Football is a passing game. Despite the Denver Broncos riding a dominant defense to their third Super Bowl ring, the majority of playoff teams last year fielded offenses with potent aerial attacks. Whether it be Tom Brady’s precision attack or Carson Palmer connecting on big plays, the rules in the NFL favor the pass. How does this relate to Madden? Quite simply, it doesn’t. Madden has always favored the pass as its primary means of racking up yards, but Madden 17 moves towards balance, albeit, in a good way.
New Zone Coverages
To be blunt, zone coverage has been a weakness in Madden for quite some time, forcing online and offline players to rely on man schemes as their primary defensive strategy. With the re-working of zone coverage, passing in Madden 17 has taken an uptick in difficulty as players learn to adjust to smarter AI. Expanding upon the three assignments in previous editions, Madden 17 has heightened coverage awareness to the point where QBs need to be at their best. Assignments such as the “seam flat” guard against previous money routes such as the “seam route” (thanks Captain Obvious). It’s a high impact change because you will have to find some passing plays in the playbook designed to beat more than man coverage now.
Impact – High
The physics upgrade doesn’t only pertain to tackling. Since individual body parts can now come into contact with the ball, pass accuracy and securing the catch play an even more important role. This doesn’t only impact pass catching as strip-sacks and quarterbacks who are hit while throwing will result in more realistic outcomes that showcase the game’s new “ball-tracking” animations. I’ve experienced a couple of passes that ended up in a defender’s hands, justifying all those extra practices doing tip drills. However, it’s only a moderate change due to the fact that tips/deflected passes aren’t regular occurrences.
Impact – Moderate
Last year Madden 16 gave us enhanced “throwing on the Run,” “total control” and “high/low” passes. This year the main addition is the double tap of the receiving button to throw a touch pass. While having more options is better, I still find myself using the lob and bullet as my two go-to passing touches. Not to be overlooked, the ability to use “enlarged icons” allows for greater visual feedback, especially for those of us whose aren’t as young as we used to be.
Impact – Low
Having a strong aerial attack in Madden 17 is about pre-snap reads just as much as it is about what happens after the ball is snapped.
Look at your offensive line. Is it unbalanced? If you have a tight end on the line, is there a defender over him or does he have a free release? How’s the coverage on the outside? Are the corners in press coverage? Are they giving you a cushion, or is it a combination of both? Do I have a mismatch anywhere (LB on a slot WR)? Is a safety walking down towards the box to help with run support? Are they at mixed depths (one high and the other low possibly indicating Cover 1 Zone, a safety blitz, etc.), or are they both high (maybe an indicator of Cover 2/3 Zone)?
These are all internalized questions that I ask myself every time I call a pass play. While it might seem like a lot on paper, it only takes 5-10 secs max to rationalize everything once you get the hang of it. Don’t be afraid to use the tried and true method of sending a guy in motion to see how the defense reacts. It’s an age-old trick in Madden but one that is effective nonetheless. Lastly, don’t be afraid to use formation subs. While restricted in Madden 17, the ability to move a player like Antonio Brown around creates headaches for defenses as they have to account for his every move. While Madden 17 doesn’t have all of the intricacies to allow us to channel our inner Peyton Manning, there’s still a lot that can be done pre-snap.
Once the ball is snapped my eyes are immediately focused on identifying pressure. Not only is important to pick up the blitzers with pre-snap line adjustments, but blitzes often create exploitable space behind them. Drags and slants are an important part of a successful Madden game for this reason, and a quick pass can help move the chains and sustain drives. One important part of Madden 17 that I’ve touched on before are the new ball physics. When throwing over the middle, it’s important that you have the proper passing lane as swatted balls can lead to interceptions due to the aforementioned ball tracking.
After quickly identifying if and where the pressure is coming from — and what type of coverage the defense is in — my eyes are scanning the field doing “coverage reads” (in essence, “throw it to the receiver if the defender does X”). Madden 17 thankfully hasn’t evolved to the point where we’re forced to do “progression reads” (in essence a “sequential order in which you look at your pass catchers”) even though several of us do it automatically (you look at the go/fly/streak first and see if he has a step and/or there is a safety over the top).
It’s at this stage where the passing controls come into play. Does your man have a step on the defender in acres of space? If so, you might to use Total Control Passing and put some touch on the ball (double tap the receiver button) to allow your receiver to run into the pass and get some yards after the catch (YAC). This year, I’ve noticed the CPU has a tendency to press on the outside leaving defenders vulnerable to big plays. While not ideal for us sim-heads, if the CPU is going to give you the chance to eat up some yards you’re well within your rights to take them.
Conversely, if the defense is in tight zone coverage and your receiver is running a hitch/curl, then you might want to put heat on the pass and fire it in there before the coverage has time to react. The bullet pass (hold the receiver button) combined with LT/L2 creates a pass that is really difficult for the defense to intercept/knock down.
As you can see, there’s a lot going in Madden 17 as it relates to the passing game. As we dive deeper into this year’s iteration, we’ll continue to explore the passing game (best playbooks, best routes vs specific coverages, etc.), but in the meantime, tell us how you’re enjoying slinging the rock this year.