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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.)

But if Madden is supposed to be an authentic NFL experience, then botched snaps should be included in the game because they are a part of football -- albeit a rare part. Games have been decided by a single botched snap. Narratives have been formed around entire careers based on one bad snap or one botched hold. Entire seasons have hung on the balance of a single special teams play. Even at the highest levels of the NFL, snafus happens!

Besides, the game already has different modes for competitive, arcade, and simulation experiences that supposedly affect how much "stick skills" affect the outcome of plays compared to player ratings. So if MUT and tournament players don't want botched snaps deciding the outcomes of individual plays or entire matches, then I'm fine with botched snaps being disabled by default in arcade and competitive game modes. But they sure as hell should be present in simulation mode! "If it's in the game...", right EA? Yeah?

Bad snaps and bad holds happen in real football and really do decide the outcomes of games.

Thankfull, this vitriolic opposition to the longsnapper being a meaningful position in the game has apparently cooled down in the intervening years. I've even seen an increasing number of articles, forums, comments, and even NFL teams and players that support the idea of having more robust mechanics around longsnappers, holders, and other special teams positions in Madden. So who knows? Maybe there will be some meaningful change in this department soon.

For years, Madden has included animations
of off-target shotgun snaps.

In fact, Madden has, for years now, included animations of quarterbacks having to reach or jump to receive a slightly off-target shotgun snap. I've never seen a bad snap that actually goes over the QB's head and has to be chased down as a fumble, and even if the QB has to reach to catch the shotgun span, it doesn't seem to affect the execution or timing of the rest of the play. It doesn't disrupt the hand-off to the running back, nor does it slow down the QB's drop back and make it harder to hit the narrow window for a hitch or slant route. As far as I can tell, these animations of bad snaps are entirely superficial and random. I don't think there are any ratings of a center or longsnapper that influence the frequency of these animations -- as far as I know, they are completely random!

I also don't recall ever seeing such animations on punt or field goal longsnaps; only for shotgun snaps to a QB.

Ryan Moody made a video several years ago demonstrating how blocked field goals in Madden 18 require the kicker to pause slightly in his kicking animation in order to make time for the defender to block the kick. This is a concession that EA had to make in order to allow punts and field goals to be blocked. The kicker has to slightly freeze for a split second if the user gets a successful jump on the snap; otherwise, the snap, hold and kick animations happen too fast to allow a defender to get into the back-field to block the kick. This is entirely determined by whether or not the defender's attempt to jump the snap is timed correctly. It has nothing to do with the longsnapper, holder, or kicker.

Ryan Moody made a video about blocked kicks being scripted in Madden 18.

This problem could be fixed by having some slower animations that allow the defense to get the penetration necessary to block the kick. It could also be resolved by having a longsnapper's ratings determine how good the snap is.

Having a skilled longsnapper would result in faster, laser-beam longsnaps that hit the holder or punter right in the chest, shortening the time it takes for the kicker to kick the ball, and reducing the likelihood of a defender having the time to get enough penetration into the backfield to tip or block the kick. Having a less-skilled longsnapper would result in slower, floatier longsnaps that take more time to get into the hands of the holder or punter. It could also result in the longsnap being more likely to be off-center, forcing the holder or punter to have to reach or jump to corral the ball, disrupting the normal kick timing and giving the defense more time to reach the kick. Worse longsnappers would open up the additional possibility of longsnaps being driven into the ground or sailing over the holder or punter's head, forcing a "fire" drill at best, and being picked up by the defense at worst.

As a side note, it would also be nice if it were more possible to get pressure up the middle of the line, instead of having to be a specific edge rusher. Right now, kicks can normally only be blocked by specific edge rushers in a designed kick block play. Defensive tackles can't rip through the guard and tackle to get a hand on the ball. I actually did see this happen once in Madden 21 (it was the first time I ever remember seeing this in my decades of playing Madden). I actually did have a punt blocked due to pressure up the middle. It happened with the punter forced to line up at a shallower depth due to being backed up against the end zone. I'm not sure if this is intended behavior by the designers, or if this was some kind of glitch that just happened to look like real football. That's one of the funny things with Madden: when it gives outcomes that look like dynamic, organic, real football, it's hard to tell if it was by design or if it's an unintended glitch that the developers would remove if they had known about it.

In all my years playing EA football games, I've only ever seen one kick bet blocked by pressure up the middle.

Penetration up the middle wouldn't even necessarily have to result in an outright block. It would also be nice to have field goals and punts be able to be tipped by a rusher, or tipped by a jumping defender at the line of scrimmage, instead of it being a completely binary state of either the kick is blocked, or it's not. Having an otherwise accurate kick be tipped and miss the uprights slightly should be a risk, in addition to having the ball completely blocked to the ground for a fumble.

A New Consideration For Team-Building

Having a viable risk of botching a longsnap or hold would also add an extra element of strategy to a Franchise (or Dynasty) mode because it would force you to have to consider the longsnapping position when you're building your team. Did you draft some promising skill players who you want to start right away? Well, you might not be able to keep them all on your active roster and still have room for a dedicated longsnapper. Do you activate that speedy 69-overall rookie receiver as your 53rd man so that he can play out of the slot or on kick return duty, at the risk of not having a dedicated longsnapper and giving up the occasional botched snap on a field goal or punt? Or do you stash that receiver on your practice squad and keep a dedicated longsnapper to ensure that you'll actually be able to rely on getting off that 40-yard game-winning field goal?

Franchise users should have to consider keeping a dedicated Longsnapper on their rosters.

It's all cost-benefit analysis. Is the risk of a botched snap greater than the potential reward of keeping some other player, for whatever reason?

Having fatigue strongly affect longsnapper performance and/or injury chance would also encourage teams not to use a starting lineman in that position, since he'd more likely be fatigued from having played the offensive drive, and wouldn't perform as well in his longsnapping duties.

How should longsnapper ratings work? Well, the longsnapper could just co-opt the existing throw power and short throw accuracy rating that is used for QBs. Your offensive lineman with the best throw power and short accuracy could be your longsnapper.

If EA adds more potential for pressure up the middle, then the risk of a kick being blocked by pressure up the middle would force teams to have to balance the long-snapping ability of the player against his blocking ability. You wouldn't be able to put a QB in as a longsnapper because of his good throw ratings because he'd be a shitty blocker who would allow pressure up the middle. You'd have to look at a lineman, tight end, or maybe a fullback -- someone who is a competent blocker in addition to having a strong arm and skill at longsnapping.

My preferred option would be for EA to add a new rating for Longsnapping, or break it up into Longsnap Power and Longsnap Accuracy.

Since Madden lacks a Longsnapping rating, this real-life Longsnapper has the worst overall rating on the team.

A player's overall rating in the longsnapper position would be most heavily determined by his Longsnapping rating, and his blocking ratings would be secondary factors of the overall. Some defensive ratings such as Tackle, Pursuit, and (of course) Speed should also factor into a longsnapper's overall rating since he's effectively going to play defense on punts, and will be expected to potentially run down a returner and tackle him.

A Longsnapping rating could also be used by regular centers to determine if pistol or shotgun snaps on offensive plays should occasionally go bad. The regular center should be competent at longsnapping, but he doesn't necessarily specialize in it, so he should occasionally snap the ball into the ground or over the QB's head, especially in inclement weather. It should be rare, but it should happen occasionally. Or maybe receiving the snap should be a rating for QBs and Punters that determine if they pull a Rex Grossman. Bottom line is: bad snaps happen in football; they should happen in Madden.

The old Consistency rating could have been another way of deciding whether a longsnap should be botched.

If we don't go to the trouble of having a longsnap, hold, or snap receiving rating for longsnappers, holders, punters, and QBs, then the "consistency" trait could be a good alternative candidate for what determines whether a longsnap is botched, the hold is botched, or the holder, punter, or QB fumbles the snap. Or at least, it would be a good candidate if the "consistency" rating were still in the game...

New mechanics for longsnappers

I'm sure there's some of you who are still not sold on the idea of having outcomes of games determined by pseudo-random bad snaps. If you've made it this far, then (first of all) thanks for keeping an open mind, and also I'd like to propose the idea of adding new mechanics associated with long-snapping that convert the random die roll into more of a skill-based mechanic.

Perhaps Tiburon could implement a "Longsnap Meter" to go along with the existing kick meters. I'm imagining the kick power meter being wrapped around a circular Longsnapping meter. The user presses the "snap ball" button to start the meter, which takes the form of a glowing circle that shrinks towards the middle of the meter. When the shrinking circle gets near the center, you press X again to lock in the accuracy of the snap, or else the meter snaps back out towards the edges. Pressing the button too early or too late would result in a larger circle in the meter, which would translate to a larger area of inaccuracy -- similar to the crosshairs of a first person shooter that expand if the character is moving, which increases the spread of any bullets fired.

MOCK idea for a Longsnap meter that converts the ratings-based die-roll to a skill-based challenge.

Starting the meter would cause an animation of the guard patting the center's leg to denote that the holder or punter is ready to receive the snap, but the user could hold the button at the end to delay the snap and possibly lure the defense offsides. If you hold the button too long, maybe there could be additional animations of the holder or punter clapping his hands or stomping his feet to demand that the ball be snapped.

The Longsnapping rating of the Longsnapper would either affect the speed of the Longsnap meter, or the size of the accuracy target area. An accurate snap would go straight to the holder or punter's chest. A slightly inaccurate snap might be off-center, forcing the holder or punter to have to reach to pluck it out of the air, and possibly disrupting the timing of the kick. A more inaccurate snap would result in the ball bouncing off the turf at the holder or punter's feet, or flying over his head. This would blow up the play and force a mad scramble to recover the ball.

Maybe there could be an optional additional input that determines whether the holder or punter catches the snap. Even if the snap itself is accurate, mis-timing the second input could lead to the holder or punter bobbling the snap and screwing up the timing of the kick, or outright muffing the snap and fumbling it. This mimics a QB's pass being accurate, but the receiver dropping the catch.

A slightly inaccurate snap and/or hold could possibly result in the ball not being optimally positioned for the kick -- the infamous "laces in" situation, as made famous in Ace Ventura. The kicker would still get the kick off, but it might be less accurate due to a poor hold. There could maybe also be an opportunity for the user to press a button or a prompt to trigger a "FIRE!" call that abandons the kick attempt and converts a field goal or PAT into an impromptu conversion attempt -- you know, the infamous Tony Romo hold.

If you miss a kick, the Longsnapper's rating could determine if the kicker just shanks it, or if the snap is bad.

Maybe the kick meter itself could be moved to after the snap, forcing the user to have to make the kick during the play instead of being able to line everything up before the ball is snapped. Or you aim the kick before the snap, but have to hold it through the snap and charging the kick power. This could potentially make kicking far more challenging and less automatic. Perhaps maximizing the power and/or accuracy of the kick takes a split second longer, which would also increase the risk of the defense blocking the kick. All this would combine to turn blocked kicks into a more dynamic, user-driven event, rather than some arbitrarily-scripted animation that is outside the user's control.

I don't know, maybe this is all needlessly complicated. Maybe a longsnapping meter is overkill, and we can just leave the success or failure of longsnaps up to the relevant ratings and a die roll. I'm OK with that, but that's my idea for how to appease users who don't want games being decided by RNG flukes -- even ones that are based on player skill ratings.

Or maybe the whole thing can be simplified by keeping the kick meter as it is. The longsnapper's ratings would then pseudo-randomly determine if the kick is missed because the kicker just shanks the kick, or because the longsnapper botched the snap, leading to a fumble instead of a missed kick. This way, botched snaps are still user-driven events, but we don't have the extra complication of more meters.

Maybe there's better ways to achieve the same outcome and keep it all up to player skills? I'm open to suggestions, so if you think you have a better idea, let's hear it in the comments!


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Other special teams positions deserve some love too

Older Madden games allowed special teams subs.

I may have focused specifically on longsnappers in this video, but similar logic can also be applied to make the case for other special teams positions that Madden currently does not include in its depth charts. If we're going to make Longsnapper into a meaningful position, then why not also add depth chart slots for dedicated field goal holders, or for kick and punt coverage gunners? Maximum Football allows you to set these positions on depth charts, so why not Madden? Maybe even add alternate field goal packages that bring in a reserve QB as a holder in case you want to run a fake.

In general, every specialist position that is added to the game, and which has potential risk and reward depending on the quality of player in that position, improves the strategic depth of the game's Franchise mode (or a college Dynasty mode). It gives the user more to think about at the bottom of the depth chart, instead of just at the top of the depth chart because each specialist that you keep on your roster is one more reserve player that needs to be cut. Is that Steve Tasker-like player worth keeping on your roster as a play-maker on special teams, even if he's a relatively low-rated receiver?

You can also use these depth chart positions to help protect other starters from becoming injured. One of my pet peeves in Madden is when I see my starting middle linebacker or safety playing kickoff coverage. Not only does it open the player up to injury, but it also means he starts the following drive with some fatigue.

Like it or not, special teams is an important part of football. Both the NFL and NCAA have floated the idea of removing kickoffs and punts from the game in the name of player safety, but so far, neither has gone that far, opting instead to experiment with ways to make those plays safer. Personally, I think all football leagues should take a look at how the new XFL handled its kickoffs, as I think that's a potential long-term solution to the problem. In any case, it doesn't look like kickoffs and punts are going anywhere anytime soon, and with the NFL having had some success with moving the extra point back to make the kick harder, I don't think the field goal or extra point will be disappearing from the NFL any time soon either. If Madden (or any other game) wants to say that it simulates football, then it needs to simulate special teams too, and that includes having a meaningful role for the longsnapper.

Maximum Football also allowed setting special teams depth charts.

Other How Madden Fails To Simulate Football

Quarter LengthQuarter Length
Quarterback ProgressionsQuarterback Progressions
Pass Rush vs ProtectionPass Rush vs Protection
The Case For LongsnappersThe Case For Longsnappers
Fumbles and Loose-ball situationsFumbles and Loose-ball situations

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