I’m back with the second part in a two-part series breaking down gameplay in Madden NFL 19. Part 1 was all about the offense. Today, I’m covering the defensive side of the ball. There have been some big changes to the defense in Madden, and much like the rest of the game these changes help to bring the game closer to being an accurate representation of football. Because defense has to cover all options, instead of breaking it down between passing and running defense, I’ll be going over changes to user defense and the defensive looks you can expect from the CPU.
Disclaimer: All games were played on All-Pro Simulation
- Man defense has been greatly improved. It’s always been pretty good against the CPU but was really poor against other users, particularly in Madden 18. With the changes that have been made to player movement with the Real Player Motion technology, defenders can now better stay step for step with their man instead of getting burned when the receiver makes his break. This is particularly apparent when using man to cover “C routes.”
- WR/DB battles have been refined so that there is far more attempts to strip the ball when a receiver is going to make the catch. There seems to be more animations with defenders going up in the air, and instead of being stiff and rigid, the animations look fluid and you’ll see hands where they are supposed to be — and swatting the appropriate things.
- Tackling has been very much improved. I’ve seen very organic looking tackles, and it seems the over the top tackle animations have been toned down. In Madden 18, it wasn’t uncommon to see hits that would undoubtedly cause serious injury, but fortunately in Madden 19 those type of tackles are few and far between. Tackles now look more realistic and there are some very good looking two-man tackles in the game.
- Hit stick animations look like they’ve been completely reworked. They’re also harder to line up, and you have to be a bit closer to the runner and line up a clean shot in most instances. Whiffing on a hit stick will pretty much take that defender out of the play since the recovery animation is so long. Also, the low hit stick fumble is gone so the only way to cause a hit stick fumble is to go up high.
- Pre-play adjustments work the way they’re intended to. Last year there was a well known bug where choosing to protect the sticks didn’t work. This year it will actually change coverage to protect the first-down marker. Pass commit has also been adjusted to be more in line with run commit. Now you can’t just pass commit and expect to still be able to effectively stop the run.
- There still seems to be too many user drops on interceptions and with that comes a lot of pinball effects for the football. Many times a DB will have an open shot at a pick and it’ll bounce off of him. The ball will then ricochet off of every single closing player in the vicinity. It’s not a game breaking thing by any means, but it looks pretty bad. Hopefully this can be cleaned up in the future.
- Pass rush for users is still a bit frustrating. Where the CPU seems to peel off of blocks quickly, a user defensive lineman seems to get sucked up into a block for at least 2-3 pass rush moves. More often than not, it’ll be a CPU teammate that will pressure the QB before you get a chance to. It’s still a more rewarding experience to play as a linebacker on defense.
- Speaking of user linebackers, you can no longer patrol a third of the field at a time. RPM prevents the circle strafing and unrealistically fast cuts from last year. In Madden 19, it’s very important to stick to your assignment with only a little bit of wiggle room. Great users will still be able to anticipate how a play will unfold and can leave their assignment based upon their diagnosis, but most players will want to play their zone or their man accordingly.
- One of the most hated aspects of user defense from Madden 18 is gone. This year, holding down L2/LT will put your defender in a strafe, and while strafing you will no longer get faked out by ball-carrier moves. It is essential that players use the strafe mechanic to stay in front of the ball carrier as it actually adds more realism to the game.
- Another aspect of strafing is a new mechanic called the strafe burst. This mechanic is the defensive counter to the one-cut system and will help the defender keep pace with a back who utilizes one cut for a fast change of direction. By hitting the sprint button when coming out of a strafe, the defender will burst towards the direction he’s going. I’ve actually seen many instances of strafe burst being used in coverage to jump routes so there is some potential for good users to exploit strafe burst to get user picks.
- The new cover 4 defenses are quite good. Of course, like many other defenses they can be situational but with a bit of pre-play adjustment, cover 4 can be used to play both the pass and the run.
- Varying your defensive coverage is more important than ever in Madden NFL 19. CPU play calling has been improved, and on the higher difficulty levels the CPU will exploit you for over committing or running the same vanilla defense too many times.
- The CPU rarely drops interceptions and has a habit of having linebackers jump a bit too high for balls over the middle. This is especially true in cover 2, and in situations where the linebacker is sitting in a mid read and you have receivers on crossing routes. I’ve even had a linebacker intercept a pass to a receiver on a deep post. It doesn’t happen all the time but it happens enough that it’s something to game plan for.
- There are still instances where a DB will get an unrealistic speed boost so that they can make a play on the ball. Especially on out routes, a defender will be 3-4 yards behind only to become Usain Bolt and make a play on the ball as it approaches the WR. It’s an annoying legacy issue that still seems to be present in the game.
- The 91 zone threshold is gone. No longer will DBs make a psychic break on the ball either. Now, a defender has to have eyes on the QB or the ball to make a break, otherwise a pass will get through to the receiver or even bounce right off of the defender’s back. 99 zone defenders have the best chance for making instant breaks on the ball, but even with the highest rating in the game it doesn’t happen every time.
- CPU pass rush is really good. This is the first Madden in a long time where I have had multiple coverage sacks in a game. The CPU pass rush gets in quickly, and if you can’t get the ball out in rhythm you’re better off throwing it away. This adds a lot of strategy to the passing game and actually makes draw plays an effective counter to a strong pass rush.
- CPU defenses will play largely according to the coaching scheme. If they’re primarily a zone dominant defense, then you can expect to face mostly zone — the same is true for man to man. Press coverage is more effective too so don’t expect to always beat press coverage with fly routes. While adding to the immersion, having defenses play according to scheme allows the weekly practices to actually prepare you for the opponent.
- The CPU does a good job of adjusting to users who have the habit of running the same play over and over. It seems as if they start jumping routes and heading to the hole on running plays. Overall, the CPU defense just plays a much smarter brand of football this year. Late-game defense is especially good as the CPU becomes very effective at causing turnovers. It never feels cheap, however.
- CPU still has a nasty habit of blocking too many clutch field goals. I’ve had six blocked field goals happen to me in the first season of my franchise. The animation is exactly the same so you know that it’s coming, and it remains a frustrating legacy issue.
- Using coach adjustments will affect your slot corner so choosing to have best on best or matching up by speed has the potential to nullify that specialty depth chart position.
- Blitzing is stronger by virtue of man defense actually working well this season. Mixing in blitzes and using pre-play to show blitz, man align, give cushion, etc. adds layers to your defensive coverage, especially in user vs. user games.
- Fumbles remain a mess to try and recover. There are too many leapfrog animations, and often when a defender recovers a fumble cleanly he will stumble and fall needlessly to the ground — only then to lay on the ground for far too long. It looks like this was done on purpose to prevent fumble recoveries for touchdowns but it kills immersion in the game.
- While I’m not 100 percent sure, it seems like the defense is still a step faster than the offense. Even when using sprint lightly and only in the open field, I’ve seen slower defenders start to close on speedy offensive players on a breakaway. They don’t always catch them, but it definitely seems like something is up with speed levels for each side of the ball.
- Mobile QBs are effective even when using QB contain pre-play adjustments. There are a lot of ways to get out of the pocket and scramble, but one of the most common is to step up and through the pocket thereby nullifying having the edge set.
There are some minor gripes and some lasting legacy issues, but defense in Madden NFL 19 is ultimately more rewarding and successful than in the past. As long as you have a fundamental knowledge of defense and football in general, it’s possible to lock up opponents and dominate. User linebackers have been toned down a little bit but are definitely still the best way to play defense. Man defense is effective against users and make man blitzing a viable strategy. Overall, playing defense has been more fun for me than in any Madden since the hit stick was introduced. Again, there are some minor issues, but EA has done a great job on moving gameplay forward and making it engaging to play.