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Madden 21 Gameplay Improvements: What the Gridiron Notes Mentioned and Left Out


Madden NFL 21

Madden 21 Gameplay Improvements: What the Gridiron Notes Mentioned and Left Out

We are roughly two months away from the release of Madden 21 and excitement for the series is beginning to pick up. With that in mind, here’s a quick breakdown on Madden 21‘s gameplay enhancements.

Improved Pursuit And Angles

The run game was overpowered in Madden 20, and one thing I’m most interested in seeing is what will be done to fix that. This year, Madden is focusing more on force defenders that will play a crucial part in your defensive game plan. These players will take better angles, set the edge and give the defense a chance versus an unstoppable offense.

We were also introduced to hammer and fill players, which are referred to as:

Hammer and Fill players, who are the defenders in the run fit responsible for the open gaps inside of the Force player, will take wider initial pursuit angles vs. outside running plays, that will help them get over the top towards the outside of the formation quicker, and prevent them from getting mired up inside by blockers and other traffic.


We’ve all been put in a situation where the linebackers and other defensive players don’t hit a gap or take the wrong angle of pursuit. This would often happen with outside runs where LBs and DBs would get caught in a cluster of players, unable to get to the outside. It seems like the development focus was on trying to alleviate this issue.

These enhancements should help stymie the run game. In relation to the run game, one thing that wasn’t explicitly talked about that we’ll have to see on has to do with dive plays. Will the defensive line still get pushed back one to two yards most of the time on those plays?

Tackling Enhancements And Player Awareness In Madden 21

EA has also revisited the tackling in this year’s game, and it sounds like it should be vastly improved. On top of that, more contextual field awareness should be shown by players.

Now, players will extend the ball at the goal-line, first-down marker or in critical situations. This helps bring more realism to the virtual playground. It would have been nice to control this stuff yourself, but it sounds like it will be determined by your player’s ratings and superstar abilities.

In relation to tackling:

Defenders will now be much more aware when they are engaged in blocks near a ball carrier, and they will trigger tackle attempts from these involved blocks inside the trenches, and in the open field vs. impact blocks.

Hit-Sticks and Dive Tackles have been tuned to make them more accessible and functional, all of which come together with our new Breakdown Tackles for a more intuitive defensive experience.

Way too many times, I have watched a defensive lineman engage with an opposing offensive lineman and not reach his hand out and try to make the stop. This year, EA is insisting this won’t be an issue. We also saw the new open-field tackles that were in the trailer.

Overall, there’s a ton to like about the changes coming on defense. What we probably still need to hear about more on defense are things relating to pass coverage elements. Passing way way harder than running last year, but there were still some quirks here that need some more information. The biggest one might be how often your players in the secondary did not react when a ball was thrown directly at their face. Players were generally good about swatting the ball or noticing it when it was outside their immediate vicinity, but a ball being thrown directly at them was sometimes the hardest one to handle.

Quarterback And Passing Upgrades

Over the years, one of Madden’s most frustrating things was the delay between hitting the desired WR’s button and the ball leaving the QBs fingertips. Now, EA says that a QB’s animation will be broken immediately after the receiver’s icon is selected. This means you should have more abilities to get the ball out while in other animations or being tackles. This improvement in button responsiveness interrupting animations should allow you to make some throws you otherwise could never make before.

This also pertains to dropping back with the QB. If you intend to roll right and throw the out route at the sticks, you can move your QB that direction during the drop back. 


Accuracy has also been tweaked in this year’s game, as well as the addition of QBs throwing out of sacks. This will be interesting to see how it plays out because it’s mostly tied to when you get hit in relation to where you are in your throwing animation. So it does not have anything to do with ratings or abilities, rather it’s just an animation priority thing.

Another addition that should be helpful is the introduction of deep pass under pressure and a the throw under pressure rating. This will allow QBs to adjust depending on how close a defender is and unload the ball quickly. According to the stream, this is for passes over 40 or more yards. The change seems like an excellent addition, but I’d like to see it done for short and intermediate passes as well. That being said, it was very frustrating on deep balls because it felt at times like even QBs like Michael Vick would not have enough urgency on getting the ball out on bombs. You would feel like you had an open player, but since QB X didn’t have the Rodgers release, he was at a disadvantage trying to throw deep under pressure because he still had to do a major load up even though he had elite arm strength. So, again, contextual awareness should hopefully help this out.

We didn’t hear much about play-action blocking or if PA will be stronger in general this year. It’s nice to hear that you can branch out of PA animations more quickly, but the bigger issue with play-action passing was more the blocking than anything else. On top of that, when plays fracture or breakdown when a QB scrambles, will the AI receivers have that same contextual awareness the developers are harping on in other areas and look for open spots on the field to make themselves available? Or will they just sort of funnel to the middle of the field or even towards other defenders like they generally have in the past?

Other Enhancements

There’s plenty of changes that will have a big impact on head-to-head play.

When trying to come down with a user catch, players can now control what the receiver will do next. Pushing forward means the receiver’s movement will continue forward with the chance much more likely of getting a first down. This will be extremely useful on slants and other routes that lead to yards after the catch, adding another element to the passing game. On the flip side, pass interference and illegal contact will be called much more (hopefully this carries over to AI vs. human games as well). This is something that desperately needed to be implemented on the competitive scene.


One of my favorite additions is the improved pre-play audible system. Here’s what EA had to say about the improvements.

The pre-play audibles system now considers the actual personnel on the field. When changing your personnel in the Play Call menu, either via packages or formation subs, your pre-play audibles will now match the personnel package on the field. If you are using 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TE’s) in a formation like Gun Empty Flex, you will be able to audible to any other formation in your playbook that also uses 12 personnel. For now, this feature only applies to the offense, but as it continues to evolve, we are looking for opportunities to continue to expand upon it.

On top of that, I at least need to point out two other elements. The fact that you will now have a modifier that makes offsides penalties more likely if you’re constantly flipping plays or calling audibles at the line is a good thing. Watching competitive Madden can be brutal purely because of all these shenanigans, and it sort of takes away from the strategy of calling a play to begin with. You’ll still see oodles of hot routes, but at least this should help curtail some of the other pre-play chaos.


On top of that, there is now a zone drop coaching adjustment so you’ll better be able to modify your coverage to stop money plays when the AI simply is not getting it done anymore. This is a bit of a “cop out” since on some level you would hope the AI can just figure out the issue and stop it if it’s happening over and over again, but it’s at least a way for the user to override spotty AI and fix the issue on their own during a game.

Bottom Line

On the surface, EA’s Madden 21 trailer looked all too familiar to me. But after hearing what Clint Oldenburg had to say and reading through the Gridiron Notes, I think there is some promise here. At the very least, it does seem like EA read a lot of gameplay feedback and knocked out most of the high priority complaints in terms of at least trying to address them this year one way or another. They probably won’t all be successful fixes, but at least it’s easy enough to point to the developers trying to fix a lot of the high-level complaints — especially as it relates to playing someone else on your couch or online.

On top of that, most of the new improvements aren’t “back of the box” features, and that’s perhaps a good thing. With Madden’s gameplay, the football still needs to get better and that has to override marketing buzzwords, especially if we have a new generation of consoles on the horizon. Because although this may be the last installment on current-gen systems, EA is trying to set themselves up for the next-generation of gaming. In order to have success, they must go back and rework some of the game’s finest details.

Now we wait for the beta.

What are you most excited about in Madden 21? Least excited? Let us know in the comments section below.

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I like video games and the miami dolphins.

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