Defensive Exploration in Madden NFL 12

To understand a huge step Madden NFL 12 is taking on the defensive side of the ball, we first have to go back.

It seems like ancient history now, but those of you who remember the passing game in Madden NFL 10, you’ll recall how receivers would often let their momentum carry them out of bounds after a reception, robbing them of precious yards after the catch. An overlooked upgrade from Madden 10 to Madden NFL 11 was the “turn up field” animation that had receivers immediately pivoting and heading towards the end zone if there was room on the field and their agility ratings allowed it. It changed every serious Madden player’s approach to offense as out patterns and crossing routes became deadly and illustrates how a relatively minor tweak can have a major impact on the Madden franchise for years to come.

For Madden NFL 12, defense gets its turn.

All of those receivers turning up field often did so in between seemingly slow-witted defenders in zone coverage. Simply having guys around to tackle slanting wideouts was a common approach on defense in Madden NFL 11. Zone defense will be upgraded in this year’s game so that linebackers and defensive backs aren’t just playing an area on the field. Now they’ll actually pay attention to what’s happening on a play and do a better job of handing off and switching responsibilities.  Rather than simply being near a running back’s hook route, a zone defender will play that running back much closer if that running back is even near the defender’s responsibility.  They’re playing the route runners not the turf in zone defense now.

There’s new logic for switching responsibilities as well and it’s here that we’ll see Madden NFL 12 look even more like NFL football on Sundays. The best way to beat a zone defense is to flood a particular area so that there are more receivers than defenders in an area that a quarterback wants to attack. That will be tougher now that defenders will aggressively let go of and pick up new receivers that enter and leave zones. A linebacker will cover a crossing route by being right in the receiver’s shadow and he’ll quickly pivot and run to a second receiver entering his zone, letting the first receiver be picked up (hopefully) by the next defender. This is the way to play zone defense in football.  In Madden 11, an accurate passer and a receiver with a high catch-in-traffic rating could connect with no problems as a zone defender would merely be around the receiver rather than actually covering him and serving as a deterrent.  In Madden NFL 12, the net result should be a lot more activity on defense during a play as defenders are quickly sprinting and changing direction –according to their ratings—to handle their zone responsibilities. The benefit to offenses is that all of those defenders scrambling around will still open windows of opportunity but only if you’ve called an appropriate play and only if you can deliver a precision pass….which is what we see in the NFL every Sunday.

The New York Jets showed just how effective an aggressive zone can be in their playoff win against the Patriots in January 2011. It allowed the defensive backs to switch to man, disguise their coverages and bring effective blitzes from various angles against one of the top passers of this generation. We’re not saying you’ll be able to run your game like Rex Ryan, but at least you’ll be able to call zone defense in Madden 12 and see some advantage from doing so.

Like we’re seeing in NCAA Football 12, Madden NFL 12 will have an all-new collision system where a player’s momentum and ratings determine the look and effectiveness of the tackle rather than a predetermined animation. This is combined with the new tackling button to give players more control over stopping a ball carrier. You’ll have more responsibility on defense in taking a player down now because you’ll be “launching” a tackle sequence from wherever your defender is positioned at the moment you press the button. Your tackler will reach on a lunge, throw a shoulder or get low and wrap up depending on where he is, what his ratings dictate and the momentum of both he and the ball carrier. The hit stick and defensive assist features aren’t going anywhere either. The tackle button is just being added to the mix.

Keep your eyes here for more on Madden NFL 12 and enhancements to the offensive side of the ball as we move toward an August 30 release.