Often, players forget that Madden NFL is a football game and that the three elements of football strategy Personnel, Position, and Tempo form a strategic triangle. The best defensive strategies consider how to use these aspects to offset offensive advantages; but those elite defensive players can customize their blitzes to speed up opponent offenses to the point of panic. Take advantage of offensive formation weaknesses to blitz the best gaps!
Formation is an example of how position is inherently relevant to the outcome of every play. Madden players who pay keen attention to the formations of their opponents can use simple rules to tip the scales in their favor whenever they chose to bring the heat.
In Madden, formations play the same role as they do in real life. Against less savvy players, sometimes winning the formation battle is all a player needs to do to win the game. Grizzled veterans of the Madden series; however, will present additional obstacles that must be overcome. Knowing and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of an opponent's offensive formation creates opportunities to avoid playing into their strengths, allows defenses to capitalize on the weaknesses.
There are many ways defenses can attack formations to minimize the offense's chances at success. For this article, we will discuss several basic offensive formations and how defenses are likely to attack them. The diagrams, will highlight the positioning of the offensive line and the running backs specifically. Tight ends, are not included in this analysis. To simplify, several graphics indicate the fastest path to the quarterback on a pas play with a straight drop back. At the end of this article, players should gain confidence in their ability to attack most offensive formations while also being able to recognize when their own offensive plays are in jeopardy.
To begin understanding the essentials of attacking offensive formations, we should start with the most basic part of the offensive formation - the offensive line. Comprised of five men, the offensive line is the most consistent portion of any offensive formation. Defenses that do not stress the offensive line, typically will not stress the offense. Defenses must attack the offensive line to impact the result of the play in tangible ways by creating penetration that drops plays for losses, generates sacks, and creates an overall sense of panic that plays out during the course of a game.
The positioning of the offensive line is important. These 5 players are almost always aligned with a center in the middle with a guard and a tackle flanking him on both sides. The spread of the offensive line is also of consequence. Since the ball is always put into play between the hash marks, the offensive tackles on the outside of the offensive line rarely, if ever, line up farther than 2-4 yards outside of the hash marks. This is important when defensive play callers make play calls and setup their attack on the field.
Offensive Madden players can adjust their assignments at the line of scrimmage, but are better served managing their formation to ensure overloads and personnel mismatches do not put them at a disadvantage. Placement of backfield players and tight ends greatly influence the optimal location for defenses to blitz. Running blitizing defenders through a 300 lbs offensive lineman is unwise. It stands to reason that it's easier for a defender to run to the ball when there's no one blocking him. Because of this logic, defenses look to attack the gaps between offensive linemen instead of trying to overpower them. To attack the gaps, defenses must be aware of what the gaps are called, where they are, and which gap is most likely to create a free rush lane into the offensive backfield. Between competitors, the player with the most gap awareness will ultimately have the upper hand over the course of a game.
In a balanced line, gaps in the offensive line are designated with letters to indicate both their location and their logical priority in the blocking scheme. The "A-Gap" is the shortest path to the quarterback and refers to the gaps on either side of the offensive center. Penetration through either of the A-Gaps forces offenses to quicken their execution or risk taking loses that all but destroy any hope of moving the ball. Not only is the A-gap the first gap on the offensive line, it should also be the offenses top protection priority. Offenses that do not prioritize A-Gap protection will not move the ball effectively against players that attack the middle of the offensive formation.
Efforts to keep the A-Gap plugged may open opportunities for the defense to penetrate the B-Gap one gap away. The "B-Gap" is the space between the offensive guard and tackle on either side of the center and is the next offensive protection priority. While the rushing the B-gap may quicken the pace the offense must have to execute effectively, offenses that are prepared will be able to run their offense despite the quarterback being exposed to punishment. The added distance from the middle of the offensive formation creates a link between position and how defenses can control tempo using their personnel. To make B-gap pressure packages work, defenses may opt to use smaller speedier players to minimize the effect of distance.
When offenses control the A and B-gaps the defense can still attack the C-gap, which is between the offensive tackles and the ends who may be aligned tight or wide of the offensive formation. The C-gap is the third offensive protection priority. With C-gap pressure, defenses willingly allow the offenses more time than A and B-Gap pressure allow, making them especially useful when offenses have a long way to go to move the chains. Against offenses that execute quickly, the additional distance from the middle of the offensive formation makes C-gap pressure less fruitful. Often C-Gap rushers are speedier than A and B-gap rushers to minimize the effect of the distance and increase the pressure.
The designation of gaps is a significant part of both offensive and defensive strategy. In Madden, as well as real life, attempts to penetrate the offensive backfield must consider the positioning of the five offensive linemen. The first step to effective pressure is beating the offensive line. Unfortunately, offensive linemen don't stay put after the snap. To beat them, defenses must use personnel to penetrate the backfield. Whether going one-on-one, stacking defenders to create 'blocking' for a rusher, using an overload to outnumber blockers, or using a bait and switch technique to decoy blockers away from the real rush; every attempt to generate defensive pressure must attack the offensive line. Some rush packages attack the entire offensive line or a single weak player, but they all seek ways to gain penetration by attacking the offensive line because they are consistently in the same locations performing the same functions - blocking.
Defensive schemes that can dominate the five offensive players up front are easy. Sending six defenders against the five men on the offensive line will almost guarantee penetration into the backfield. Unfortunately, offenses have six additional players that do more than block that make generating pressure more difficult. The two players on the end of the offensive line, aptly called "ends," may be lined up tight to the line of scrimmage or split apart from the formation. The closer they are to the center of the formation, the tougher it will be to blitz.
Unblocked defenders ultimately force some sort of offensive adjustment. Some offensive adjustments include quickening the pace, moving the pocket, sliding the blocking assignments in a particular direction, and/or sacrificing an eligible receiver to help the offensive line with blocking duties. Of all the adjustments possible to adjust to aggressive pressure defenses, limiting offensive formations to facilitate getting the right players to the proper gap to defeat pressure may be the simplest and most effective. In order for a blocker to successfully protect a gap, the player must be close to the gap and the defender he is expected to block. Some offensive formations facilitate blocking some gaps better than others.
Defenses should key the formations offenses use to attack more effectively. Knowing where an offensive formation is vulnerable will result in substantially more success attacking the offensive line and any additional blocking help the line receives. Pinpointing exactly which gap will yield the quickest penetration requires familiarity with each formation as well as mastery of the techniques that create pressure. Some formations are easy to overload, while others require a bit more cunning and attention to detail. The following diagrams highlight the strength of the offensive protection in gold for several popular under-center formations.
Some offensive formations, such as the I-Form family are balanced and well adapted to protecting the interior gaps along the offensive line because the fullback and halfback are aligned directly behind the quarterback. Defenders penetrating the A or B-gaps may have to contend with one or both backs when they stay in to block. Due to the potential for seven man protections concentrated on the interior, defenses wishing to pressure the I-Form must assign more defenders to rush than most other formations while considering the risks of thinning the coverage based on their personnel.
I-Form variations that offset one of the backs such as Weak and Strong I formations are suited to protect the A and B-gaps on one side of the field, leaving the other side less protected. If the defense can get a free rusher through to opposite A or B-gap, the quarterback may not be able to get off a throw unless he slides away from danger and toward his protection. Even then, the free rusher is likely to get a hit on the passer.
Some formations, such as the Split Back formation, aligns both backs in the B-gaps to increase their potential of a quick release into the pattern as pass receivers, but also providing additional protection against edge rushers attacking the C-gaps of the offensive line. From this formation, defenses can easily attack the interior gaps along the offensive line, but a quick pass to backs releasing into the pass pattern can stress the coverage behind the rush.
Still other formations like Single Back and many shotgun formations, keep only one back set deep in the offensive backfield. Deep backs can provide protection to almost any gap, but the distance from those gaps mean quick defensive pressure still has a great chance of disrupting a play before the quarterback can setup behind additional protection. Defenses must consider defending the additional receiving threat when calculating the risks of rushing the interior.
There are many formations in football and in Madden, but attacking a formation, particularly for the sake of generating pressure, only requires that players focus on the players that consistently occupy the same positions and perform the same duties and on the players in the backfield that pose risks of additional protection. Typically, backfield players and any ends lined up tight to the formation.
In conclusion , defenses should avoid the strength of a formation in order to create heat with the fewest defenders. Of course, backs aren't always blocking. Defensive players should be aware of how their attempts to penetrate into the backfield may effect their abilities to balance other risks. Inevitably, constantly attacking weak points of the same formations builds tendencies that opponents can turn to their own advantage. Manage your penetration efforts carefully. Constant blitzing through the interior leaves opportunities for the offense to attack outside, and attempts to rush the weakest gaps in every formation leaves the defense exposed to counters, draws, and screen plays.