ZAN October 22, 2011 0

Hello sports fans,

Last time I talked to you, we were settling in nicely with our copies of NCAA Football 12, and everyone was a little sour about how the game played. Well, now we are breaking into the more brisk weeks of the early fall, and we have about a month and a half of Madden NFL Football 12 under our belts; and I’m the one that’s a bit sour about the gameplay. Why? Because I’m not so sure that we are staying true to the game that we see on Sundays. Now I’m a very competitive person; I HATE LOSING! However, I’ve grown a lot from my early competitive Madden years where every game I lost was “…not my fault…” However, one thing I really dislike is when I KNOW my opponent is going to run a certain route concept, and I set up the appropriate defense for it, yet my players disregard all football know-how and do something absurd (I’ll get to this in a minute).

In this installment I want to address zone coverage in general; not how zone is played just in Madden 12, but how zone coverage is played across the entire spectrum of football. First, let’s go over the “correct” way of calling out zone coverage. We aren’t in pre-school anymore, so let’s get our terminology correct. I’ll list the zones by Madden terminology, follow them with their real-life terminology, then explain, briefly, the responsibilities of the particular zone assignment. Remember, this is in real life, not the video game. We will compare and contrast it afterwards.

– “Light blue zone” — Flat zone — responsible for coverage of the “flats”, an area from 3 yards past the line of scrimmage sinking down to just behind the line of scrimmage. Player is responsible for containment, and to keep everything inside of them; thus filtering WRs and RBs back inside. Player responsible for dropping into hook zone if no flat zone is present.
– “Yellow zone” — Hook zone — responsible for an area 10 yards off the line of scrimmage to 4 yards off the line of scrimmage. Player is responsible for keeping routes in front of him.
– “Purple zone” — Buzz zone — responsible for intermediate to deep sideline starting at 11 yards off the line of scrimmage extending to 15 or 16 yards. Player is responsible for taking away corner patterns in particular.
– “Deep blue zone” — Deep zone (can be either a half, third, or quarter depending on shell) — responsible for keeping everything in front of him, starting 16 yards off the line of scrimmage and extending the distance of the remaining field of play.

Now that that’s taken care of, let’s analyze what we have post title patch #2 for Madden 12.

– Flat zones — play 2 yards off the line of scrimmage to 1 yard behind the line of scrimmage. When no flat threat is present, player assigned to flat zones tend to suck in to an area 2 yards off the LOS and 1-2 yards outside the hash marks, rather than dropping for depth and playing a hook assignment.
– Hook zones — play 8 yards off the LOS and break on routes as far as 1 yard off the line of scrimmage, rather than allowing the play to stay in front of him.
– Buzz zones — play 10 yards off the LOS and don’t drop for depth. More apt to play a slant to the outside than a flag (corner) pattern.
– Deep zones (halves, thirds, quarters) — play as should; responsible for 15 yards and further…but still play tier 2 support if no vertical threat present.

Here is where I take issue with the zone coverage in Madden NFL 12: In Madden 10, if you remember, we really enjoyed how zone coverage played, except for the fact that the flat zones played high and didn’t break on low. The backlash from the Madden community was so great that the development team fixed flat zone tendencies and played high-to low; meaning that the flat zones would release a route and take priority on the next threat coming into his area (a great change from Madden 10). This was good, except for the fact that the other zones didn’t “communicate” and trade off routes as they passed through the zones. Again, the backlash from the community was high, and the EA development team fixed it, by tightening up the underneath zones a great deal. Now, we have the zones trading off as they should, and zone coverage has become the popular playcall in Madden 12, as opposed to the vast majority of Madden players utilizing zone in last year’s installment of the game.

So what’s the problem? Well, the short tier zones trade off wonderfully, but the issue is that they play so tightly that the second tier passing (or the area where MAC rating comes into effect for most QBs) is WIDE open in almost every zone. Do an experiment and put all rushing linemen into contains/spies (so no one rushes), and throw as many hook zones across the field as you can. Then, have a flanker, split-end, or slot WR run a deep dig pattern (any “in” route 10+ yards deep). You will notice that that tier in which he breaks into has a strip about 4-5 yards in depth that you can dump the ball over the yellow zones. Yellow zones play low with priority high, meaning that they are responsible to drop if any deeper threat enters their area.

Let me ask you a question: What is the most popular coverage scheme seen on Sundays in the NFL?
Answer: Cover 2 Man Under or Tampa 2 Buc

Let me ask you another question: Why is Cover 2 the least run coverage in Madden?
Answer: The jury is out

I can hypothesize, however…

Theory 1: The 4 man rush isn’t as effective in Madden as it is in real life. In the NFL, most teams rush 4 or 5 players on the majority of downs, and are able to play 6 or 7 in coverage. The average rush gets to the QB in 3-4 seconds based off of offensive line quality. In Madden, unless you’re in practice mode on OFFENSE on All-Madden difficulty or in an actual game on OFFENSE on All-Madden difficulty, a 4 man rush does NOT get to the other team in that time span. This includes online game play. A 4 man rush with zone behind it in competitive game play is almost suicide to call, unless you have the Eagles or Raiders in man coverage behind it. Zone does not suffice. If the average rush got to the QB in 3-4 seconds in Madden football, you would see a lot more Cover 2.

Theory 2: Flat zones in Cover 2 don’t have a mandatory inside release. Look at the Chicago Bears. They are the paradigm example of the ‘Tampa 2’ defensive scheme. Charles Tillman has made a CAREER off filtering receivers into Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs over the middle, then helping out on the tackle by stripping the ball out. His number 1 rule on that Bears team is to FORCE WIDE RECEIVERS INSIDE, then drop back into a hook if no flat threat is present. He is not allowed to allow an outside release, because of the window between the 2 high safeties and the 2 low cornerbacks.

In Madden, when Cover 2 is run, the inside release is only forced a portion of the time. Many times, the bump is released outside into the deadly sideline window. Now, how do we combat this issue where flat zones in Cover 2 only release inside a portion of the time? Well, we can throw a buzz zone in….but those don’t get enough depth, and the window will be open after 11 yards, and even sooner if a slot WR is running a slant out, thus sucking the buzz zone down, freeing the sideline streak even more. And if the flat zone releases inside rather than outside, the buzz zone is poorly prepared to defend the WR thats been released, and you will have a huge passing window between the flat zone and the seam. Do you see where I’m going here? We are trying to get back to what we see on Sundays, but it’s hard to even run the most widely used coverage principle in the NFL, regardless of whether the team is a 4-3 or 3-4 base defensive team.

Unfortunately, I have no IN GAME answers for how to run the Cover 2 effectively on the competitive or semi competitive level….even though its the most effective base coverage in the NFL. Maybe if players such as Julius Peppers had a block shed higher than (around) 65, then the 4 man rush would get to the QB  in Madden 12 as it does in real life. My best guess is that it’s something that must be programmed into the games tuning. I hope to one day get the chance help with things like this; the lack of rush ability in Madden 12 by user controlled teams makes marquee defenses in the NFL useless in this game.

So I present to you the band-aid solution …

The Hybrid Tampa 2
-Choose ANY Cover 2 based defense.
-Go into individual assignments, and choose to bump the OUTSIDE WRs; this will place the outside corners (responsible for flat coverage) in man bump and run coverage.
-Go into individual coverage assignments and shade OUTSIDE WRs to the OUTSIDE; this will cause the bump to release the WR to the inside on both WRs.
-Spread your safety shell to the sidelines; to do this, press Y + Up on R-stick (Triangle + Up on R-stick for PS3 users).
– Place MLB, or player responsible for the middle yellow zone in your Cover 2 in a deep zone.

What does this do? Well, it keeps the outside WRs from getting into the cover 2 window. It does give up flat coverage, but no one defense stops everything. Also, you have the 2 deep safety look, and they will patrol the deep sidelines more than the deep seams, taking away corner patterns that the buzz zones are incapable of covering. And you’ll also have a MLB patrolling the seams to take away slot WR or TE vertical threats that are usually seen against generic cover 2 defenses. I also like this because the underneath coverage is a little tighter, in my opinion; you really force the offense to take the short outside patterns. Curls are taken away due to the man coverage on the outside with a hook zone just inside of it (another popular route utilized by advanced players). The opposition is really forced to take the short outside stuff (via flat patterns by slot WRs or swing patterns to a HB or FB). The only real threat you need to be aware of is someone who likes to run both slot WRs up the seams, as your MLB is going to be the main person responsible for the seams. It’s a flexible defense at the very least, and takes away both common bailouts that competitive players use: the outside WR “Face Throw” streak, and the outside WR curl.

EA is getting closer with the zone theory, but until the buzz zones are fixed it’s going to be very hard to replicate what we see on Sundays. The lack of a 4 man pass rush and actual buzz zones are what is keeping Madden NFL 12 from really being “True to the Game”.

Thanks guys, until next time …

-Zac Neal (ZAN)

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