Madden NFL - title

I don't think I've ever played a football game that feels like it truly nails special teams play. Madden has been especially bad at this phase of football for a very long time, and has largely neglected it year-in and year-out. Every now and then, a release comes out that focuses on special teams, but the upgrade is never as comprehensive as it should be. I was considering making a video about all of special teams, but that's too big a topic to tackle in a single video, so I decided that it would be best to make shorter videos that each focus on specific aspects of special teams play.

While drafting the script for my previous video about pass blocking and pass rushing, I had started thinking about issues with blocking and rushing in special teams, and thought I'd do a video about one specific specialist position that has been a personal crusade of mine for quite a few years now. I'll surely discuss more of Madden's special teams failings in future videos. But for today, I want to talk about how Madden completely fails to do justice to an oft-overlooked and under-appreciated specialist position: the longsnapper.

The full video on YouTube contains additional commentary and examples.

I'm looking at this specific position for two reasons:

  1. I played on special teams in high school and worked alongside our longsnapper. He spent extra time before and after practices honing that skill.
  2. And the 2nd reason I'm covering this topic is: unlike other highly specialized positions like holder and kickoff coverage gunners, Madden actually includes Longsnappers as a position in the depth chart, but has never included any mechanics or rules that actually make the longsnapper a meaningful position on your team, or which differentiate who is a good longsnapper versus who is not.

As for my high school teammates on special teams: there were several of us who never would have seen playing time if not for our special teams duties. Instead of resigning ourselves to a life on the bench, as some other reserves had done, we carved out niches for ourselves, so that we could see more playing time. We worked hard to earn our positions, and the coaches noticed the hard work (especially if it was extra-curricular in nature), and they rewarded us with extra rotational reps on both offense and defense in relief of tired starters. My experience has lead me to respect special teamers, probably much more than most football fans.

Some of us reserve players would have never seen playing time if not for our specialist roles.

A Knee-Jerk Reaction

I remember proposing a "Longsnapping" rating on a YouTube comment or Madden forum like 6 or 7 years ago, and received absolutely vitriolic responses that largely boiled down to "having the outcome of a game decided by a random fluke like a botched snap would be horrible game design." It's a sentiment that does makes a certain degree of sense. Determining the outcome of a match by a die roll does seem like it would be bad video game design -- at least, outside of digital craps.

But hold on a minute. Is it really bad game design...?

Running backs have a rating that determines their likeliness to fumble. Quarterbacks have several ratings that determine the accuracy of passes. Receivers have several ratings that determine their likelihood to catch a pass. Linemen have ratings that determine if they whif on a block. Defenders have ratings that determine the likelihood of missing tackles. DBs have ratings that determine whether they blow a coverage. Kickers have ratings that determine if they miss a kick. Every player has ratings that determine if they get injured on any given play. All of these ratings can affect the outcome of a play or an entire game based on a random die roll. Heck, even coaches have ratings that determine how much players develop in the offseason or how likely free agents are to sign a contract. Ratings semi-randomly deciding the outcomes of games or entire seasons is apparently OK for literally every other position both on and off the field, but somehow having a rating that determines if a snap or special teams hold is botched is a bridge too far?!

Nobody complains about other positions having ratings that can randomly decide a game.

To be fair to the critics: if you're playing a 5 or 6-minute quarter pick-up game online or in Ultimate Team, and each team is only getting between 3 and 5 possessions the entire game, it does make sense that you wouldn't want your one and only attempt at a punt or field goal to go awry because of a fluke like a botched snap. In such a shortened game, it would swing the game wildly in one direction or the other, with little-to-no time or opportunity for a team to overcome such an unfortunate outcome. (I keep saying, every installment in this series is probably going to refer back to that first essay about quarter length.)

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I've been really dismayed by the focus that EA has placed on its Ultimate Team feature in the past couple years of Madden releases. I've made my distaste known in my reviews of both 16 and 15. With the NCAA football series dead due to the revocation of the license, Madden is all we have. I feel like the best thing for me to do at this point is to just give up, since it seems that EA has no interest in appealing to the small demographic of simulation die-hards to which I belong. Instead, they want to keep their model of annual releases that force people to have to give up their established decks of Ultimate Team cards so that they can spend more money on micro-DLC to buy the credits necessary to rebuild their collection.

But as cynical as my reviews can be, I don't want to give up on football gaming. I love football, and I love gaming, and I want to continue to be able to enjoy the union of the two. And right now, Madden is the only way that I can do that.

So I'm going to take some time to write up a wishlist of the kind of features that I want - no expect - a modern football game to include. Some of them are new features that football games have never attempted. Others are ones that previous games just never got right. And still others might be things that were present in earlier games, worked just fine, but have been inexplicably removed to make room for less worthwhile features.

Table of Contents

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Chicago Bears longsnapping practice
16-year longsnapper Patrick Mannelly has retired.

The Chicago Bears have lost a lot of veteran leaders and stars this past couple seasons since Marc Trestman took over as head coach. I wasn't terribly surprised when Brian Urlacher became a free agent and retired, although I was extremely disappointed that he would not be back in a Bears' uniform. Earlier this offseason, return specialist Devin Hester was released and signed with the Atlanta Falcons. Hester was one of the most electric players in the league in his prime, and he was a huge factor in making me watch football (and specifically the Bears) on a more regular basis. These guys were probably my two favorite players, and neither of them is a Bear anymore.

And now, yet another elite veteran leader has departed from the team. 16-year veteran longsnapper Patrick Mannelly has retired.

Longsnappers are unheralded players. You won't find any action figures or jerseys for Mannelly in sporting goods stores, nor would you even find Mannelly in the rosters of some Madden NFL video game (that I can recall); although, I would always add him to my roster every year before starting a franchise. But whether he's a household name or not, Mannelly was a cornerstone of the Chicago Bears' special teams for 16 years! His precision has been a key factor to the success of the special teams unit, which has been widely considered an elite unit during Lovie Smith's era. In his 2006 Pro Bowl acceptance speech, kicker Robbie Gould praised Mannelly specifically for his role in Gould's kicking success (Gould is currently one of the most accurate field goal kickers in NFL history).

Chicago Bears longsnapping practice
Patrick Mannelly practicing longsnapping with holder/punter Adam Podlesh and placekicker Robbie Gould.

Mannelly had suffered from injuries the past few seasons, but when he was playing, he was as good as perfect...

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