Improvements to blocking in Madden NFL 18

Posted July 28th, 2017 at 8:00 am

One notable absence from the extensive list of community requests addressed for Madden NFL 18 was anything to do with blocking, an area of the series that has been criticized heavily over the years. EA Sports ended up holding that back for its own developer blog, citing new features like ID The Mike and an emphasis on the Awareness rating of an entire offensive line in recognizing and picking up blitzes. 

ID The Mike

One of the most common pieces of feedback we received from our community was, “If I know my opponent is blitzing, and I know who’s going to come free, give me the tools to adjust the blocking to pick it up.”  Thus, ID the Mike was born.

Before explaining it, let’s first provide some context about the pass blocking system we use in Madden. While most NFL teams have a variety of different pass protection schemes, we currently take rules from all of them and have a hybrid pass protection philosophy, built primarily upon base protection rules. This scheme adapts on the fly to account for all defensive alignments, different protection adjustments, such as slide protection and play-action protection, as well as updating the rules dynamically to account for blockers being added or taken out of the protection via hot routes and audibles.

What is base protection? Base simply means the five offensive linemen will target the four-down defensive linemen plus the Mike linebacker. The Mike being the second defender off the ball from the strong side (not necessarily always the middle linebacker). When extra blockers are added, like running backs or tight ends, they will then be responsible for the Will (weak-side linebacker) and/or the Sam (strong-side linebacker). If slide protection is used, then the offensive line will shift their targeting to either the Will or Sam based on the direction chosen by the user, while the running backs (when they are in the protection) will then block the Mike.

What ID the Mike does is allow users to take this base protection and choose any defender on the field as the Mike or the fifth target of the offensive line.  It’s essentially a spotlight tool that allows the player to direct pass protection to any defender on the field and treat that player as the Mike using our base protection principles.

How’s it work? If you think the nickel is blitzing and the middle linebacker is dropping into coverage, open-up the pass protection adjustments menu in pre-play using LB/L1, and hit the A/X button to ID the Mike. Then move the M icon with the LS or the D-Pad to the nickel who is showing blitz and lock it in with another A/X press. You’ve now set your protection to account for the most dangerous threats on the line of scrimmage, plus the defender you believe is rushing.  Note, this only works on passing plays, but can be used on run plays to bluff opponent.

Using this tool, however, does carry risk. If you’re wrong and you direct your protection to the opposite side of the actual pressure, you carry a very high risk of getting sacked by an unblocked rusher who you have not accounted for. The ID the Mike feature brings a whole new level of strategy to defensive play-calling, forcing players to disguise their pressures and use a variety of alignments and play-calls to keep the offense guessing. All this while meeting the community’s request for pass protection tools to pick up any blitz the defense can throw at you.

Offensive Line Unit Awareness

In addition to new pass protection tools, another common ask is about offensive line chemistry and awareness as a unit.  In Madden 18, the aggregate awareness of the whole O-line will now impact their ability to recognize and pick up blitzes.  The higher the average awareness rating of the offensive line as a unit, the better they will be at recognizing and reacting to blitzes that come up over the course of a game, including the always tough zone blitz schemes our players like to create by dropping defensive linemen into coverage while bringing heat off the edge.

This feature starts to activate when the average awareness score of the five offensive linemen reaches 80. The ability to recognize blitzes scales. An 80-rated O-line will be able recognize heat about five percent of the time, whereas an O-line averaging 97 or higher in awareness will recognize the pressure on almost every single pass play.

But there’s a catch. Any offensive lineman will tell you that the unit is only as good as it’s center. Thus, the Center’s awareness rating counts 2X relative to everybody else, and his rating will modify the total average up or down by replacing the AWR rating of the lowest rated lineman in the unit.  If you want your O-line to play together and recognize those heaters in protection, you’re going to want to make sure you have that critical cog in the middle who can get his linemates on the same page.

This extends to running backs when in protection.  While not being calculated as part of the O-line’s AWR score, any pass blocking RB will have the same ability to recognize a blitz and react to it faster as his awareness score increases.

The unit awareness in Madden 18 will make it critical to pay up for the AWR rating in MUT Salary Cap, keep your O-line strong in MUT Ranked and MUT Draft, and to stay on top of AWR progression in Franchise mode or suffer the consequences of having a unit that is not on the same page when picking up blitzes.

Tuning and Improvements

In response to a lot of valuable feedback from our players, we’ve made a whole host of other improvements on the blocking front to improve the gameplay experience and offer more balance in the trenches. Here’s a quick rundown:

Block Sheds
Block shedding and disengages have been tuned with a heavy emphasis on ratings and scheme.

♦In the pass game, only edge rushers using a power move (PMV) or finesse move (FMV) with a rating of 90 or higher will have the ability for a “super win” when rushing on the edge, and the difference in those ratings compared to the blocker’s pass block rating (PBK) will determine the frequency of those wins.

♦In the run game, the match-up delta between the blocker and defender will determine both the speed at which a block shed can occur and the frequency. The tuning has been heavily weighted to favor elite players on both sides of the ball. However, the only time any outcome will be 100 percent is when a player has a 50-point advantage on either side. So there’s always a rare chance of an elite player getting beat on occasion.

♦The Strength rating matters more than ever in Madden NFL 18 – it now determines the defenders’ ability to disengage away from the blocker (not shed through the blocker). The difference in STR vs. STR will determine when a defender can get out of the grasp of a blocker when wanting to move away from the blocker.

♦Impact Blocking, with the addition of the Blocking Stick on offense and the “Blow-up/Submarine the Blocker” mechanic on defense, both offensive and defensive players will now be rated in the Impact Block category (IMP). This rating will be used in a formula with body weight and movement speed for both blockers and defenders to determine the outcomes of moving blocks, when the blocker or defender is running faster than a jog speed.

♦Running the ball vs. a weak box. In Madden 18, we’ve expanded our logic around defenses stopping the run when using sub defenses such as dime, dollar and quarter. If the offense is in a run formation and running a hard-ball, downhill run play against a defense with very few defenders or a lot of defensive backs in the tackle box, the defense will have a very hard time stopping the running play. In many cases a lot of the defenders will end up getting pancaked. This also applies to the “Pass Commit” adjustment vs. a running formation and when dropping defensive linemen into coverage against a running formation.

Running Back Pass Blocking
The logic for pass blocking running backs has been updated to expand their ability to scan across the entire formation as well as keeping them in the backfield longer so they will be less likely to attack targets at the line of scrimmage, giving them more time to react to more dangerous threats as they appear.

♦Improved logic for RB’s lets them react to pass rushers who have shed the O-line.
♦Allow scanning – RB’s will be able to block unblocked players on either side of the formation.
♦Adjusted tuning to cut-blocking and block sheds, with a heavy emphasis on the ratings match-up between the two players.

Open Field Blocking and Lead Blockers
The logic for blockers in the open field has been improved, including wide receivers down field, pulling blockers and lead blockers out of the backfield and screen blockers.

♦Added a new “MDM” (Most Dangerous Man) assignment for wide receivers on certain running plays, where they will target safeties or outside linebackers who have dropped into an overhang position (down in or near the tackle box to join the run-fit) instead of targeting the cornerback aligned over them.

♦Made wide receivers more aggressive in finding blocks down the field in the run game and after pass completions.

♦Improved logic for pulling blockers and lead blockers out of the backfield to re-target to less dangerous threats and improving keeping them on their assigned path to block for the ball carrier.

♦Improved logic for blockers out on screen plays to re-target less and be more decisive in going after their initial targets.