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The Philadelphia Eagles Offense Breaks Madden NFL 23

Madden NFL 23

The Philadelphia Eagles Offense Breaks Madden NFL 23

The spread read option featured by the offense of the Philadelphia Eagles, the 2022 NFC Champions, is a bonafide problem for any defense unfortunate enough to oppose it. The original idea and the many concepts which dovetailed from it are not new by any means — longtime college football coach Rich Rodriguez first drew up zone read as the head coach of Glenville State in 1991. However, head coach Nick Sirianni and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen have their professional football team running the now-ubiquitous scheme arguably with better results than we’ve seen before at any level of football.

The numbers back up just how dangerous the Birds’ “college” offense has been as they have executed it against paid professionals this season. The robust sports statistics database Sports Info Solutions catalogs the team’s numerous offensive statistical achievements from the 2022 NFL season:

  • Eagles running back Miles Sanders led the NFL in carries (88) and rushing touchdowns (4) from read option, and his 401 rushing yards and 21 first downs on read options trailed only Ravens quarterback and 2019 NFL Most Valuable Player Lamar Jackson
  • Sanders led all NFL players in rushing yards gained on RPOs (368)
  • Sanders led all NFL players in carries (220), rushing yards (1,050), rushing touchdowns (10), rushing first downs (52), and broken tackles (23) on run plays executed from shotgun formations
  • Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts led all NFL quarterbacks in rushing attempts (28), rushing yards (182), yards per carry (6.5), touchdowns (5), first downs (11), first down percentage (39.3%), and missed tackle percentage (32.1%) on RPOs
  • Hurts led all NFL quarterbacks in rushing touchdowns scored from shotgun (8)
  • Hurts led the NFL in pass attempts off RPOs (69); off RPOs he was also 2nd in the NFL in passing yards (434), air passing yards (99), and passing touchdowns (4), and threw no interceptions
  • Hurts tied Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes for the NFL lead in passing touchdowns from shotgun following play action (9), and trailed only Mahomes in passer rating on such plays among QBs who threw at least 50 play-action shotgun passes (111.5)
  • Hurts led the league outright in attempts (130), completions (90), and passing yards (1,095) in passes from shotgun following playaction

The Philadelphia Eagles Offense Breaks Madden NFL 23

madden nfl 23 roster update super bowl

What made the Eagles spread offense so effective? Can we replicate or even exceed that success in Madden NFL 23? Do we have a better chance of slowing down the Eagles on the sticks than their real-life opponents do on Sundays?

Overloading Defenders With Formations And RPOs

Some of the Eagles’ most favored tactics are on display in this play from the NFC Championship, and it’s one of their bread-and-butter calls. Foremost, it’s an RPO (note the bubble action by tight end Dallas Goedert in addition to the read action by quarterback Jalen Hurts and running back Miles Sanders). Second, 2022 first-team AP All-Pro and future Pro Football Hall of Fame center Jason Kelce is leading the way as a puller. The Eagles field arguably the best offensive line in the entire National Football League, and the veteran Kelce is their most heralded among the many talented players in that group. Among all interior offensive linemen in the league, Kelce’s combination of ability, intelligence, and mobility is arguably without peer.

The detail I’d like to focus on the most for this piece is the Eagles deploying three receivers and a running back all on the same side of the ball. A running back aligned to the strong side of a trips look is referred to as a “fast four”, so named because the running back is the fourth receiver on that side. Recall that defenses identify receivers on each side of the formation by counting them from the sideline inward back to the ball. The presence of a fast four on the field can quickly wreck unprepared defenses.

The look can radically simplify the pre-snap picture for the quarterback — either the defense kicks over all its coverage to account for all four receivers and weakens its backside run defense, or it plays a more traditional formation and invites the offense to take advantage of the overload it created. The RPO action in combination with this formation can quite literally freeze the linebacker in place, as FOX Sports commentator Greg Olsen called out on a rather infamous Fred Warner play that happened during the same game.

It’s not just the threat of the weak-side run that makes this formation so problematic. The play side being overloaded with receivers limits the coverages that defenses can employ to bracket vertical threats and also stay sound against the run. The Tennessee Titans found out last December just how difficult accounting for all the threats this formation presents can be on this passing touchdown from Jalen Hurts to A.J. Brown. Hurts uses play action from the 3×1 Strong look to make the blitzing linebackers hesitate just a moment to honor the weak side run threat, buying enough time to throw the opposite-hash vertical route to Brown.

This is a difficult throw that not many quarterbacks can make, but Hurts is an accomplished thrower of vertical routes and he gets plenty enough on the ball here to deliver it across field and on target. The vertical routes by the #1 and #2 receivers, in this case A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, ensure single coverage for both of them. Brown wins the ball at the catch point against rookie cornerback Tre Avery to complete one of the more impressive passing touchdowns scored by any quarterback and receiver duo this NFL season.

The Read Option And RPO Are Still Effective In Madden

Against the run, this look is just as challenging to defend against in Madden as it is in real life. We can’t quite replicate how the Eagles executed the run shown above because very few run plays in Madden feature a pulling center, and there’s actually no RPO in Madden 23’s Gun Bunch HB Str formation available for us to call. We do, however, have access to both a zone-blocking RPO and a play with a backside puller from Gun Trey Y-Flex Str, so we can get reasonably close.

Similar to my previous experiment, I’m entering practice mode on All-Madden difficulty, Simulation game style, and default sliders.

Against plays such as Gun Trey Y-Flex Str – RPO Zone Peek, in addition to the stress the familiar read option action places on the backside defensive end, a tremendous amount of additional pressure is placed on the middle linebacker by that same action in the backfield. The linebacker is conflicted between filling his lane in run defense or staying home against the slant behind him. Whatever decision he makes is wrong, and the offense can reliably gain some yards with sound execution. In our example here, 49ers all-everything linebacker Fred Warner stays at home, so we give to Sanders and take the yards.

I’d like to see the play-side guard Landon Dickerson honor the zone block scheme and help Jason Kelce a bit more to secure the ace block against the nose tackle. Kelce has plenty high enough ratings to handle it on his own more often than not, but a lesser center might not fare as well.

Run plays with a backside puller are a bit more consistent. Gun Trey Y-Flex Str – 0 1 Trap isn’t an RPO or a read option, but it illustrates how effectively this formation can open up running lanes for us even without slowing the defense down. 0 1 Trap gives the runner two down blocks against the interior defensive linemen by the center and play-side guard, while the backside pulling guard Isaac Seumalo leads the way and affords his running back easy yards.

This honestly isn’t really how Trap is supposed to be used. In my experience, Trap is typically most useful against Over fronts, baiting the play-side 3-technique defensive tackle out of the play and running into the gap he vacated with blockers quickly shooting to the second level. In this case, though, the play sort of functions like a weak-side Power-O call, and it works out in our favor.

The RPO is not really anything new for recent Madden players — they’ve carried the concept in their offensive toolbox since the play was introduced in Madden NFL 20 — so let’s dig a bit deeper into challenges that these overloaded passing sets present Madden defenses.

Four Receivers Is One More Than Madden Can Handle

This will not end well for San Francisco.

Against drop-back passes from overloaded passing sets with a fast-four, modern football defenses have multiple options at their disposal. You may have already guessed that all these options are man-match coverage checks of some variety — Push calls, Box, Bingo, Lock And Level, and Traffic, to name a few. You may already have familiarity with the Box check in particular. Madden defenses execute Box whenever Cover 4 Quarters and Cover 6 with the Match adjustment enabled encounter a bunch formation such as Gun Bunch Offset. You can read more about the details of each specific check at Match Quarters if you’d like.

Unfortunately, I’m not going to spend much time on each check in this piece because only one of these checks (Box) is available in Madden. More importantly, Madden NFL 23 and every Madden game before it disables man-match coverage entirely, regardless of coaching adjustments, whenever the offense runs a play with either a pre-snap fast-four (ex. Gun Trey Y-Flex Str), a fourth wide receiver on the same side (ex. Gun Empty Quads), or any other play that results with a post-snap fast-four (for example, due to orbit motion: ex. Gun Y-Trips Offset Wk – Mtn Z-Spot). Even if Madden 23 included all the possible man-match coverage calls known to the sport, none would be available to us in the game against these overloaded passing looks due to this hard-and-fast limitation.

The outright denial of match coverage options from the defense when opposed by fast-four and quads sets creates a lot of problems for the foundational spot-drop zone defenses featured in Madden NFL 23. Cover 3 Sky has been dead on arrival against Four Verticals of any variety since Air Raid offense originator Hal Mumme first drew it up, and here in Madden is no exception. Just throw the ball to the slot with good timing and velocity and you will gain chunk yards at will. The umbrella coverage offered by Cover 4 Drop concedes at least five yards underneath if not more to the checkdown receiver. Madden‘s spot-drop Cover 2 variants get exposed by shots to the “turkey hole” (thank you, Jon Gruden), the area near the boundary between the flat cornerback and the deep half safety.

While it won’t carry you to all the way into the Madden Championship Series, you can honestly get pretty far in Madden 23 online head-to-head calling only Four Verticals, be it out of a fast-four formation or otherwise. It might smell cheesy, but prevalence of spot-drop zone and the concept’s effectiveness against most of those same spot-drop zones simply invites such play-call spamming. The very first question you should ask your opponent’s defense during a Madden 23 game is whether they are prepared to counter Four Verticals from 3×1 trips with man-match coverage. If they stubbornly play spot-drop, you can call the pass as many times as you like and move the ball at will. It’s free real estate.

Pure man coverage doesn’t really fare any better against fast-four formations. Crossers by the detached #3 receiver on plays such as Gun Trey Y-Flex Str – Four Verticals eviscerate most man coverage calls in Madden, and many times a linebacker will draw that over route assignment. A good receiver lined up in the slot will generally always stack an overmatched slot cornerback when the defense calls Cover 2 Man. Thematically appropriate for Super Bowl LVII this upcoming weekend: Gun Trey Y-Flex Str – Jet Chip Wasp — the play the Kansas City Chiefs themselves made famous in Super Bowl LIV — can reliably break open against Cover 1.

The coup de grace on top of all these bad options is Cover 3 Buzz. One of the few coverage looks in Madden 23 that does not tip its hand pre-snap, actually allows a one-play touchdown against some fast-four variants with a solo wide receiver outside the numbers, such as Gun Y Off Trips. When this set is met by the defense with Cover 3 Buzz (tagged as Buzz because a lineBacker is the force defender), the back-side boundary cornerback with deep third coverage responsibility is incorrectly added into the run fit in place of the hook-curl safety, and that cornerback is assigned the force defender instead of the backside linebacker.

Since the boundary cornerback is playing with his eyes in the backfield (he’s in the run fit), play action will freeze him. Falling out from that, combining Gun Y Off Trips – PA Double Post and a casual streak hot route for a fast receiver on the backside against Cover 3 Buzz will very often net you six points for free.

As far as I can tell, there’s really not any viable defense available in Madden NFL 23 against aggressive downfield passing from fast-four and quads formations, other than either hoping an X-Factor pass rusher beats his blocker and affects the quarterback, or channeling one’s inner Gregg Williams, dialing up a big blitz, and hoping it gets home. As a heavy man-match coverage user myself, the way these formations outright disable Madden‘s match adjustment by rule is in the front of my mind whenever I play online.

I’m honestly a bit shocked that these sets are not a heavy part of the Madden Championship Series competitive meta. They provide an obvious built-in competitive advantage to the offense by outright disabling one of the defense’s only viable coverage options defending against passing offenses from trips sets.

Fast Four For Fast Scores

The rather glaring omission of defensive options and AI against fast-four and quads passing sets in Madden NFL 23 makes any playbook containing such a formation one of the best offensive playbooks in the game by default. Until we get those options, we’re left to play the game we got. Players have to assume that online opponents will use these formations with so few defensive counters available against them, so learning to use them effectively is honestly the only viable option to stay afloat on the digital gridiron for now.

If you’re looking for a reliable way to rack up some easy yards and touchdowns as we open the third and final act on the virtual gridiron of Madden 23 this offseason, take these formations into the dark room for some film study:

  • Gun Bunch HB Str
  • Gun Bunch Quads
  • Gun Empty Quads
  • Gun Trey Open Str
  • Gun Trey Y-Flex Str
  • Gun Trey Y-Flex Wk
  • Gun Trio Offset Wk
  • Gun Trips
  • Gun Y-Off Trips
  • Gun Y-Trips Offset

These formations are sprinkled across several teams’ playbooks in Madden 23. You can notably find them in the offensive plans for the Bears, Bengals, Bills, Buccaneers, Cardinals, Chiefs, Eagles, Panthers, and Ravens.

I’ll close this piece by once again echoing my desire for more man-match coverage options in Madden NFL 24, not only to more closely replicate NFL defenses, but also to give players viable defensive options against these currently-overpowered sets.

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CM Hooe was forbidden from trying out for his middle- and high-school football teams by his concussion-fearing parents – he was too small and too slow anyway – so he wisely gravitated to sports video games instead. He is an officially-credited “Madden NFL Superfan” (Madden NFL 10) and was a participant in the EA Sports GameChangers program in 2016 (Madden NFL 17).

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