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Madden NFL - title

I recently wrote regarding a proposal for improving practice squad and training features by hiding player ratings until the player has played enough games to reveal them. Of course, there's still a lot of other aspects of the game that I'd like to see improved. I was pleased that this year's Madden 17 implemented some items from my wishlist from last year. There's still a lot from last year's wishlist that I'd like to see implemented in some fashion. Playing Madden 17 has also raised new ideas for improvement.

Let's start out by going over some of the things that are left over from last year's wishlist:

Loose ball A.I. was a point on my wishlist last year, but it wasn't addressed, as evidenced by this clip.

Now, admittedly, a lot of the following suggestions are going to be based on my own subjective experiences with the game. And these opinions come from someone who is almost exclusively a single-user Franchise player. My priorities are going to be far different from the desires of MUT players or even online franchise players.

I'm also not going to bother (right now) with the obvious problems: rubberband AI that creates obnoxiously artificial "momentum swings", the broken man coverage, robo QBs, the complete unwillingness of my linemen to block at the point of attack on run plays, or the down-tuning of new features (such as throw out of sack, aggressive catch, and defensive line moves) to the point of irrelevance, and so on. Instead, I'm going to try to focus on less-obvious mechanics that interact with these problems and which have forced EA to make the [bad] decisions that they've made.

Better run-pass balance and longer games

The general design of Madden isn't very run-friendly. The fact that the game is balanced and tuned for quick, 6-minute quarter, pick-up-and-play online matches (instead of full 15-minute quarter games) means that grinding it out on the ground to establish the run is futile. Trying to run the ball in a 6-minute quarter game (with accelerated clock turned ON, which is the default) can rapidly burn through time. I regularly eat up an entire quarter and a half in a single drive when I commit to the running game in such matches, and that is just unrealistic. This forces both players and the CPU to depend on the passing game to score before a half expires. In my opinion, this is a fundamental design flaw of Madden, and the game will never be truly great as long as 6-minute quarters is the focus of design.

Madden 17 - low rushing yardage
Madden's fundamental design is not very run-friendly.

But fundamental design flaws aside, my experience with Madden 16 and 17 has been that the CPU is completely inept at running the ball. Even when the blocking is solid, the CPU-controlled back can rarely identify and hit the hole, and usually runs right into a waiting defender or one of his own blockers. CPU backs are even worse at running to the outside, as they'll often run backwards in a futile attempt to get to the edge, instead of just cutting upfield for whatever yardage they can get. This often leads to large losses of yardage, backs up the CPU, and contributes towards the CPU's over-reliance on passing the ball. I usually play with the CPU Run Blocking A.I. slider up between 80 or 100, and yet CPU running backs still routinely finish games with stats along the lines of 15 rushes for 20 total yards. Pathetic. If a CPU runner does have a successful game, it's usually because they broke one or two long runs due to a missed tackle, and 90% of their yardage total comes from one or two plays. Also pathetic. Seriously, I have rage-quit games because of the CPU's ineptitude.

CPU Doug Martin runs right into his pulling guard [LEFT] instead of going inside like the trap play is designed.
CPU Doug Martin has a huge hole with only a single cornerback to beat [RIGHT], but cuts into traffic instead.

I also have a lot of trouble running the ball myself with my own Run Blocking A.I. slider set to anything below 65 or 70. To be perfectly honest, I'm not very good at using the game's evasive moves, so part of the problem is my own failure as a player. My own lack of evasive skill notwithstanding, run blocking isn't particularly good for the human player either. Defenders routinely break free of the one key block at the intended running hole and tackle my backs for no gain or even short losses. Often this happens so quickly that there isn't even a chance for me to use an evasive move.

The running game for both the human and CPU needs to be improved in future iterations of Madden. In addition, I would also like to see either an A.I. slider for "Run / Pass Ratio" or for coach schemes to include adjustable run / pass ratios - preferably both. This should help make running the ball more viable and lead to teams running the ball more realistically. At the very least, it would allow individual users to tailor the CPU's play-style to the user's liking.

Madden 17 - CPU can't get to edge
CPU runners routinely give up large chunks of yardage trying fruitlessly to reach the edge.

Running by committee

Very few teams these days have every-down bell-cow running backs, yet teams in Madden rarely ever execute a running back rotation. Other than the occasional substitution from fatigue, a CPU team will almost always stick with the same back for the entire game. There should be options in coachs' schemes for whether they utilize a committee backfield. A runner being an every-down back or a bell-cow back could maybe also be a trait for individual players. Not having such a player on your roster should force a CPU team to default to a committee backfield. Much like with Run / Pass Ratio, I'd also like to see "Committe Backfield" be an A.I. slider setting so that users can customize the game to provide the experience they want.

To further this goal, I propose a new depth chart position: "Short-Yardage Back" or "Red Zone Back". This would be a supplement to the Third-Down Back position that is already present in Madden depth charts, but would be geared specifically for third-and-short, fourth-and-short, and goal line offense. This would be another way of introducing more backfield committees.

Madden 17 - short-yardage back
Bell-cow running backs are rare in the modern NFL, and alternate backs are often used for short-yardage situations.

Further, play call suggestions should take personnel into account. If a bruising power back is currently playing, more power running plays should be suggested. On the other hand, while your quick scat back is on the field, the play suggestion should favor tosses, sweeps, stretch plays, and other running plays that try to get the back to the edge. It would also be nice if the ability to toggle different personnel subs was available in the play-call methods other than formation. I never use formation play-calling because I prefer to call plays based on concepts or schemes rather than on where everyone lines up. Because of this, if I want to sub in my spell halfback, I have to go into the depth chart and do it.

Get rid of the tackle battle

Madden 17 - tackle battle
I often fail tackle battles because
I want to switch to another defender.

And you know what, let's just get rid of the tackle battle mechanic. I often press X to try to stiff-arm nearby defenders, which often forces me to fail the tackle battle quicktime if X isn't the button I'm supposed to press. On the other side of the ball, I routinely press O to change to another defender after my current defender hits or wraps up the ball-carrier. I do this in order to put an extra guy in position in case the tackle is broken. Well, if a tackle battle occurs, and it's not the O button, then my tackle fails. Even if I wait and press the correct button, it's usually moot anyway because there's other tacklers around to bring down the ball carrier. On top of all that, the animations often look jittery and fake.

I don't like this feature. If tackle battles don't return next year and end up sitting next to the "QB Vision Cone" and the Tony Bruno Radio Show, I wouldn't shed a tear for it.

Better balance on defense

Despite a major upgrade to defensive coverages last year, defenses in general still seem pretty weak. There are hardly any low-scoring, defensive struggles in Madden games. Again, this is partly because the game is balanced and tuned for short online matches, rather than for full-length, 15-minute quarter games. This means that the A.I. and gameplay mechanics are more friendly towards the pass, and there's too high of a frequency of big plays and turnovers. A 6-minute quarter game might end 17-14, but a full 15-minute quarter game is probably going to end more along the lines of 38-35. I'd like to see next year's game be balanced more for realistic-length games, and for defenses, in general, to play better.

Balance defensive pressure with sacks

One of the new features of Madden 17 was new "throw out of sack" logic. With the ball being part of the physics simulation, QBs who were hit during their throwing motions would more realistically fumble the ball (or throw lame-duck passes). However, this feature ended up being a bit excessive, and Tiburon had to tune it down multiple times in patches and tuning updates. It was tuned down to the point of no longer being relevant to the game. I think this was an overreaction by Tiburon (and by the Madden community). I'd like to see the logic for throwing out of sacks be restored, but for Tiburon to re-balance other elements of the game around it.

Madden 17 - late drag route
CPU QBs often throw drag routes and other check-downs late, resulting in errant passes out of bounds.

First and foremost, the run game needs to be more viable - in particularly for the CPU. This would allow the CPU to call fewer pass plays and to not be so reliant on medium and deep passing routes. CPU QBs (across the board) need to be better at sensing pressure and getting rid of the ball, and they need to be better at hitting check-down targets. I routinely see the CPU throw to drag routes when the receiver is so close to the sideline that they either can't stay in-bounds, or they immediately run out of bounds (sometimes even for a loss of yards). If CPU QBs would hit drag routes earlier, they'd have better success at short-yardage passing, and wouldn't hold onto the ball so long.

NFL - disrupting the pass
Defensive linemen need to be able to disrupt the play while still being blocked.

Defensive linemen also need to be able to be disruptive in the passing game without necessarily having to break blocks and get sacks. I'd like to see animations and logic for defensive linemen reaching a hand out while still engaged in a block. There's currently animations for linemen jumping up to deflect passes, but I want to also see linemen reaching their arms out to try to make tackles or disrupt the QB's throwing motion. Defenders should be able to reach through blocks to try to get a hand on a runner in a hole, and also attempt to reach for a QB's hand as he throws the ball. This sort of logic would allow blockers to hold their blocks longer, which would result in fewer sacks, while still allowing rushing defenders to slow down runners, put pressure on QBs, and be disruptive against the passing and running game. Messing with a QB's timing or throwing motion in this way should result in more errant passes and incompletions, without necessarily leading to an excess in fumbles or interceptions.

More stats for defensive players

Madden 17 - QB hit while throwing
Disrupting a pass by hitting the QB during throw should count towards defender's stats.

To go along with new defensive line features, there should be some additional stats for defensive players. Stats should track how often defensive players put pressure on QBs, forcing him to throw early. The game should also track "QB Hits" whenever a defensive player hits the QB during his throwing motion and forces an incomplete pass. This stat could possibly be a subset of "QB Pressure", in the same way that "Assisted Tackles" is a subset of "Total Tackles".

In the backfield, there's also some additional stats that the game should track for DBs. "thrown to" and "completions given up" should be tracked. This is analogous to how offensive linemen get stats tracked for "sacks allowed". This would be a way of recognizing and crediting "shut down corners", and a way to be able to grant them experience. Currently, if a defender covers his man too well, then he's never thrown to, which means he never has an opportunity to make a deflection, tackle, or interception, which means he never has a chance to gain experience, despite being very effective. There should also be weekly and drive goals associated with DBs not giving up completions.

In addition, the game needs to be better at tracking when DBs in coverage break up passes. "Pass Breakups" or "Passes Defensed" are other candidates for stat tracking. This is not necessarily the same as the existing "Pass Deflection" stat, which is only recorded when a defender swats the ball away, but which isn't always recorded when a defender knocks the ball out of a receiver's hands, and never seems to be recorded when a hard hit jars the ball loose. Basically, all those WR-DB interactions in which the two battle in the air, and the pass is incomplete should be credited as a "Pass Breakup" or "Pass Defensed" for the defensive player.

Madden 17 - WR-DB battle
Defenders should get credit for knocking the ball out of a receiver's grasp.

Of course, none of this really matters if EA doesn't fix man coverage so that it actually works...

Switch away from defensive linemen

A lot of times when I'm toggling through the defensive players, the opponent snaps the ball as I'm pressing the switch button, and I end up getting stuck with a defensive lineman. Since switching defenders during a play switches you to the closest player to the ball, I effectively cannot switch away from a lineman when this happens. It's very frustrating, especially after patches and tuning updates basically made defensive linemen worthless to control again by almost completely negating the effectiveness of block-shedding special moves.

The problem is that I'm really not sure how this change could be accomplished without either completely changing the way that switching defenders works, or completely redesigning defensive controls. Since a lot of special moves have been re-assigned away from the right stick, I suppose defensive player-switching could be handled with the right stick. The game could select a player in the direction in which the right stick is pushed. If any of my readers have a better idea, feel free to comment at the bottom of the post.

Change the "Coach Cam" button so it doesn't conflict with Jump Snap

A last little defensive suggestion is to change the control for the Coach Cam. Currently, it is overloaded to the same button as the Jump Snap function. This means that sometimes, when I want to check my defender's current assignment, the game triggers a jump snap (and usually an offsides) instead. Changing the Coach Cam to a different button would solve this problem.

The question is: "which button?" Well, as far as I can tell, flicking the right stick to "pump up the crowd currently does nothing in-game". So perhaps the right stick could be used for defensive player switching during both pre-play and during the play. This would maybe free up the Circle button to act as the Coach Cam. But then we run into the problem of the controls being inconsistent between offense and defense, which also opens up problems...

Take another pass at special teams

Last year, Madden 17 put some effort into special teams, which had been neglected for almost an entire decade. However, I feel that the work done on special teams didn't go far enough. There's still a lot of weaknesses in this area of Madden. One simple change would be to put more emphasis on highlighting missed field goals and extra points during the halftime shows, since those are becoming so much more of an issue in the NFL.

More importantly, I'd like to see a wider variety of special teams plays and trick plays. Things like reverse kick / punt returns and designed hook-and-ladder plays would be a good augment to the current kicking game. Some teams should also have punt return plays with two returners deep. I've already also listed the rubgy-style punt as something that I'd like to see. This would give the player the ability to run out a little extra clock on punt plays and to force your opponent to respect a possible fake. Other special plays could include a delayed kneel down (which I've also mentioned before) and a "No Play" (in which the offense tries to draw the defense offsides with a hard count, and calls a timeout if the defense doesn't bite).

Having a dangerous punt returner could allow for some exotic decoy plays like this.

Madden is also lacking in punt return and coverage mechanics. 17 added the sky punt and the backspin punt, but if the ball bounces up into the air near the goal line, punt cover men are terrible at tracking the ball and trying to catch it or tip it back in play. Returners are also completely oblivious when it comes to letting the ball bounce inside the 10 yard line. These are both persistent weaknesses with Madden's current special teams feature set that should be addressed.

Specialists as a position

There's also room for a lot more special teams depth chart positions. Instead of pulling some special teams players out of other depth chart positions, I'd like to see depth charts for these positions:

  • FG Holder = player who holds the ball for the field goal kicker. This isn't always the backup quarterback. Some teams use another specialist (like the punter) for this role.
  • Gunners = two very fast, flanking players who run down the sideline to tackle the returner on kickoffs and punts.
  • Kickoff Coverage = the remaining 8 kickoff cover men (not including Gunners and the kicker). Having a depth chart for this would prevent starters from showing up as kick cover men in preseason and if fatigue/injury prevents the default player from being used.
  • and a "hands team" = an onside kick recovery team. Instead of just being given random receivers, it would be nice to be able to specifically insert your key possession receivers, tight ends, or maybe even fullbacks.
  • Safety Punter = the player who punts the ball following a safety. Some teams use their punter instead of their regular kick-off kicker, since it's a punt rather than a place-kick.
Madden 17 - kick coverage
I'd like to be able to assign who plays on kick and punt coverage.

To go along with these new depth chart positions, there should also be more player attributes geared towards special teams. I would like to see Long-snapping become an actual player attribute. This could either be a numerical attribute or just a trait with a couple of levels. There's already a long-snapper position in Madden's depth chart, so there might as well be an attribute or trait that governs how good a player is at it. There could also be traits or ratings that determine the kicker's ability when punting or place-kicking. Separating kickers' place-kicking ability from their punting ability could also help to differentiate place-kickers and punters in terms of ability.

Stay tuned for more suggestions...

Before we leave off today, let's summarize my proposed new depth chart positions:

  • Short-Yardage Back
  • Red Zone Back
  • Holder
  • Gunner
  • Kickoff Coverage
  • Onside Hands Team
  • Safety Punter

Today, I followed-up on my previous post regarding hiding player ratings and discussed some of the changes that I'd like to see on offense, defense, and special teams in Madden 18. A lot of these proposals build off of features and elements that were a focus of attention in Madden 17, and so feel [to me] like a natural extension of this year's game's design philosophy. If you have your own ideas or suggestions, feel free to post in the comments.

Next up, I'm going to discuss some of my other suggestions for Madden 18, including some Franchise suggestions, bug fixes, and other miscellaneous items. See you next time!

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