This is the first article of a series I intend to write that will hopefully close the gap between “sim” and “freestyle” players on both ends. My intention is to make sim players more open-minded and to help freestyle players understand that realism does not inherently hurt your chances to win.
I dislike the terminology that divides us into “sim” and “freestyle” Madden players, but that’s what people are familiar with, so I’ll go with it.
It’s easy to assume that Peyton Manning’s offense with the Indianapolis Colts was the most complex in the NFL because of all his orchestration at the line of scrimmage. As it turns out, just the opposite was true. The reason Peyton was able to make so many pre-snap adjustments was that he had the simplest playbook in the NFL.
To gain a better understanding of the X’s and O’s of Peyton’s offense, I encourage you all to read this article. But by taking our analysis of Peyton’s offense down to the fundamentals, we can apply their success to this discussion in a way that leads us to a key point of my argument: having ten different ways to do the same thing does not confuse the defense or “keep them off balance”; it simply means you need to be able to perfectly execute nine unnecessary things. Let’s look at these diagrams from Smart Football for an explanation. (I excluded several because the forum allows a maximum of four images in a post. Check out the first link I gave for the complete set of concepts Brown wrote about.)
What do these images above have in common? Two things:
1) “Doubles” formation
2) All receivers have vertical route stems on every play, excluding the running back
This is a valid approach. Everything looks the same pre-snap, and it looks the same shortly after the snap as well. The similar route stems make it difficult to jump a certain route. The defense knows what you’re doing, but they can’t stop it without showing too much of their hand. Peyton identified these tells better than anyone, and that’s where his orchestration started. If he was in Levels, and saw the SS roll down to create a single high look, he knew to look for a curl-flat combination with his running back and Z receiver (Marvin Harrison and later Pierre Garcon). There are countless other examples, but the point is that Peyton had an answer for everything, and that he was able to execute all of his concepts almost perfectly because that’s all he did.
I want to leave “freestyle” Madden players with this message: if you think that “sim” Madden players suck at the game because they scroll through the playbook with no direction or focus, falling back on the cliché of “mixing it up”, consider that such a player is not even playing “sim” contrary to what they might think. There is a different kind of sim out there that is competitive and fun.
And I want to leave “sim” Madden players with this message: don’t “mix it up” just to “mix it up”, because that doesn’t work. Diversity is great, but all diversity in an offense needs to be fueled by a purpose, or else it becomes a diversion. I should be quick to say that the Colts’ approach is not the only good one out there (it’s actually unique to take it to this extreme), but even a team like Green Bay that has a wide array of formations relies on a list of concepts short enough to shock the average football fan who has been brainwashed by broadcasters. They will run the same passing concept from I-form that they run from Empty (ex: Shallow Cross). It’s all about the concepts. And perhaps a sim rule stating that an individual can't run the same 5-6 plays over and over needs revised. Sim leagues should be concerned with the plays themselves, such as motion hike throws and man assignment switches, and not the number of plays.
I’d love to hear your opinions, agree or disagree, but let’s keep things on topic. Depending on the response to this thread, I might continue the series with articles about no huddling and 4th and short. Maybe it’ll eventually turn into a blog with some offensive and defensive strategy discussion…we’ll see.