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Don't let fast passers give you the run around in Madden. Use these techniques to take the quarterbacks legs out from under him...

Don't let fast passers give you the run around.  Long ago, Randall Cunningham demonstrated how a fast quarterback with an solid arm could change football.  Madden NFL 2004's cover athlete Michael Vick took scrambling quarterbacks mainstream, but the threats scrambling quarterbacks presented in Madden NFL 2004, two defensive assignments were added to Madden NFL 2005.  Ever since, speed is premium at the quarterback position for Madden NFL players and NFL organizations alike. You'll need tools in your game plan to neutralize fast passers.

Fast players always have a place on the field, but those who also possess a powerful arm are coveted.  To survive, NFL coaches and Madden players must find ways to stop the new weapons.  It may not be enough.  Defending mobile quarterbacks is still frustrating because cannon arms make them doubly dangerous.

Madden players commonly use scrambling quarterbacks to negate quick nano blitz high pressure defensive schemes. The most worrisome pressure packages send heat through the A-gap; so it's no wonder there is such premium on a quarterback's speed. Conventional pass drops of 3, 5, and 7 steps get passers away from pressure and create the time to throw.  Madden players; however, face unorthodox methods that exaggerate the conventional pass drop. Sprinting straight back or to the outside gains separation from the line of scrimmage and that space is the basis for a working protection scheme.

Many players scramble when they have difficulties making quick coverage reads. When the box is crowded, sprinting to the edges keeps the passer standing until coverage clears up. Once defenders declare their intentions, setting up deep or outside makes picking the right receiver easier.  Deep scramble drops break the pass rush down into lone individuals instead of a cohesive unit. There is a drawback for the offense; adding length to the throw as well as the potential of a deep sack.  If the quarterback drops too deep, his range for down field passes diminishes and gives pass defenders time to react to the ball.  Even with these drawbacks, the deep drop is still considered well worth the risk. 

Regardless of the reasons or the methods, scrambling quarterbacks utilize Personnel, Position, and Tempo to make things happen. Understand how these elements connect to clue how to use them against your opponent.

Personnel

The fastest quarterbacks are difficult to defend.  In Madden, speed is essential.  Depending on a quarterback's speed the quarterback can dictate where the pass rush comes from; more importantly, the offense can dictate who the defense sends.  Rushing with slow lineman against a player with jets isn't likely to get the job done. If the QB is too fast, it forces you to send players with linebacker or defensive back speed to chase and drag him down.  Match speed for speed.  Nickel, Dime, and Quarters packages are commonly used to counter quarterbacks with speed.

Position

Part of what makes defending a scrambling quarterback tough is his ability to move the pocket. It will be difficult to determine where to best setup zone defenders or where to direct the pass rush as the quarterback manipulates the angles of both passes and pursuit. It's one thing to defend when you know the quarterback is going to setup between the hashes, it's another to defend the entire offensive backfield.

Tempo

A quarterback's speed effects the types of blitzes you can use and when you can use them. Quick pressure up the middle makes for soft flanks. The usual up-the-gut attacks that put fear in the hearts of pocket passers actually invigorate fast passers.  Be careful not to invite opponents to bail out of the pocket to a place where they are more dangerous.  Unsuccessful blitz attempts that don't rush the offensive execution stress the coverage in ways that illustrate the difficulty of defending double-threat passers.  It is best to surprise speedy passers with occasional blitzes in situations when they are not expected.

How do you defend quarterbacks that run?

First, remember that the quarterback's top threat is as a passer. Emphasize covering his receivers. If no one is open, it forces the QB to buy time with his legs. Once the quarterback begins to scramble, it will be difficult not to pull away from coverage and attack him. Resist the urge to abandon coverage responsibility as the deep ball is still the most dangerous threat. If the QB runs, it's better to give up 5-10 yards on the ground than 25-30 through the air. Break off coverage and attack the quarterback only when you know you can get to him before he can let the ball go.

Some Madden quarterbacks are less dangerous in the pocket.

Once the QB begins to run, key on containing him. If the QB can't break containment, he won't be able to run very far. Use spying defenders to shadow the quarterback until you see which side your opponent naturally moves toward. As he exposes his tendencies, your best options to blitz, zone, or man up will become apparent. Once you find your opponent's soft spot attack the quarterback in ways that target your opponent's individual weaknesses.

What is a “Spy”?

A spy is a player who is assigned to mirror the passer from about 2 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. This is a variation of man-to-man defense, except defenders aren't running with an eligible receiver. Instead, spies roam from side to side in response to the quarterback's movement. If the QB rolls right, the spy rolls right. If the QB rolls left, the spy rolls left.

Due to his depth, offensive linemen will not block a spy on pass plays until the ball crosses the line of scrimmage. If the quarterback drops back to pass from the pocket, the spy will play a shallow zone in the middle that is ideal to cut off drag routes and passes that are usually completed underneath hook zones. When the QB rolls outside the numbers, the spy defender will attack up the field to attempt the tackle in the backfield.  If a user gets impatient, he can force the issue and send the spy manually by pressing the R3 stick. 

Spying players are unlikely to fall for play action fakes, which can benefit you when you're attempting to read play fakes. 

What if the spy doesn't get him?

It helps to have defenders spying the passer that are fast enough to catch him, but that's easier said than done. When dealing with the fastest of the fast, players must weigh the options of committing two slow players to divide the field to better spy the quarterback or economizing by spying with a fast player. Try giving spy duties to a linebacker or defensive back instead of a defensive lineman. Weigh the trade off. The increase in speed may more than make up for the drop off in size and strength. Defensive backs may not tackle as well, but their sheer speed may be enough to discourage the quarterback from running.

If speed isn't the issue, you may want to re-position your spy assignment closer to the area the passer is likely to run. Since speed is more of a threat over long distances, shortening the distance a player has to run minimizes any speed disadvantage. If you expect the quarterback to sprint to the right, use a defender on the right to spy.  If you can't chase down a fast passer, waiting for him run to you works just as well.

No spy defenses in my playbook! What do I do?

In those cases it may be time to get creative. If your playbook doesn't provide you with the right tools out of the box, improvise. Make a few changes pre-snap to neutralize the quarterback that moves around. Keep in mind, speed and coverage are the best places to start eliminating the threat. You may not need to spy the quarterback at all. Let your opponent dictate how you stop him.

There are many ways to keep quarterbacks from breaking games open in Madden..

If he rolls left too much, you may not need more than a simple flat zone on the side you expect the quarterback to roll toward to contain him. Be warned that passes behind the flat defender may come open as the quarterback approaches the sidelines. Defenders covering the flats will break toward the QB when he gets outside the numbers. Be ready though, some players will attempt to bait your flat defender out of position to complete passes in behind him. Other players may even straddle the numbers to cause indecision with defenders. One you have the passer corralled, use discretion when chasing the QB manually so so you don't give up the advantage.

To combat number straddling, look to attack with a strong outside rush and keep the quarterback inside. The “Contain” (dark red arrow) assignment is an easy way to rolling QB's on lock. They provide a nice outside pass rush when the QB is in the pocket, as well as maintaining outside leverage on plays where the QB tries to get to the edge. Players with the contain assignment will not cross the hash marks when the quarterback is outside the hash marks on the opposite side of the field. Should the quarterback reverse field, the contain man will be waiting to make him hurt.

Another effective method of containing a fast QB is to spread the defensive line so that rushers are on the outside. If the quarterback rolls out, the offensive line will have a hard time getting outside the defensive ends to make a block. If not, an outside rush gives the ends a better angle to attack the quarterback in the pocket in long yardage situations. To get loose the QB will typically need to make a move to avoid the defensive end, which gives pursuit from other areas a time to get to the ball.

Creating a pseudo-spy defense on the fly is another option. Manually controlling a defender with a rush assignment is an easy way to focus on the passer without sacrificing coverage. When the QB scrambles out of the pocket, switching off of the blitzer to another defender creates free rush opportunities. You will be switched to the next closest defender. Should your initial rusher miss, you might still be able to make the play.

Another way to manufacture a spy play is to control any defender and mirror the quarterback manually. Using this tactic, it is possible to play deeper in the secondary while still maintaining focus on the QB. If The passer moves towards the line of scrimmage, simply move the safety to meet him at the line. This allows the “spy” to take away short and intermediate routes in the middle in addition to cutting off comeback routes for those quarterbacks still looking down field. If the quarterback runs for yards, try to funnel him toward pursuit so you can take an initial hard shot in an effort to force a fumble. If a QB coughs it up, it makes offensive players hesitate before attempting another run.

What if I want to be more aggressive?

If you're not comfortable waiting for the quarterback to come to you, don't be afraid to send the dogs after him. Blitzing is a good strategy, but it comes at a cost. Bringing the blitz from the side the QB rolls toward shortens the rush and drops passers for big losses when it works, but yields large gains should you miss. Depending on how many rushers are sent, it may be several yards before another defender gets a shot at the quarterback. In most cases, however, a well timed corner blitz is the best way to put the quarterback on the ground.

The more aggressive you are against inexperienced players the more success you are likely to have, even with a basic pressure scheme. Against more experienced players however, finding the right type of blitz may require more time and commitment. Gauge your competition according to their skill versus your attack.  Cater your strategy to offset your opponent's individual strengths.  Once you spot a specific weakness, create ways to disguise a theme so you aren't in a pattern that your opponent can dissect and counter.

Some players are skilled at burning hot blooded defenses. Avoid giving them what they seek. Where merited, use slightly less aggressive tactics that call for the offense to both speed up parts of their execution while slowing down others. Zone blitzes are ideal in situations where you want pressure without the being too vulnerable behind it. The pause may be all you need to force a errant decision or create a sack.

Man coverage behind blitzes are another way to get results without settling for sub-par pressure packages. When coupled with press coverage, man pressure schemes force pinpoint accurate throws from quarterbacks under tremendous pressure. Only the speediest quarterbacks under control of the most savvy opponent's will be able to break down the pressure and coverage regularly. When they can, playing coverage a little softer may be enough to throw off the offensive timing enough for pressure to pay dividends.

Keep your attack fluid to keep Madden opponents off balance

Once you get a handle on where your opponent goes to avoid pressure, opt for a more deceptive package of plays. Mixing a spy and a blitz, known as a QB Trap, baits scrambling passers into the moving toward the part of the defense poised to pounce on them. Use pressure to funnel the quarterback to a side then cut off escape routes and minimize the quarterback's options where roll-outs are concerned. Furthermore, any blitz can be converted to a QB Trap play by hot routing a defender to a spy on the side opposite the pressure.

Of all of the strategies, which works best?

A robust game plan wins more games than any single strategy will. Players without a backup plan will develop one after their bread-and-butter gets toasted and devoured.  Be ready. The best players aren't the best because of their initial plan, they are the best because of their response to contingencies. To respond best, you will need variety.  Don't be afraid to combine tactics to increase the potency of your attack.

The more tools in your game plan, the quicker you make winning adjustments. Mixing flat zones with spy plays, blitzes with flat zones, and spy plays with blitzes creates the confusion needed to get to the QB, cause turnovers, and win games. Minor changes in how you play defense is all you need to maintain the upper hand. Spying with different defenders also creates confusion. Spy with a defensive end a few times, then spy with a linebacker and rush the defensive end. Bring a safety on a blitz while sliding a defensive end into the flat to take away the back side.

Keep mixing in different elements to maintain pressure on the passer and the receivers. The more variations to a solid theme, the less options you leave your opponent. Eventually, making a fast passer an ineffective run threat will de-scramble any quarterback.

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