps the ball.
Instantly, Brady catches a glimpse of linebackers blitzing from the right side, not the left as he had seen before the play began. Needless to say, there are a couple of offensive linemen with no one to block on the left side of the formation and a couple of Jets defensive players on Brady’s right sprinting toward him. How incredible would it be to do that in a game of Madden? And it would not be nano-blitzing -- it would just be intelligent defensive play-calling.
Obviously, the offense needs to be in its pre-snap routine a bit longer while reading the defense for this to work. First of all, if a defense’s linebackers or secondary players move up to the line, the AI should be more skilled at reading the potential blitz. The defense should also be able to exercise some sort of control over which players show blitz before the play.
If teams want to double up on a big defensive lineman, they should be able to put two blockers on the guy to contain him. Some teams do employ a zone-blocking scheme, which means that each lineman has a certain area to cover, and any defender that enters a lineman's zone is his responsibility. But the zones should be adjustable so that it is still possible to double team or block an approaching pass rusher. This all sounds like it could make the pre-snap menu too complex, but it is already filled with loads of options for receivers, and few hardcore gamers have any complaints about this. But the offensive line pre-snap menu is oversimplified since it only allows a gamer to angle the blocks linemen take.
The 3-4 would benefit most from this change because many defensive coordinators show blitz with numerous different players since the offense does not know who the fourth rusher will be. But the game obviously requires much more strategy and becomes more realistic if the pre-snap reads are improved.
The double team pre-snap call is so important to the 3-4 that it deserves its own section. Anyone who knows anything about defensive-line play knows that big defensive linemen draw double teams. The 3-4 employs three linemen who are mostly all built like defensive tackles in the hopes that they will plug gaps and force the offense to put two linemen on at least one of their big guys. Nose tackles like Pittsburgh's Casey Hampton and New England's Vince Wilfork are the centerpieces of defensive lines. They must be doubled or else offenses will find a hulking defensive lineman clogging the running lanes.
Madden has very little concept of an offensive line double team. Sometimes a defensive lineman will break free from a block and run into a nearby offensive lineman who is not engaged in a block. That sort of looks like a double team, but the offensive linemen are not actively doubling the nose tackle, so it is more of a tag team where the offensive linemen take turns engaging the defender. Thus, blitzes become less effective because rushing linebackers tend to run straight into a lineman who does not need to double an enormous nose tackle.
So of course this change would be a tremendous benefit for the 3-4. But how does it help the users who do not use the 3-4? Guys like Dwight Freeney, Julius Peppers, Jared Allen and Mario Williams are all defensive ends in 4-3 schemes who are often blocked by two linemen if the offense does not feel one lineman can do the job. The double-team block limits the effectiveness of these blitzing monsters, but it could also could allow the defense to try blitzing other defenders since two offensive linemen would be tied up blocking these superstar defensive ends. This would also benefit the run game because a double team would limit the ability of a defensive lineman to break off a block just as a halfback runs through his gap, which has been an annoying problem for the running game in Madden.
Of course, part of making double teams necessary is giving the size of a player more impact. Madden 10 supposedly gave height and weight more importance when a tackle was engaged, but how about in the blocking game? If size were to impact the effectiveness of blocks, it would be overwhelming to stop the full force of guys like the 325 pound Casey Hampton. That would make a double-team more necessary if an offense plans to contain the 3-4 nose tackle.
Also, as difficult as this feature might be to implement into the game, height should also play an important role in blocking. Julius Peppers is 6-foot-7. His height allows him to see over players, and his long wingspan allows him to manipulate a shorter offensive lineman when engaged in a block. Dwight Freeney, on the other hand, is 6-foot-1. He is at a disadvantage when engaged in a block, so his specialty is the spin move, which allows him to escape the reach of taller linemen.
The Madden development team needs to find some way to factor size into the equation when linemen battle it out in the trenches. Having height and weight play a greater role would give taller, heavier players a general advantage, which would make them a preferable choice in free agency and the Draft.