Establishing a solid run game is an important part of any offense. If you can make the defense respect your ability to gain yards on the ground, you can create opportunities for yourself in the air. By efficiently mixing things up, the defense will always be on their toes, and that is the first step towards victory.
However, there is more to effective rushing than just calling run plays and either blasting up the middle or trying to break outside. Here are a few tips to help you diversify your rushing portfolio.
I emphasized gaps a lot in my defensive strategy articles. These are the holes in between your blockers around the line of scrimmage, and the alleys through which you must navigate your ball carrier to be successful. Now the thing about gaps is that they aren’t all the same. Depending on the play you’ve selected, as well as the dynamic circumstances of each play, there can be a lot of variations between how gaps develop. Your task as the running back is to identify the best gap, and to steer your player through it. If you do at least that much, you should always be able to gain a few yards every time you run.
Don’t mess around in the backfield trying to Barry Sanders your way to a big gain, just head straight up field.
The first thing to think about is the play you call. The safest plays are inside handoffs, such as iso plays, which send your RB straight up the middle. On these plays, the most important thing is to get upfield. Don’t mess around in the backfield trying to Barry Sanders your way to a big gain, just head straight up field. Your gap decision on a straight ahead run will probably come down to left or right. Look for where there is the most space and charge. Even if you get picked up right away, you will still probably gain a few yards.
Some plays, like outside handoffs and tosses, require you to get outside. These plays are more dangerous because if the defense sniffs out the play, you are probably going to lose yards. On these types of plays, you again have to remember to GET UPFIELD. The only difference is you have to wait until the right moment. Generally, keep sprinting to the corner until you feel the defense has an angle, and than make a sharp move upfield to ensure you get the most possible yards. If you feel you can get outside the defense completely, go for it. Remember, NEVER try to reverse field on a run or any other type of play. That hasn’t worked since Madden '96.
Just as outside runs require you to cut upfield, inside runs sometimes require you to cut outside. If you start upfield and there is literally NO gap, or the blockers have created space to one side, try to cut out and see what happens. Just remember never to go backwards. As you get better at running, you will learn how to read and react more effectively.
The play is recreated rather faithfully in the game, so try calling stretches a few times to understand how the blocks unfold, and start trying to make the best read to find the most profitable gap.
Lastly, I want to talk about stretch plays. Stretch plays are becoming much more popular at all levels of football as teams adopt zone blocking strategies. Without delving too deeply into the real-life mechanics of zone blocking schemes, basically your linemen move to an area of the field, as opposed to picking up a specific man. These handoffs usually involve the quarterback dropping back to one side to hand off the ball, as the line shifts to that same side. The result is that you will receive the ball with momentum towards one side of the field, with several blockers in front of you. These plays are fun because they are the most dynamic. Each time you will need to make a different read and respond accordingly. Michigan ran a lot of stretch plays last year, and relied on Mike Hart’s incredible decision-making abilities to find the right seam. Sometimes he would break outside, sometimes he would cut upfield, but either way he made the decision he thought would yield the most yards. The play is recreated rather faithfully in the game, so try calling stretches a few times to understand how the blocks unfold, and start trying to make the best read to find the most profitable gap.
Follow Your Blockers
This is probably most important facet to the running game. In the training games for the new Madden, which are available in the demo, you can beat the first few levels of the rushing drill without ever making a move. If you hang behind your blockers and let them pick up the defenders, you can reach the end zone untouched. This translates to the real game too. The more you let your blockers do, the less you have to do yourself. Furthermore, the first juke or move that you make is likely to be the most effective, so if you can wait until the last defender before having to break someone off, you will probably get a touchdown. Also, the more moves you do the more likely you are to fumble.
The key to following your blockers is not to sprint right away. There are a lot of benefits to not sprinting, mainly increased responsiveness. Also, sprinting is perhaps your most powerful special move, so don’t waste it by holding down the trigger the second you touch the ball. On every run play, you should wait until you are committed to a direction before sprinting at all. On a run where you have a lead blocker -- and depending on the type of run -- just stay right behind him and let him pick up a defender; then after, decide where you want to go and hit the gas.
As a general rule, they are programmed to go the direction you go, so you can almost steer them around the field.
Also, its important to understand how your blockers respond. As a general rule, they are programmed to go the direction you go, so you can almost steer them around the field. For example, say you are running off tackle, and the outside is clear except for a cornerback to the right. Stay behind your blocker, and basically run towards the defensive player. As soon as your blocker picks him up, cut inside and hit the sprint button. You will be off to the races. By balancing jogging behind your blockers with sprinting into the open field, you will be able to create a lot of opportunities for big gains.
Lastly, if you are upfield of your blockers or too far to one side, you can make drastic cuts to help bring your blockers back into play. Consider cutting so as to lead defenders into blockers, or even slowing up dramatically to let a blocker catch up. Mess around with this in practice mode to understand how much of a trade off you should make between keeping your blockers and getting upfield.
Minimize Special Moves
Your biggest weapon is the simple cut. In this year’s batch of games, there are more dramatic speed differences between players than there were in the past. For this reason, if you have a fast enough back, just pretending to run one direction and then cutting can be enough to make a defender miss. Either way, if you can beat a defender just by changing direction quickly, you should do it. Save the jukes and spins for guys you can’t shake otherwise. Against human opponents, simple misdirection stickwork can make people look ridiculous. Try slowing down or faking back and forth to see how poorly people respond. One of my favorite moves against human opponents is the step back right when they think they have you lined up. Try it and watch the human players Hit Stick the air and go stumbling out of the play.
The Highlight Stick is good because it does whatever an appropriate move would be for your player based on his abilities.
If you must make a move, I strongly recommend either pressing the Highlight Stick forward at the moment you come into contact with a defender, or the spin move. The Highlight Stick is good because it does whatever an appropriate move would be for your player based on his abilities. Finesse backs are going to spin off or duck under tackles, where as power guys are going to lower their shoulder and abuse the defender. The spin move is great for changing direction, or for breaking two guys at once. Set it up by starting one direction, say forward and left, and then stop and spin back to the right. Again, practice mode is the best place to learn how to use these moves.
Now that I have given you some tips for mastering the run game, the task is on you to put all the pieces together. Once you can learn to follow your blockers, pick your gaps, and maximize the effectiveness of your special moves, you will be running all over defenses. The best way to learn is to commit to running for a few games, and really try to focus on the nuances of each type of play. And remember, the practice field is always there as well. Good luck.