Running the ball well is critical to success. Think about it, most of the game you are running, on run plays, screen plays, kick returns, and after the catch. So it makes sense to try to maximize the yards you get when running the ball by building up your running skills. Furthermore, for play-calling and being able to move the ball successfully, it is necessary to be effective in rushing plays. This is why EA implemented a new running and tackling engine and completely fixed the running game. Some people complain that running is too difficult in this game, this is true, however it is more realistic. On average 4 yards per carry is what is expected out of an NFL running back. This game simulates that very well. In this guide, I assume you know the basic jargon and controls. If not, look in your game manual for the controls or check out the other guides, and feel free to contact me for extra explanation or clarification on anything I write.
II. Running Skills
Now there are many tools available to you, Highlight Stick, Juke, Spin, Stiff-arm, Protect ball, Dive, Hurdle, Sprint, Pitch ball, Fake pitch. When to use these is the question. The virtual trainer is mediocre at best at teaching you to run. The best way to learn is trial and error and experience. I'll try to speed up the process by teaching you what you would learn from these. Let me get into each one specifically first. Important: Take note of all the variables I describe, which are, is the defender coming straight or at an angle, are you running straight or at an angle, is there a lead blocker, and how much space is there.
Highlight stick - You want to use this when the defender is coming at you from the front with a sharp angle or straight ahead, and you are running straight upward. It is also used if there is no space on either side, for example if there is a sideline or if you are running between linemen. When you flick the highlight stick, the runner lowers his shoulder to engage the defender. You should time it so at the point when he shoulder is down, you come in contact with the defender. Highlight stick is the most widely used, you can pretty much use it at any time and it would work. I described the best situation in which to use it. When in doubt, use the highlight stick.
Juke - This is best used when a defender is coming at you, and you have a blocker leading the way. Don't run directly behind the blocker, run behind him on one side, the defender will be drawn onto that side, and as the blocker engages the defender, juke to the other side and take off. This way the defender has little chance of breaking the block and making the tackle. Juking work best if you're trying to create a hole with a blocker, either in the middle or on the outside. Without a lead blocker, it would work best if the defender is coming at you from an angle, simply juke toward his direction. Also know that you should anticipate the defender being in front of you when he engages in the tackle. If he's going to come from the side, stiff arm is a better option, or just trying to outrun him. In my opinion, it is a really great move. It is simple, its classic, it has been in Madden for a long time, and it leaves your opponent completely embarrassed. When you juke, take your finger off the sprint button and off the left stick. When you are done, continue where you left off.
Spin - Spinning is used to change directions and a sharp angle that will leave your opponent in the dust. I find it best to use it in the second juking scenario where you don't have a lead blocker and the defender is coming at you at an angle relatively in front of you, and you are running at an angle away from the defender. In this case you would need to change directions. When you use it, take your finger off the sprint button, press B, but as you are doing that, point the left stick in the opposite direction that you were running, then continue sprinting. You should have changed directions.
Stiff Arm - This is best used when you are running at an angle, and the defender is coming at you from a wide angle, and/or you anticipate the defender hitting you from the side. This is an underrated move, you have to time it similar to the highlight stick where at the point where the arm is extended fully is when you want the defender to come in contact. You will violently throw the defender down and continue running. It is a fierce move that will give you a lot of material to trash talk.
Protect Ball - As the name says, use this to hold on to the ball securely. Personally I never use this much until late in the game when I can't afford a critical fumble. It slows you down, so don't use it regularly. It is somewhat of a power move also, if the defender tries to strip the ball, he might not be able to make the tackle. If you want to play conservatively, do it when the defender is about to tackle you. But that will take away the whole point of this guide, and the whole fun in running the ball.
Dive - Use this to dive when you need the extra 1-2 yards or if you don't want to get hit. Or dive into the end-zone when its close to do a leap of faith, you'll feel like LT. Do this when the line is completely stacked and there is nowhere to go. Most times its probably better to try to fight your way in via highlight stick. If you tap it he slides and if you hold on to it, he dives. Definitely slide with your QB, you don't want him to fumble or get injured.
Sprint - Some people say don't sprint and wait for your blocks to set up, this is good advice but not completely necessary. Personally, I always use sprint, because I want to get out of the backfield as fast as I can to prevent any loss of yards and to get a step ahead of the linebackers. Don't worry about fatigue at all when deciding to sprint.
Pitch/fake pitch - Never use these unless the play is specifically an option play. There are very few option plays and only in one playbook. You'll likely never see it used either, so I won't bother with this. Do your best NCAA impression.
Combinations - Here is the thing to realize, you can spam any one of these moves and you might break a tackle or two, but the key is using a combination of moves. This will allow you to break the most tackles and make the most out of your runs. This is how you turn 5 yard gains into 15 yard gains. That is the purpose of this guide, to teach you how to put together those combos. Practice in rushing attack and practice mode. What I suggest is, do many runs in a row using 1 button at a time, along with sprint. So for 5 minutes, keep doing the same play and only use stiff arm, then only use juke, then only use highlight stick, etc, and you'll get a hang of it.
The key to running the ball effectively is to vary your play calling. Football is a game of chess not checkers. You have to set up everything you do. Change up everything, be completely spontaneous. Furthermore, everyone has their unique playcalling ideas. Develop your own strategy, I can only give you tips here. -Don't get in a habit of picking the same play over and over -If you do pick the same play twice, vary the direction you run it -Don't get in a habit of always running to the bigger side of the field -If the defense is 4-3, run the ball to the outside more -If the defense is 3-4, run the ball to the middle more -Both do definitely both, middle and outside. It keeps the defense from cheating. -Attack the weaker side of the defense, just imagine a straight line through your center, are there more guys in the box on the right side or left side? Run to the weaker side -If you see a play breakdown, either on a toss or in the backfield and you know it is impossible to get positive yards, abandon the play and go straight up and do your best with highlight stick to get tackled forward and gain as many extra yards as you can -If you see that they're playing man, motion your WR from the side that you are running to the side that you are not. You want as much space as possible to run. -If you know that your opponent is playing zone, motion your WR or tight end to the direction that you are running the ball, as he will be an extra blocker -Some people say crash your line, I have yet to try that on run plays, but I have been successful without it. Crashing the line is meant for pass protection as a means for countering the blitz. -Run it in situations you might not -Press the hot route buttons and hot route a receiver on a run play. It will not do anything to the play, but the opponent will see the quarterback calling the hot route and might expect a pass play, and he might shift his line or linebackers accordingly, this can work great but only a few times a game, as it is easy to catch on to, but it will keep him honest. -Fake snap, if the opponent is the lineman, he could fall for it. Throw off the cadence and don't let him cheat -I-Form is a the best running formation -But mix up your formations completely to keep your opponent guessing
Before the Snap
Reading the defense before the snap is difficult. I mentioned above to do different things if the defense is man or zone. To tell if the defense is playing man coverage, send a receiver in motion, if the defensive back follows him, you know it is man coverage. If the defender does not move, you cannot conclude it is zone coverage because a different defender might be assigned to cover that receiver. Other things to keep in mind are how many guys he has in the box, whether his defensive line has shifted in any direction and whether his linebackers have shifted in any direction. If the line shifts inward, try to audible to an outside run, and vice versa. If the linebackers shift one way, try to run the other way. If he cheats by bringing his safety into the box, keep him honest by attacking that side of the field. Lastly, some defensive players in the league are good enough to read the play before it happens. If you are waiting to snap the ball, and you see the opponent moving his safety into the box and shifting his defense towards the direction you are running it, and the safety has a high rating, you should know that he probably knows your play, in which case audible is your best hope.
After the Snap
Take note of how the line crashes and what the initial moves of the linebackers are. If the line crashes one way, continue to investigate on which situations the opponent makes his line crash. If you figure him out, run the opposite way. If his linebackers are immediately running in, he is blitzing, in which case, attack the spot on the field where he leaves the gap on future plays.
Play: FB Dive - This is a simple play that gives you a lot of versatility. Use it in any situation really because no one ever expects it unless you start doing it. Sometimes when you run it, motion your RB out and call a hot route. If it is your first time running this play, 90% of the time the defender is going to think it is a pass play, especially if you have a RB that can catch. Then proceed to snap the ball and have your FB pick up a good 5 yards easily. I said sometimes because you also want to set up the next play…
Evil Twin: FB Fake HB Toss - Combine the above with this and your opponent will be pulling his hair out at the fact that he's giving up so many yards on such simple plays. It plays like a normal toss play, it works best when your opponent is in zone coverage, when they don't have a guy playing man on your RB, in which case the play might get shut down.
Play: Power O - It's a tough run play that requires you to read the defense and find a hole yourself. If you see the defenders over pursuing, cut in, if you see space outside, break out. Ultimately, following the play won't get you much, but there will be opportunity for something big if you can find the gaps.
Evil Twin: Counter - The runningback will fake one way as if it's a power, and go the other. This will throw off the defenders and give you the half step advantage you need to break loose. But if you do it too much, the defense will sniff it out and the results will be bad.
Play: HB Dive - The simplest play in the game, charge at the line as hard as you can. Once you are passed the line of scrimmage, try to juke your way into open space around your blockers. Or keep highlighting your way in.
Evil Twin: HB Toss/Pitch - It is the complete opposite of dive, where that is your thunder, this is your lightning. If you have a fast running back, try to outrun the defenders, if not, this is where you'll most likely need to stiff-arm. If the defense tries to cheat thinking you are running a Toss or a Dive, and you run the other one, expect big yardage.
Play: Pass play - I'm assuming you know how to pass.
Evil Twin: Draw play - Rarely do people do draw plays. Because in previous Maddens they never worked, in this one they do. Spread out your opponent, and run the draw. While not exactly a draw play, you can also run sweeps and off-tackle plays off of shotgun. People usually expect pass plays in shotgun, so these runs should come as a surprise.
The common theme in all the stuff I have written is keeping your opponent honest and not letting him cheat. If you run a simple run versus a simple defense, all 7 guys in the box should get blocked by the 5 linemen, tight end, and fullback and thus in theory your running back should be free for a good 10 yards. So the defense needs anything it can to get the advantage, these are shifts, crashing, bringing an extra guy, blitz, etc. Read these things that the defense is doing, and counter them. Always keep him guessing. Change up every little aspect that you can, and cool runnings to you.
It is near impossible to win a game without being successful at passing. It is absolutely essential in order to drive on a good defense, and additionally for two-minute drives. It is also helpful to your running game, as passing can keep defenses honest by not stacking the box. This doesn't need much of an introduction, so I'll get right to it.
Before the snap
Scan the defense and look their formation and personnel. Look at the play and have a plan A, plan B, and plan C. Look at the defense, look at where your WRs are going to be. See if there are any defenders who could possibly get in the passing lane. Check if they are playing man by motioning a receiver, if the defensive back follows its man coverage. However many defenders there are, they can't all be in all the passing lanes. This is what plan A, B and C are. They should be based on where the defenders are and what gaps they are leaving, as well as how good the coverage is on the receiver and how good the defender is.
After the snap
Check your first option, if your WR has position on the DB and the lane is clear, then make the pass. If there is a defender in the passing lane, but the pass is deep enough, throw it over his head. Don't lob it and don't throw a bullet, throw something in-between. If the defensive back is ahead of the receiver or in front of him, the lane is occupied, of another defender lingering the area and maybe anticipating the throw, check option B, and if needed option C. Each wide receiver running a route is an option. On a pass play you'll have 3-5 route runners. The second to last option is the scramble, do this if you happen to see a clear lane and your quarterback isn't a statue. The last option is to throw the ball away. Don't be afraid to do this. If you make a throw on the run, it'll be inaccurate and any good defense will pick it fairly easily. But if you're not very good, its best to have only two options.
The good QBs are the ones that check all these options at the same time. They know where all their receivers are going to be at and they read the defense as its happening as a whole, and they immediately know who to go to. When they read the defense they are reading if its man or zone, what the safeties are doing, any blitzes, where the linebackers are going, which way the line is crashing. Many of these things get recycled. If the defense knows it's a pass play, they might always crash the line outwards. Some defenses always blitz on 3rd down. Some safties always play zone, some linebackers always man the runningback. Take mental notes on everything that happens and you'll pick up on the defenses tendencies. Then you can exploit it for the homerun.
Many madden players drop back 10 to 15 yards immediately before throwing the ball. This is not a smart thing to do. It allows the defense more time to make a play on the ball. It makes every pass longer than it should be making it harder to complete. And any outside blitzes will be too much pressure for you to make any good reads. In general, take 3, 5 or 7 step drops then as the D-line chases you around the outside, step into the pocket. This will give you more time to read and throw than lets say if you were to roll out trying to make a play. If you find that the defense is blitzing heavily on one side, don't be afraid to adjust your protection, and on some plays roll out completely.
Practice is the key in this situation. Do practice mode and choose random offensive plays and random defensive plays. From here you'll find plays and routes that you like, then you can start picking and choosing which plays you like. Eventually you'll get to a point where you can sense before the play, whether a blitz is coming or if the guy is playing zone, etc. Once you get a feel for your opponents defense you can start hot routing your receivers to go into the areas you think will be open. In other words, take what the defense gives you, and never force the issue. This is when you dominate. And remember to use precision passing to place your throws exactly where you want them. Its tremendously useful in almost any type of pass, whether its to separate your receiver from the defender or to lead your receiver on so he can catch it in stride.