Players have asked for a variety of improvements in the trenches and Madden NFL 18 delivers. Our focus was providing tools to the players so adjustments could be made easily, to counter opponents’ tendencies and increase variety in defensive play-calling and disguising. There was also a heavy emphasis on player and unit ratings. Below are some highlights of the OL/DL interaction feature set.
ID the Mike
One of the most common pieces of feedback we received from our community was, “If I know my opponent is blitzing, and I know who’s going to come free, give me the tools to adjust the blocking to pick it up.” Thus, ID the Mike was born.
Before explaining it, let’s first provide some context about the pass blocking system we use in Madden. While most NFL teams have a variety of different pass protection schemes, we currently take rules from all of them and have a hybrid pass protection philosophy, built primarily upon base protection rules. This scheme adapts on the fly to account for all defensive alignments, different protection adjustments, such as slide protection and play-action protection, as well as updating the rules dynamically to account for blockers being added or taken out of the protection via hot routes and audibles.
What is base protection? Base simply means the five offensive linemen will target the four-down defensive linemen plus the Mike linebacker. The Mike being the second defender off the ball from the strong side (not necessarily always the middle linebacker). When extra blockers are added, like running backs or tight ends, they will then be responsible for the Will (weak-side linebacker) and/or the Sam (strong-side linebacker). If slide protection is used, then the offensive line will shift their targeting to either the Will or Sam based on the direction chosen by the user, while the running backs (when they are in the protection) will then block the Mike.
What ID the Mike does is allow users to take this base protection and choose any defender on the field as the Mike or the fifth target of the offensive line. It’s essentially a spotlight tool that allows the player to direct pass protection to any defender on the field and treat that player as the Mike using our base protection principles.
How’s it work? If you think the nickel is blitzing and the middle linebacker is dropping into coverage, open-up the pass protection adjustments menu in pre-play using LB/L1, and hit the A/X button to ID the Mike. Then move the M icon with the LS or the D-Pad to the nickel who is showing blitz and lock it in with another A/X press. You’ve now set your protection to account for the most dangerous threats on the line of scrimmage, plus the defender you believe is rushing. Note, this only works on passing plays, but can also be used on running plays to bluff your opponent.
Using this tool, however, does carry risk. If you’re wrong and you direct your protection to the opposite side of the actual pressure, you carry a very high risk of getting sacked by an unblocked rusher who you have not accounted for. The ID the Mike feature brings a whole new level of strategy to defensive play-calling, forcing players to disguise their pressures and use a variety of alignments and play-calls to keep the offense guessing. All this while meeting the community’s request for pass protection tools to pick up any blitz the defense can throw at you.
Offensive Line Unit Awareness
In addition to new pass protection tools, another common ask is about offensive line chemistry and awareness as a unit. In Madden 18, the aggregate awareness of the whole O-line will now impact their ability to recognize and pick up blitzes. The higher the average awareness rating of the offensive line as a unit, the better they will be at recognizing and reacting to blitzes that come up over the course of a game, including the always tough zone blitz schemes our players like to create by dropping defensive linemen into coverage while bringing heat off the edge.
This feature starts to activate when the average awareness score of the five offensive linemen reaches 80. The ability to recognize blitzes scales. An 80-rated O-line will be able recognize heat about five percent of the time, whereas an O-line averaging 97 or higher in awareness will recognize the pressure on almost every single pass play.
But there’s a catch. Any offensive lineman will tell you that the unit is only as good as it’s center. Thus, the Center’s awareness rating counts 2X relative to everybody else, and his rating will modify the total average up or down by replacing the AWR rating of the lowest rated lineman in the unit. If you want your O-line to play together and recognize those heaters in protection, you’re going to want to make sure you have that critical cog in the middle who can get his linemates on the same page.
This extends to running backs when in protection. While not being calculated as part of the O-line’s AWR score, any pass blocking RB will have the same ability to recognize a blitz and react to it faster as his awareness score increases.
The unit awareness in Madden 18 will make it critical to pay up for the AWR rating in MUT Salary Cap, keep your O-line strong in MUT Ranked and MUT Draft, and to stay on top of AWR progression in Franchise mode or suffer the consequences of having a unit that is not on the same page when picking up blitzes.
Tuning and Improvements
In response to a lot of valuable feedback from our players, we’ve made a whole host of other improvements on the blocking front to improve the gameplay experience and offer more balance in the trenches. Here’s a quick rundown:
We delivered on a lot of the requests our players asked for by providing more tools to customize the blocking experience and making a heavy emphasis on player ratings to ensure that games are decided by the best players on the field. And these are just the highlights of the features and improvements we’ve made in our blocking system in Madden NFL 18! See you in the trenches.