There is an old saying that states that the game of football is "one-third offense, one-third defense and one-third special teams."
Yet, for as often as games of Madden are decided by a muffed punt here, a kick return there or a game-winning field goal in the closing seconds of regulation, it can sometimes feel like great plays on special teams are the deciding factor in a game between two closely rated teams.
With no tutorials to go through or depth charts to look over, Madden 10 makes it tough to sort out just who exactly is playing on your special teams, much less what it takes to make those players into great ones on your special teams unit.
In addition to providing complete depth charts for kickoffs and punt returns, this guide should help Madden coaches decide how to build a special teams unit that can make the big plays that often decide who wins or loses a close game of Madden.
While the tendency of most Madden players is to simply sprint up the middle of the field and make a bee-line to the sidelines as soon as the first line of defenders breaks through, the best way to set up a kick return actually involves taking the opposite approach.
Start the return by approaching the sideline at a 60-degree angle.
As your blockers make contact with the first wave of defenders (usually the fastest guys on the return team), cut back to the middle of the field and look for a seam that will allow you to shoot by the cornerbacks/wide receivers and move up to the second level.
As your blockers move up to attack the linebackers and safeties, look for a hole that can lead you back to the outside. As you do this, you should be able to outrun the slower second line of defenders before going all the way up the sidelines and into the end zone.
The key to making this return style work is setting up the other team's fastest defenders so that they are pushed out to the edges of the field, which allows you to zip by the linebackers and safeties as they are being blocked on the inside.
Just as return men are taught to never run in a straight line when returning a kick, defenders should never get caught taking a straight path to the return man.
Instead, what the defense should be doing is trying to stay a few steps outside the returner at all times. By doing this, the return man cannot escape to the sideline and is instead forced into the middle of the field.
Simply keeping the return man bottled up in the middle of the field will allow the CPU pursuit to swarm in and take him down quickly -- assuming the linebackers and safeties have high pursuit and block shed ratings.
While the lack of pursuit by anyone but the gunners in Madden 10 makes it difficult to take a punt return all the way for a touchdown, it does ensure that, if the return man can make it past the gunners, he is guaranteed an easy 15-20 yards before any other defender can get in his way.
However, rather than potentially taking a big hit from one of the coverage team's linebackers or safeties (who almost always are running free to the ball), your best bet as a return man is simply to get your 20 yards and head out of bounds before anything bad can happen.
While kick returns provide plenty of room to move around and take chances, safety should always come first on punt returns.
Fast gunners are the key to successfully covering punts, but even the fastest cornerbacks in Madden 10 will not be able to catch up to a low line-drive punt.
Punters in Madden 10 should always favor height over distance, and while it is OK to try for maximum kick power, the punter must make sure his kicking arrow is high enough to force the return man into a fair catch.
Moving the kicking arrow slightly towards the sideline can also help because it effectively adds another defender (the out of bounds line) that your gunners can rely upon to get the return man stopped.
Signing The Right Players for Special Teams
The fourth and fifth receivers on the depth chart will be playing the outside positions on kickoff coverage. So coaches should look for receivers who can fly down the field and bring down the return man before the blockers have time to set up.
With 97 speed and 44 hit power, Michael Ray Garvin is a great pickup from the free agent pool.
Free agent Derek Stanley is another good sign as he boasts a 91 speed and 55 tackling.
Like the safety and linebacker positions, depth at tight end is a must in Madden. Three tight ends are needed to set up the wedge on kick returns, and the second tight end on your depth chart will also be a part of the coverage unit on kickoffs.
One free agent who deserves a look is tight end Joe Klopfenstein. His 74 speed and 79 acceleration are above average for the tight-end position, but it is his 80 run-blocking footwork and 44 tackling that make him an ideal number two or three on the depth chart.
While his blocking skills are not up to par with Klopfenstein’s, free agent Garrett Mills hits a little harder with 55 tackling and 44 hit power, plus with 84 acceleration and 80 agility, Mills gets down the field a few steps ahead of Klopfenstein.
Put Mills at the number two tight-end spot and Klopfenstein at the number three for a great special teams combo.
While the fullback’s primary special teams role is blocking, a fast fullback can be a dangerous weapon on fake punts.
With blocking ratings mostly in the 60s, free agent Jason Davis might not help a lot on kick returns, but his 84 speed and 84 acceleration are second only to the Broncos’ Peyton Hillis at the fullback position, which makes Davis a real threat to break off a long run on a fake punt.
For a better balance of speed and blocking, consider free agent Jamael Cook. He has blocking ratings in the high 70s to go with 80 acceleration and 74 speed.
Good free agents simply are not around at the safety positions, but coaches might want to consider trading for a pair of veteran backups:
With 98 hit power, Cincinnati’s Roy Williams is the hardest-hitting safety in Madden 10. And with his pursuit and block shed ratings also in the mid-90s, Williams is arguably the best overall player at covering kicks in the game. While it is hard to justify playing Williams on defense during passing downs, Roy could easily be the MVP of any special teams unit.
Pair Roy Williams with Tampa Bay’s free safety Jermaine Phillips -- who features 96 hit power and mid-80s pursuit/block shedding -- and you have a one-two punch at safety that will have opposing kick returners running straight for the sidelines instead of venturing out into the hazardous open field.
Since cornerbacks spend most of their time on special teams sprinting down the sidelines looking to deliver a quick hit, coaches should recruit corners who can get down the field quickly and make a sure tackle.
While most of the good special teams players are already signed to a roster, free agent Rashard Barksdale is the type of player who can provide an instant boost to your coverage team at a low cost. Though his athleticism is merely adequate (88 acceleration), it is the 70 hit power, 70 pursuit and 66 block shed that make Barksdale a great kick-covering cornerback.
With a minimum of three backup linebackers playing every down of special teams, coaches need to make sure that they are stocked up at the linebacker position in Madden 10.
While the free-agency pool does not hold any gems, coaches should consider looking at some of the backups from other NFL teams.
The Detroit Lions, for instance, may boast one of the worst defenses in Madden 10, but they do house a number of great special teams players who can be had for cheap:
MLB Larry Foote may lack the athleticism and coverage skills to be an every-down linebacker, but his 87 hit power, 85 block shedding and 88 pursuit make him a valuable player on special teams.
ROLB Darnell Bing provides similar hit power (86) with a bit more athleticism (86 acceleration), but at the expense of lower pursuit (75) and block shedding (73).
The sad truth about the current kicking system in Madden is that kick power is really the only attribute that matters. Placekickers who have an accuracy rating in the 60s-70s may have a bit more hook to their kicks, but the difference between a kicker with 70 accuracy and 99 accuracy is minuscule –- especially when compared to the benefits of having a strong leg.
Coaches will not find any steals in the free-agent pool, but the Draft can be a great place to nab a kicker who has 99 kick power, which will turn even 60-yard field goals into relative chip shots.
For extra distance on field goals, always make sure to move the kicking arrow as low to the ground as possible. With blocked kicks being such a rarity in Madden 10, there is no risk at all to moving the arrow down and achieving maximum distance with all your kicks.
Once gain, kick power is the primary attribute to scout for because the ultimate goal of punting in Madden 10 is simply to kick the ball as far as possible while still maintaining enough height to produce a fair catch.
As a secondary attribute, coaches might want to look for punters who have decent ratings in short and medium passing accuracy, which can prove beneficial on fake punts -- or on the off chance that a string of quarterback injuries forces a punter into the role of emergency quarterback.
A center with high awareness is all that is needed to get the job done here because the long snapper’s primary responsibility in Madden 10 is being able pick up any A-gap blitzing players.
In fact, just about the only time you will ever see a kick blocked in Madden 10 is when a defender shoots through the A-gap untouched.
Needless to say, speed is still the dominate attribute on kick returns -- as it has been since the Madden titles on the Genesis. Coaches should make athleticism their number-one priority for scouting kick returners. However, the importance of finding a guy who can hold onto the ball (carry rating) and take a few hits (injury rating) should not be overlooked.
Do not worry about the return rating here since a bobbled kickoff still leaves the return man with plenty of time to scoop the ball off the turf and head up the field unmolested.
Since it is virtually impossible to take a punt return to the house, a punt returner’s primary job in Madden 10 should be securing the ball (return rating) and maintaining possession after the catch (carry rating). Athleticism is still important (speed, acceleration, agility), but those attributes should come second to the return and carry ratings.