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A Packer Fan's Guide To Madden 2010

If you're anything like me, you're excited for the season opener at Lambeau on Sunday night.  However, you're also looking for ways to extend the NFL experience beyond just the weekend.  You might even look for something different on Sundays when Green Bay isn't playing.  Face it, Green Bay is on Monday Night Football in Week 13, the Week 13 showdowns between Detroit and Cincinatti or San Francisco and Seattle likely won't be very exciting, and you won't have much of a choice of what games to watch.  (Unless of course you have NFL Sunday Ticket.  In which case, why not just give your money directly to Jerry Jones?  He needs it to buy chrome plating for his pizza cutter.)

So whether you're looking to get some gridiron action on a Wednesday night or you just can't stand watching St. Louis and Cleveland punt back and forth, I highly recommend Madden 2010 to help supply your football fix.

Word of warning: this lengthy post is based on Madden 2010 for the XBox 360.  If you have a different system, you can try to use the suggestions below, but they might not work the same.  Unless you're using the Wii.  Screw the Wii.

I was a sickly child growing up, meaning I often wasn't able to go out and play with the other kids in the neighborhood.  Video games helped pass the time until I shook off my various ailments, but I never lost my love for sports sims.

Historically, the Madden franchise has delivered installments with mixed results.  Either they simply repackaged the previous year's product with updated roster information and/or a few horribly misguided "innovations", or they come up with something that actually works.  Madden 2010 is of the latter variety.

The online mode is much improved; there's fewer bugs in the system, meaning you won't lose your mind because some 11-year old from New Hampshire discovered a tackling glitch.  There's always little blemishes here and there, but the best part is that it forces players to use the Online Rosters of all 32 NFL teams.  No longer will you go into a game against the Raiders to suddenly discover that they have Andre Johnson and Reggie Wayne.

The meat of the game, as always, is with the Franchise and Superstar mode.  I've never been a huge fan of Superstar mode, mainly because I am horrible at it.  Having played a mix of cornerback and safety in high school and college, I usually create myself as a cornerback, but I've never figured out how to effectively cover anybody in man coverage and I'm constantly giving up long TDs.  However, playing Superstar mode as a QB, RB, WR, DE, or LB is usually a challenge worth a few tries.

As far as I'm concerned, Franchise mode is where it's at.  Once upon a time, I had a dream of being a GM for the Packers.  Franchise mode allows me to live that out, long after I realized that it simply wouldn't happen. (Even though it totally should.  The moment Thompson retires/resigns, I'm sending an application.)  In Madden 2010, Franchise mode remains essentially the same: pick your team, run through the preseason, play the regular season, play the postseason (if you made it), then go through offseason tasks like hiring coaches, scouting and drafting rookies, and resigning existing players. 

My biggest gripe in Franchise mode has always been how unrealistic it is, especially where statistics are concerned.  I don't care if Adrian Peterson gets cloned in a lab somewhere and the clones play for three other teams at the same time as AP: they simply cannot ALL run for 2,000+ yards in a season.  What's worse is the statistics game-by-game.  The default setting is Pro (medium) with quarter lengths of 5 minutes, which is just enough time to pass for 150 yards, rush for another 40, have five players with 3 tackles a piece, and win a game 24-0.  These games are too short and too easy.  So the obvious choices are to either up the difficulty or increase the time.  But you can't do both, because then you either have 20 minutes of hellishly difficult gaming or 2 hours of even more hellishly difficult gaming.

EA Sports finally found a way to make longer quarters and higher difficulty co-exist: accelerated clock.  Accelerated clock is so simple that it's genius: if you pick your play within the first 10 seconds of the play clock, it automatically runs anywhere between 10 and 25 seconds off the clock (depending on your settings).  This allows you to play at a realistic pace: drives of 10 plays actually last 6 or 7 minutes of game time.  It's an extraordinarily lifelike addition to the game, and I'm thankful for it.

* * *

Steps to setting up a realistic Franchise mode:

  • Set difficulty settings.  The default setting is Pro, which puts all four categories (rush offense, pass offense, rush defense, pass defense) at 5 out of 20.  The minimum setting should be All-Pro, which sets the categories at 10.  Because it's so difficult to run the ball in Madden 2010, I usually set the rush offense category a notch or two lower than the other ones.  For example, right now my difficulty setting is 13 for pass offense, 10 for rush offense, and 14 for pass and rush defense.

    The reason it's important to up the difficulty is because at the default level, blowouts are perpetual.  You will be hard pressed to play a game where you don't pass for 3 TDs, run for another 2, and return both a INT and punt return for six.  Sure, it's fun every once in a while, but it's boring winning 63-3 every week.
  • Change Franchise setup options.  The first thing to do is change quarter length from 5 minutes to 15.  Then, go to the bottom of the menu and activate accelerated clock runoff.  (I personally put mine at 25, but it leaves little time for audibles at the line, so 20 or even 15 might be a little easier to deal with.)  Finally, toggle everything from "CPU" to "USER".

    Like I explained above, the longer quarters combined with the accelerated clock and higher difficulty makes the game both more challenging and more realistic.  For example, I just started a new franchise yesterday (when the new season rosters were released...goodbye Ruvell Martin, hello Brett Swain!), and I eked out a 20-17 win over Chicago.  I was legitimately trying the entire game, and I was losing 17-13 for most of the second half.  I've still managed to deliver blowouts against teams like Cincinnati and St. Louis, but I've actually lost to teams like Minnesota, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore.  Getting the settings where they need to be make the Madden experience totally different from past years.
  • Fill out your roster.  The newly-released Week One roster is exactly how the Packers are set up in real-life.  However, Madden has minimum requirements at each position, and the new rosters are short on both offensive and defensive tackles.  What I do is I sign Jamon Meredith and Anthony Toribio, simply because a) they won't play after the preseason ends and the depth chart is updated, and b) I have to sign someone anyway, or let the computer sign someone, and I'd rather have someone that's on Green Bay's practice roster.  I also signed Brian Brohm, just because he's on the practice roster, the third QB never ever plays, and I can cut him outright after I find someone better in the draft or free agency.  Sadly, Pat Lee and Justin Harrell were banished from Madden when they were put on IR.

    After setting up your roster, you'll have to go through and manually set your depth chart.  A few suggestions for those who want them: place DeShawn Wynn at RB2 over Brandon Jackson (better runner), Korey Hall at FB1 over John Kuhn (better blocker), Daryn Colledge as LT2 over Jamon Meredith (see above), and Jordy Nelson as both KR2 and PR2 over Tramon Williams (so Williams is fresher for nickel packages).
  • Set your audibles.  There is nothing more irritating than running the 2-minute drill and having only one pass play that's in a formation suitable for it.  Audibles should be set as the following for offense: one singleback inside run, two singleback pass plays (one short, one long), and two shotgun pass plays (one short, one long).  It's even worse on defense, where the audibles are in the 4-3 alignment.  Defense is obviously more open ended, but make sure that half of your options are 3-4 plays and the other half are nickel/dime packages with 4-man fronts.

* * *

Now that you have everything set up, it's time to sim through the preseason, right?  Wrong!  The preseason is extremely important for two reasons.  First, it prevents bench players from regressing too far during the course of the season.  If you sim through the pre-season and you don't play Quinn Johnson or Brandon Underwood, their ratings will degrade the following offseason.  Even if they don't play much in the regular season, getting them reps in the preseason keeps them from losing points.

The second reason for playing in the preseason is much more important; for whatever reason, EA Sports removed the option to make substitution packages from the Franchise main screen.  I personally hate this move, because without the option to sub players in specific formations, you barely get to use them.  Get this, without the substitution option, Aaron Kampman simply won't play in nickel or dime packages.  Let that soak in for a second, then read on.

The only way to sub specific players in or out in specific packages is to do so during the game.  Whatever changes you make will be saved, so it only needs to be done once.  After you determine who needs to be in or out in any given package, they will stay there until you move them.

Here's how to do it: play the first preseason game, but don't worry about calling plays.  Instead, flip through the playbook and hit the RB button to bring up the substitution screen.  This allows you to scroll through each of the 11 positions and sub a player for each play in that particular package.  For example, if you sub Ryan Grant for Brandon Jackson in the Full House package, Jackson will be the RB for every Full House play.  Be careful, though, because some formations have multiple looks (Singleback, I Formation, Shotgun, etc.)  Each individual look has seperate subs, so you have to make sure that you're thorough with your substituting.

Here's the substitutions that I recommend for Green Bay:

  • Brandon Jackson for Ryan Grant in all Shotgun formations.  Jackson is a far superior pass-catcher to Grant, and he's quicker in the open field.  You should have him as your 3rd down back anyway, but this ensures that a swing pass doesn't end in a 2-yard loss.
  • Quinn Johnson for Korey Hall in Goal Line formation.  Johnson can't run the ball, catch the ball, or pass block very well in Madden 2010.  But boy, can he run block.  Plug him in as the goal line fullback and watch him bowl over linebackers with ease.
  • John Kuhn for Korey Hall in Full House formation.  The Full House isn't as heavy on power blocking, so it's ok to take out the slightly better Hall in favor of Kuhn, the slightly better receiver.
  • Jermichael Finley in most Single Back formations.  Finley isn't a terrible blocker, but he's not great, which is why Donald Lee is still the starter.  Any run plays you deploy while he's in the game won't be ruined by Finley's blocking...most of the time.  He is, however, an outstanding receiver, meaning he should get the majority of the TE looks in most Single Back plays.
  • Aaron Kampman for Johnny Jolly in all 4-man front nickel, dime, dollar, and quarter formations.  This one is self explanatory: Kampman > Jolly.
  • B.J. Raji for Ryan Pickett in all 3-man front nickel, dime, dollar, and quarter formations.  This is important as it keeps Pickett fresh for base defense plays and uses Raji's pass rushing skills in pass defense plays.
  • Cullen Jenkins for Ryan Pickett in all 4-man front nickel, dime, dollar, and quarter formations.  Again, self explanatory.  Jenkins is an outstanding inside pass rusher, while Pickett is not.  Putting Jenkins and Raji (the DT2) on the inside with Kampman on the outside gives the team an outstanding pass rush.
  • Jeremy Thompson/Brandon Chillar/Clay Matthews for Cullen Jenkins whenever Jenkins is moved inside.  Don't let Mike Montgomery see the field unless you have to.  He's awful.

Additionally, I would encourage mixing up the LB and DL rotation in any of the 5 base 3-4 sets.  Put Bishop in for Hawk in a formation, and Thompson in for Matthews in another.  Keeping your players in a rotation keeps them fresh and helps prevent them from getting beat or hurt.  Again, you have to make these substitutions while playing in a game; you can't do it from the menu screen.  I recommend focusing on one formation at a time, then running a play.  Just keep track of who you moved and when so that you can finish anything you start.  There's nothing worse than taking Cullen Jenkins out of a formation and failing to put him back in; then you're stuck with Montgomery and Pickett.

After setting up your substitution packages, you shouldn't have to worry about anything on the roster or depth chart unless there's an injury.  As long as you do this during the first preseason game, you shouldn't have to make any changes for the rest of the year until you lose players and replace them with new ones.

* * *

After advancing to the regular season, hold off on playing the first game right away.  The most important aspect of Franchise mode is not only improving your team, but sustaining it.  The best way to do that is though the draft, but it's foolish to simply draft players based on their round projection.  Scouting is imperative to this process, and you can only do it during the regular season.

Scouting in Madden 2010 is easy; you get a certain number of scouting reports per week (starting with 19, changing when you change scouting services in the offseason) to investigate college players.  You tag the players you want information on, and the reports are back the following week.  You can scout a player a maximum of 6 times before they are "fully scouted" and no longer provide you with new information on their skills. 

Make sure you always scout players with high potential at positions you will need.  For Green Bay, I put emphasis on LT, RT, DE, DT, and SS.  Remember, the players with the highest potential are not necessarily surefire 1st round picks.  For example, I found a safety whose potential meter was nearly full, and I intended on drafting him with my first pick (if he was available.)  However, come draft time, I learned that he was projected to go in the 6th round.  Naturally, this let me wait and use higher picks on higher projected players at different positions, and resulted in a more successful draft.

One important note about scouting; if a player has an injury rating of 70 or less, don't waste your time on him.  He will ALWAYS be hurt, period.  The same goes for any WR with a catch rating of less than 70 or any lineman with a strength of less than 70.  Players will always improve their ratings on mechanical stuff (route running, footwork, etc.)  But the more natural ratings like speed and strength rarely change.

* * *

Now that all the painfully boring stuff is done, feel free to take on all comers.  Because I am feeling extra pretentious today, allow me to make some suggestions on Packer players to target, players to avoid, and plays to make it all happen.

Players who can help:

  • James Jones as a slot receiver.  As long as he's not lined up outside, Jones is an absolute beast.  The only defenders who can cover him are the elite LBs or CBs, and the corners are preoccupied with Jennings and Driver.  Jones is best used running slants, drags, digs, and curls in 3-wide formations.
  • Jermichael Finley as second tight end.  I know this isn't news to most of you, but Jermichael Finley is simply too big, too fast, and too skilled to be covered by most players.  Running him in 2-TE sets opposite Donald Lee is usually a good idea, especially running outs to the sideline or seams in the middle of the field.
  • Charles Woodson as lockdown corner.  Al Harris has lost a step in Madden 2010, but certainly not Chuck.  Make sure he's covering the other team's best WR, and you should be safe.
  • Brandon Jackson as receiving back.  I know I already mentioned this, but replacing Grant with Jackson in the Shotgun formations is critical.  Nobody in Green Bay runs a flat route better than Jackson.
  • Will Blackmon as a return man.  Again, not news here, but Will Blackmon is downright Hester-esque when returning kicks.  He's not as fast as Hester (obviously), but he's stronger and able to break tackles better.

Players who can hurt:

  • Brandon Jackson as running back.  He might be better in real life, but running a dive play with Jackson is absolutely absurd. 
  • Aaron Kampman in man coverage.  Blitz Kampman as often as possible, and leave him in zone coverage whenever he's not rushing.  Do not, I repeat, do not let him cover someone man-to-man.  He will let other teams eat the defense up on underneath routes.
  • Atari Bigby as long-term safety.  Bigby is an excellent tackler, a strong player who forces fumbles, and can sometimes cover a receiver.  But do not expect him to stay healthy.  He's good for 2009, but I would look to draft a replacement as soon as possible.
  • Jeremy Kapinos as anything.  Video games sometimes imitate real life, and this is proof.  Kapinos' punts are awful.  Find a replacement ASAP.

Plays to use on offense:

  • Strong I Slot Off Tackle: A solid run play that uses the FB as a lead blocker while the WR3 pulls a linebacker away from the box.  Unless you run into a blitz, you should get no fewer than 5 yards with this play, and you'll often break longer runs.
  • Singleback Flex Inside Cross: A very reliable short pass play that features the TE and WR3 running opposite drag routes.  Use this to pick up a short first down or, if the defense is in man coverage, to get a big play out of the receiver after the catch.
  • Full House Weak Zone: A safe run play that is best used away from the defense's strong point.  If the LBs are loading up one side, simply switch the play to the other side.  Good for running between the 20's.
  • Shotgun Doubles On HB Angle: On 3rd and long, this is the play to run.  You have three main options: the RB running a check down route in the middle of the field, the slot receiver running a short china route to the weak side, and the tight end running an out on the strong side.  If the defense is stacked towards the short zones, hit either receiver on deep routes for a big pickup.

Plays to use on defense:

  • 3-4 Normal Strong/Weak Blitz: Either the Strong or Weak blitz works fine: the OLB and ILB on one side overload their half of the offense while everyone else is in man coverage with safety help over the top.
  • 3-4 Over Trio Sky Zone: Very similar to the Strong or Weak Blitz, but this play offers a solid zone coverage scheme instead of man-to-man.
  • Nickel Normal CB Fox Blitz: Use the CB on either side to go around the offensive tackle and get to the quarterback quickly.  The 4-man front helps keep any run plays in check while the corner blitzes.
  • Nickel 2-4 Cover 2 Sink: A very basic coverage scheme that offers decent pass rush: the DTs are flanked by both OLBs, who rush the edge.  The other two LBs and all three CBs take intermediate zones, while both safeties split the field.

 Well, that's really all I can think of for now.  If you think I'm on to something, want to add something yourself, or you have criticisms of my strategies, or even if you hate Madden and want to rail against me for including it in a post, leave your love/vitriol in the comments section.

Just don't hate on my Madden skills.  I will take on any and all comers.  Challengers, step right up.