Around the nation, there are thousands of Madden tournaments played monthly on the local level. This can range from you playing EA's best seller with your friends to much larger events. EA itself has a tournament to crown their own Madden champion. What I show you here will not make you a master though. You CANNOT teach every situation in football, and Madden football does a great job of simulating this. I'm giving you the lumber. I'm giving you the tools. Put on your hard hat, we're going to build your legacy, step-by-step:
- Find a team, and stick with it. Ignore all of the statistics, bad records, and such. EVERY team in Madden football can be good. Each team has its own personality. Don't just use the 97 rated New England Patriots. Experiment with other teams. Experiment with "bad" teams as well. Remember that although you may hold the best team, your opponents will be using the best teams too. They probably have experience knowing where the holes in the Patriots are, such as lack of speed at linebacker (which means tight ends can run corners and deep posts). Even though you can be the best with all teams, there are some that are harder than others to handle.
Learn what you're good at. Play against the AI for a bit and find out what you're good at. Go back to the drawing board, try plays you didn't try before. Most people who do not do well when playing human players at Madden do so because they try to either call the same one play multiple times, or because they try too many things without having a plan. Focus on entire plays and how they are run more than simply the route of a single player.
- Easy teams: These teams have few weaknesses to cover up. These teams are easy to use even if you're inexperienced: Patriots, Steelers, Chargers, Jaguars, Colts, Eagles, Cowboys, Seahawks.
- Difficult teams: These teams have few positions of skill, and are only for experts. People using these teams are mostly fans of these teams. If being a beloved fan of your team is what you want, then stick with your team to keep yourself motivated. If you're not a fan of these teams, stay away from them: Bills, Jets, Raiders (my team!), Buccaneers, Lions, Vikings.
- Moderate teams: Most teams have at least several personalities for you to utilize in your game plans. Teams in Madden football require you to know something about their players, as well as the overall mold of what you have (are most of them tall, do they have fast wide receivers?). The best teams in this category are the Bears and the Rams in my opinion. Teams like the Browns and the Dolphins are closer to difficult.
Randy Moss may be fast, and he may have good hands, but he may not have burned the entire defense for a touchdown unless that tight end on his side was running a post which occupied the attention of the safeties. Different teams are good at different things, and different people have different philosophies. Don't let someone tell you a play is good without actually attempting it yourself.
Know something about the team you're playing against. You and your buddy are talking smack to each other. He says he's going to kick your behind with the San Diego Chargers. While you're talking smack back, have in the back of your mind how you are going to attack this team. You'll probably keep in mind that you have to limit Antonio Gates and stop LaDanian Tomlinson from turning your entire defense into his personal highlight reel. ALWAYS know the stars and playmakers.
Be a game manager. This doesn't mean you have to play a slow, conservative game, but know how to manage an entire game and all of the situations that occur. Though the theory of Madden is being a field general, the first step toward managing a game isn't in the game itself. Have a plan for multiple situations. Try to visualize the game. Have a picture in your head of how your challenger is going to play you, and know how you are going to deal with it. Here are some tips on how to be a good game manager:
Know the special controls. Nearly all people have the speed burst, juke, and spin buttons in their pure muscle memory if you've played Madden long enough, but asking your right corner to shade inside on a short slant isn't something you think about (coverage audible + button of defensive back + L/R to shade left or right). Be sure to know how to manipulate your linebackers, and know how to manipulate your defensive line. Disguising coverage (Coverage audible R). Blitz or drop back linebackers (R for linebacker audible, up/down on right thumb stick), Pass/Run commit (up/down on right thumb immediately after start of play). There are far too many small things to list on here as well.
Understanding momentum. EA was brilliant in simulating actual human beings on a football field ever since its first Madden. This was something done by no other game, and no other game since has the depth of artificial intelligence that Madden does. Players play the pass on third and long, and they attempt to stop the run in the 4th quarter when they are behind. One thing lost in this, however, is team and player momentum.
- Mentally script your first drive. You don't have to write it down, but think about how you are going to attack on your initial offensive drive of the game. Think of what ratio of run-to-pass you wish to use. Your initial drive dictates the pace of the game. Even if you just want all runs, make sure you stick to that. Unsuccessful plays still force your opponent to look at what you're doing, so never stray quickly from what you want to accomplish.
- Play sound situational football. Keep track of the game clock, the play clock, down, distance, yard-line, and have a general idea of what the other team is trying to accomplish on offense or defense. A few situations are explained below.
- Watch for tendencies. This is tied into situational football. Watch what your opponent does in specific situations. Does he throw on first down more than run? Does he run on third and long? What about second and short? Keep tendencies in mind but do not compromise your defensive integrity! Either choose a specific player which will help accomplish what you wish (if you are good at controlling the defense or the offense), or pick a play where someone will be in better position within the defensive philosophy.
- Keep within basic defensive designs. That's not to say you should call the same plays over-and-over, but keep your goals simple and wide-encompassing. Don't just say "I want to play to stop the right outside run this game." Instead simply say "I want to stop the run" while looking for situations where your opponent may use right outside runs, and calling the proper plays to stop the run on that side of the field.
When a team gets a big play, gets a big stop, converts on 4th down, gets a turnover, etc... momentum is gained by that team. Momentum is the unseen effect of the game on players that EA doesn't put into a statistic or talk much about, but is there. Players are much more vulnerable to run fakes and counters on defense, or dropped passes, poor throws, and fumbles on offense. Momentum is something that I can't show you, but is something you'll have to learn and know that's there.
No one likes a cheeser. "Cheesing" is the act of abandoning the concept of Madden in order to take advantage of glitches in the game, or using the same or similar plays with the intent of finding something that's impossible to stop on that game. Sadly, an estimated 10% of players fall under this category. Don't be one of them. You will, however, need to learn what to do in certain obvious cheese situations, and here are a few examples:
- THE ENGAGE EIGHT CHEESER: Engage eight is a play which sends all players on upfield blitzes except for the two outside corners and the free safety. It's the easiest thing to stop IF you understand what's vacated. Tight end flats, outs, hooks all work well, but the best way to combat engage eight, I have found, is a slant to your right side receiver. If you can get some time, look for your tight end in the corner, as after one broken tackle he's likely to score.
- THE MICHAEL VICK RUNNING CHEESER: Oh yeah, the Falcons sometimes make you want to pull your hair out, right? The solution is simple. Use contains, and quarterback spies (small orange circles on your play calling). I almost always run nickel coverage against the Falcons based on their speed at running back, especially if the nickel back is a decent tackler. Surprisingly, pressure up the middle can also hurt a Vick runner, as making him run back costs him yardage.
- THE DEEP BOMB CHEESER: These are the people who almost always throw the ball deep to their speedy receivers. Heavy blitzing is usually the answer to this kind of cheeser, as the tight end and running backs usually don't look as imposing if someone doesn't look at them. Pay attention to the degree that this is done too, as that should determine how often or heavy you blitz more than two people.
- THE GOAL LINE RUNNING/FB DIVE CHEESER: This is a rare kind of cheesing that I have only encountered a couple of times. The player lines up in the goal line (he usually flips it so the strong side is on the left) and uses a run by the fullback. People who do this may sub out their starting running back and place him at fullback, while placing a speedy runner as the new starting halfback. Against the goal line, you are thinking goal line defense, right? No. I suggest running standard 4-3 or 4-6 Normal, and crashing your defensive line. Blitzing one or both safeties works very well, because the safeties have the speed to pursue runs to the outside if the halfback is the one receiving the ball.
- THE QUARTER DEFENSE CHEESER: People who run quarter defense all of the time use blitzing by defensive backs to stop the run. Play action doesn't work so well because of the speed of the blitzing defense and because of the quick pressure they apply. There are a couple of ways to run against a quarter defense like this: You can throw him out of his rhythm by running in goal line formation a couple of times. This will probably cause him to lose his philosophy right off the bat. Tight ends work better than fullbacks against spread defense formations.
Misdirection runs work well as well. You might also be able to break huge runs by matching his spread with a spread of your own, and running the ball out of it. Perhaps a trips bunch formation would work as well, but I cannot tell you the results of that. Don't give up on running against this cheeser and playing into his game plan of discouraging such.
- THE PUNT/FG BLOCK CHEESER: It's all about the snap of the ball on a punt, and many players have keyed in on when your kick meter starts. Players time the time between when you start your meter, and when they think it is at the top, then jump the snap of the ball. The key to stopping this is not to run maximum protection on your punts, but rather to vary the power of your kicks. Wait until the meter reaches the top, then halfway back down to force an offsides penalty.
These tips should help you, but they won't make you a great player. You have to combine your own knowledge with your experience, and add it with your personality to create a unique player. All generals of history have their own personalities, and none of the best are ever accused of copying off of one another, so why can't you be a field general for the ages? There's no reason why you can't be, so let's do it!