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The Basics of Reading a Defense in Madden NFL 12

One of the most important aspects of football in general is being able to read the defense. As a quarterback, it is your responsibility to know the type of defense and recognize the coverage packages it might be employing. This also holds true in Madden and NCAA 12

The very first thing we should all know is the basic defensive formation you are up against. In most cases it will be the 4-3 or the 3-4. There are some occasions when this will change, such as a 3rd-and-long situation or when you are trying to keep every play in front of you at all costs. 

This brings us to perhaps one of the most important tenants of defensive recognition, whether the defenders are playing zone or man coverage. By putting a man in motion, watch and see it a defender follows. If they do follow, the defense is most likely in man coverage, which could open up the deep route and quick slants or curls. Another great way to exploit the man-defense would be to use crossing routes. If the linebackers are covering tight ends or slot receivers, the defenders could easily get beat as the receivers cross each other. Being able to successfully recognize man coverage is a huge boost for your offense.

Now we can move on to zone coverage, which can be complicated to read because of the various types. Cover 1 is simply one defensive back dropping into deep coverage, typically the free safety; Cover 2 is where there are two safeties that split the deep field coverage; Cover 3 splits the deep zone into three parts; Cover 4 into four parts. 

Here is a quick breakdown on how to recognize these coverages, and then rip them apart.

Cover 1
You should be able to recognize Cover 1 by watching the free safety. If he starts to cheat to the middle of the field and the rest of the defense looks like they are in man coverage you are most likely seeing Cover 1. 

How to beat it
Stretch the field vertically. The lone deep defender will be forced to make a choice as to which receiver he will help cover. This could lead to a most unwanted mismatch. Another weakness of this defense is letting receivers gain yards after the catch due to open running lanes.

Cover 2 
The main thing you have to look for is safety movement, or lack thereof. If neither safety moves then the defense is most likely in Cover 2. 

How to beat it
Cover 2 will leave a gap in coverage on the sidelines because the cornerbacks will most likely be covering the flats. Out or flag patterns could potentially be a viable option to go with here.

Cover 3
The strong safety is the key. When you see him creeping up into the box, you know its Cover 3. This leaves the corners and the free safety to cover one third of the deep field each.

How to beat it
Cover 3 might be the toughest zone formation to beat consistently, as it works well against the run and pass. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Flats tend to be very high percentage plays, and can go for big yards. It’s also not a bad idea to check out the deep middle of the field. A tight end could get open for a big gain.

Cover 4 
Should be easy as pie right? Sure is. When the corners drop back off the receivers and possibly towards the sidelines this should be an indication of Cover 4 defense.

How to beat it 
Beating the Cover 4 might not get you huge yards, but you can definitely march the rock down the field. Slants can be very effective as well as screens. A draw play mixed in could also catch the defense off guard.

Final Thoughts

These are just the basics of reading the defense. It only gets more complicated from here, but this should be a solid start, and hopefully this will give you a general idea on how to improve your offensive game in both Madden and NCAA.


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Member Comments
# 1 jmik58 @ 10/12/11 01:53 PM
One of the best ways to improve the experience of playing these games (especially on offense) is to learn the game and how to read defenses pre and post snap. I think it may be better if these "guides" were released in a more specific format because it's never as simple or as basic as a one or two sentence blurb will allow.

I commend you for taking a step to improve the knowledge base of the average gamer out there. While there are a few poins I disagree with you on regarding weaknesses, etc. of each defense and in the keys to reading the coverages, I do like that OS is enhancing the experience by incorporating articles such as this.

While I'm not out to step on toes, I would definitely be willing to contribute to similar articles. I'm no expert but I do have coaching experience and love sharing how knowledge of the real-world game can translate into improved performance when playing the virtual representation.

I like where this is headed and I'd love to help moving forward if there is a need.
 
# 2 scoonie05 @ 10/12/11 01:53 PM
Nice!! Keep it coming
 
# 3 AgustusM @ 10/12/11 02:23 PM
Cover 1 is not a Zone defense - it is man free. that is man to man across the board with 1 player (typically, but not always) the Free Safety playing the middle to well, be the safety against big plays. Most man to man is cover 1.

Also worth noting that "true" cover 2 is 2 deep zone with 5 zones underneath, but you can also get a 2 Man look which is man across and 2 safeties or "Tampa 2" - which is really cover 3 stat starts out looking like 2 but the Mike back drops to deep middle and gives you 3 deep and 4 underneath.
 
# 4 ggsimmonds @ 10/12/11 04:01 PM
A word of caution to the reader should be given in this article though. There are variations of each defense type presented here. For example the author suggests that the flats are successful against a Cover-3 but there is a variation rightly called Cover-3 Flats that could come as a nasty surprise to the novice.
 
# 5 truintellectplaya @ 10/12/11 04:03 PM
Meh, I always read the safety it is that simple.
 
# 6 PVarck31 @ 10/12/11 05:24 PM
Thanks for reading guys. I know Cover 1 is technically a man coverage. I used it to point out that the safety would be covering a deep zone, and to let people know the deep part of the field would be easier to hit.

I do understand there are a ton of variations to these coverage's. This article was just to show the very basic shells of them without variations taken into account. If we went there, this would read like a NFL playbook. No one has time for that.
 
# 7 Ryn Vintage1986 @ 10/12/11 05:32 PM
This helps offline, but online it's kind of useless. Not that the writer didn't do well, but there's no read for a nano blitz with waggly linebackers.
In other words, this would be helpful if there was a a videogame out that played like real football.
 
# 8 truintellectplaya @ 10/12/11 06:41 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ryn Vintage1986
This helps offline, but online it's kind of useless. Not that the writer didn't do well, but there's no read for a nano blitz with waggly linebackers.
In other words, this would be helpful if there was a a videogame out that played like real football.
Co-sign this to the fullest.
 
# 9 ggsimmonds @ 10/12/11 06:49 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ryn Vintage1986
This helps offline, but online it's kind of useless. Not that the writer didn't do well, but there's no read for a nano blitz with waggly linebackers.
In other words, this would be helpful if there was a a videogame out that played like real football.

While what you say is true, EA did add online communities this year for this very reason. Join a community where it is not a contest to see who is better at exploiting the AI.
 
# 10 elementz09 @ 10/12/11 09:13 PM
Question: Which safety is on what side? When playing madden or ncaa, looking at the defense is the FS on the left or right?
 
# 11 deadly738 @ 10/12/11 10:41 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by elementz09
Question: Which safety is on what side? When playing madden or ncaa, looking at the defense is the FS on the left or right?
When facing the Defense from the Offensive Side, the FS is usually to the left.
 
# 12 Jadakiss88 @ 10/14/11 05:39 PM
It's more basics to reading a defense one easy thing to do after the snap is to watch the safeties and the drop your eyes to the linebackers (it takes time to perfect I know). But it's best to get a playbook learn everything about it and figure out a game plan. The offense can dictate the defense more than some think you just have to be willing to put in the time to understand your playbook, what it allows you to do, your players, what your players strengths are and what your opponent can and can't stop.
 
# 13 Big FN Deal @ 10/14/11 09:27 PM
Nice write-up but is reading the defense necessary in Madden?

I usually watch the safeties when determining if I should go deep on a pass but I think I do this because I try to play realistic. However, if I just wanted to come out throwing deep all game without considering what the defense is doing, I think it would still work.

I would love for reading the defense and anticipating the offense to be a requirement for success in Madden instead of a bonus.
 

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