Just when I thought I had a clever title for my series of partially-coherent ramblings on the passing game in Madden 08, Brian “I tripped on my Dog” Griese made it abundantly clear that the Chicago Bears have far more problems than Rex Grossman. So then I thought about changing my title to “De-Griesing your Passing Attack,” however, I thought that would be a little bit over the top. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how things develop the rest of the season. In the mean time, consider me the founder and president of the Draft Brian Brohm club. My Chi-town homer soliloquies aside, it’s time to continue our study of the Madden 08 passing attack, and discuss some little things we can do to improve. Last week, we took a look at play-calling, and simple steps to exploit the blitz. This week, I’m going all Peyton Manning on you by explaining some simple man coverage reads and adjustments.
Tired of still throwing picks? So are Chicago quarterbacks. Here are a few more tips…
Man Coverage: Pre-Snap Reads
Man coverage is perhaps the easiest pre-snap read that you can make. Take a good look at the opposing safeties and linebackers. Safeties in man coverage will frequently move forward to put themselves in a better position to cover a tight end, back, or slot receiver. Linebackers will shuffle outside to cover the slot or inside to cover a back. It’s that simple…or is it?
Madden 08 does a solid job at disguising coverages. Defenders will shift to show blitz or man coverage, and then drop back. Or they will cheat back, and then move forward into an all-out blitz. Now, despite these clever devices, I still maintain that man coverage is a simple read. There is a very easy solution to beat the D’s devious disguise. Simply send an outside receiver in motion (assuming you are not in a play with automatic motion). If the opposing CB moves laterally, or not at all, you’re looking at a zone scheme square in the eye. If the CB turns and runs with the receiver, be assured that it’s man-to-man. Problem solved.
Man Coverage: Mismatches & Hot Routes
Great QB’s recognize positional mismatches before the snap. With this year's weapons system you can do the same, without studying hours of game film. A pull of the left trigger and flip of the right analog stick will show you exactly where mismatches are.
This is an overly-simplified method of recognizing these uneven match-ups -- match-ups which will usually remain static throughout a game. However, there are other simple reads that are more situational. The most frequent mismatches occur with your slot receivers in three and four receiver sets. There are only a few defensive formations that provide favorable match-ups for these offensive formations, and often times, down and distance does not call for such defenses. But when your opponent is caught with too few cornerbacks on the field, you will often see a linebacker, or a hard-hitting strong safety adjust to match up against your slot receiver(s). This is something that should be recognized consistently, and exploited routinely with hot routes.
Just as hot routes are a method to counter the blitz, they are also a way to exploit mismatches. The aforementioned slot receiver mismatch is the premier time to use hot routes against man coverage. Sending your fleet-footed slot specialist quickly inside on a slant, outside on a quick out, or over the top on a fly/fade route is a great way to take advantage of the defender’s lack of speed and agility.
I speak mainly of the slot receiver’s use of hot routes, because by the average player, it is the most overlooked. The majority of average players tend to target their superstars on the majority of plays, and only enjoy moderate success. Recognizing mismatches with second or third options is a key toward taking your passing game to the next level. You will be far more efficient against the CPU, and far more unpredictable and deadly against human opponents.
Man Coverage: Separation, Position and “A Step”
Okay, despite all of your amazing pre-snap reads and adjustments, all of your receivers are still blanketed in man-to-man coverage. It happens. Not every play is going to present an obvious first option. But this season’s game is so advanced that you can make in-play reads on receiver separation and position to find the best option.
The term “separation” is fairly self-explanatory. It refers to any space that exists between a receiver and his defender, and is a tell-tail sign that a defender has been beaten. Look for a sliver of daylight between your receiver and the defender, it is all you need to thread the needle and rack up a nice gain. And please, PLEASE remember to lead your receivers! There’s no bigger waste (or frustration) than throwing a ball behind an open man.
Receiver position is just as important to a productive passing game. This term refers to receivers being in the best physical position to catch the ball, thereby using their body to block the defender from making a play. Receiver position is probably the most complex method of the real-life passing game, and is by-far the most difficult to adjust to in Madden 08. But, it doesn’t have to be rocket science.
Here are two simple rules for reading receiver position:
Rule 1: For underneath routes, look for receivers who are clearly closer to the QB than their respective defenders. In other words, look for a receiver who is between the QB and the defender. By taking this simple step there is little chance of firing a pass directly into a DB’s eager hands. That's not to say that there will not be a spectacular play on the ball every now and again, but recognizing a receiver with the proper position will drastically help your completion percentage.
Rule 2: For up-top routes, look for receivers who have “a step.” Translation, look for receivers who are behind their respective defenders. You will have to look closely, as this will not be nearly as obvious as in years past. Often times, your receiver will be running with a defender in his back pocket, rather riding his hip. That can literally be a difference of just a couple of inches, but it can make all the difference in the world.
Post Routes are the exception to both of these rules. Post routes are not true underneath routes, but not true up-top routes either. If you have a receiver running a deep post route with a DB defending on an island, underneath position or a step up-top can be effective. While it’s an easy thing to misread, it’s also probably one of the game’s most exploitable situations. Feast Away, fellow Maddenites.
Hopefully, these tips can help you adapt to the increased difficulty of Madden 08’s man coverage. Next week, we will continue our journey from Grossman to Greatness, looking at simple yet effective ways to read and exploit zone coverages in Madden 08. Until then, keep looking for that separation, and happy Madden’ing.