Having trouble scoring the touchdowns you need to secure victory? Tired of watching your opponents destroy your defense? There's no getting around it: Madden NFL has a monstrous learning curve. It can leave new players flailing around like Christian Ponder as they are picked off again and again, overwhelmed by the choices at their disposal. So what are the best ways to help you win?
Fortunately, there are a few easy ways to improve right away at Madden NFL that don't involve mastering rocket catches or memorizing an intricate set of blitz adjustments. Much of it involves simply learning the terminology, the roles of each player on the field, and what to do in certain situations.
Consider this guide a starting point. Whether you're playing Madden 15 or the inevitable Madden 18, these tips should help you become a better player.
How to Immediately Improve Your Offense
Learn to Recognize Man Coverage vs. Zone Coverage: Man coverage puts one cornerback on one receiver, while zone coverage has defensive backs (and sometimes members of the front seven) guarding a certain portion of the field. Learning to recognize them before the snap is crucial to succeeding on offense in Madden NFL. A handy way to tell if a team is in zone coverage is to check your matchup indicator (accessed by holding L2/LT). If you don't see a matchup, then the opposing defense is either showing zone or a house blitz. Either way, adjust accordingly.
There are a few tells, such as cornerbacks lining up off the receiver (zone), but smart defenses will disguise their coverage as much as possible. Thus, it's usually best to put one player on the outside in a streak and watch them. If they zoom past the corner, then you can probably hit them for an easy completion on the sideline. If the corner bumps and follows them, then it's best to look for your next option, usually an out route or another man coverage killer.
Watch the Safeties: Safety play is a great indication of what the defense is trying to do. If there's only one safety up top, then they may be trying to blitz. Conversely, if they have two safeties over the top, you're better off looking for short and middle routes. More advanced players will take manual control of their safety and try to double cover your receivers. If that happens, then that's your cue to throw deep to your receivers along the sideline.
Get Good at Scrambling Out of the Pocket: Though they likely won't be as powerful in Madden 15 as they were in Madden 25, mobile quarterbacks are still the bane of any defense's existence. If your receivers are well-covered, it's not always a good idea to throw the ball. Instead, learn roll out of the pocket and scramble for a handful of yards. Such moves can often be the difference between a pick or sack and a first down.
Don't Lay on the Sprint Button: Refrain from holding the sprint button (R2/RT). In addition to costing you maneuverability, it rapidly tires out your play. Instead, use it in quick bursts to get around corners and break through holes in the offensive line. Once you're in the open, that's your cue to hit the gas and make for the endzone.
Run Out of Passing Formations, Pass Out of Running Formations: Misdirection is key in Madden NFL, especially when going up against other human players. Keep them honest with play action throws out of the I-Formation and draws out of four receiver sets.
Pick Formations That Stack One Side of the Field: Defenses hate it when the offense stacks one side of the field, since it usually puts a receiver right in the seam between the slot and the offensive line, which can be hard to stop. It also helps to expose whether they're running zone coverage or man coverage, forcing the player on defense to adjust. Finally, if they hedge too far to one side of the field, it makes it that much easier to run a quick draw and bounce to the outside with only the safety to beat. Trips TE is a particularly good formation for this.
Look for Routes with Quick Cuts: Beating man coverage usually involves throwing a pass right out of a cut. Look for angle routes, Stick and Nod routes, corner routes, or pretty much anything with a quick cut that will allow for a receiver to shake a corner. It won't always work, but it will at least give your receiver a fighting chance against tight coverage.
Exploit Mismatches: Put your slot receiver in motion and see who follows them. Try to put the defense in a position where they are covering your speedy receivers with slower linebackers. The new matchup indicator (accessed by holding LT/L2) is a great way to tell if your receiver has the advantage of a corner. If they do, you can put them in a slant and abuse them all day long.
Go Through Your Progressions: Inexperienced players commonly make the mistake of locking in on one receiver because a particular pass play works for them. As in real life, always have at least three options at your disposal. Learn to smoothly go through your progressions and get the ball to the open player. One trick is to have one player on a corner route, another on a deep in route or out route, and the last on a drag route. That way there should always be at least one player open.
How to Immediately Improve Your Defense
Know When to Use Base, Nickel, and Dime Sets: A simple rule of thumb in football is that base formations (4-3 and 3-4) should be used for two receiver formations, Nickel should be used to counter three receiver sets, and Dime is good for four receiver sets. In obvious passing situations, it's occasionally advisable to go all way up to Dollar or Quarter and take linebackers off the field entirely.
Know When to Use QB Spies: The QB Spy audible is a powerful tool for offensive players. It doubles as both a safeguard against scrambling QBs and a coverage tool that guards the middle of the field. Often, it's worth putting a defensive end in a spy on passing downs. Certain plays also put players into spies automatically.
Learn to Manually Cover Troublesome Receivers: Madden 15 makes it much easier to execute a manual pass rush, but that doesn't mean you should always be user-controlling a lineman. Sometimes it's better to control one of your safeties and double cover a receiver, especially if you're confident that Richard Sherman or Darrelle Revis can handle the outside. Use L2 or LT button to strafe and try to bracket the receiver in question so you are in position to go for the interception. Force them to hesitate a few seconds and you have a good shot at getting a sack.
Disguise Your Blitzes as Much as Possible: Blitzing is good, but only if an opposing offense doesn't know it's coming. Sugar Cover 3 Bluff and Sugar Blitz is one example of a combo that looks much the same, but with one being a blitz and the other being a coverage play. Whenever possible, pick plays with a generic two deep safety shell, which can usually be accomplished by choosing "Base Align" in the defensive audibles menu. Surprise and confusion are the keys to running a good defense.
When in Doubt, Run 2 Man Under: It's still the best defensive play around, and that's unlikely to change in Madden 15. It's not the most exciting defense around, but it's a good play capable to stopping both the run and the pass.
Purple Zones are Your Friend: Also known as "Curl to Flat," this defensive audible is handy for stopping passes to the sideline. A common tactic among advanced players is to put the entire defensive line into purple and yellow zones to flood the field. Take care, though. A smart and patient opponent will realize that they don't have to face a pass rush and simply wait until a receiver is open.
Go for the Swat Rather than the Pick: It's tempting to jam the "interception button" when a pass is coming your way. But it's often better to simply swat it away instead, as it's much harder for an offensive player to make a play on the ball in the instance. The same goes for making a tackle. Tempting as it might be to hit as hard as possible, it's often better to wrap up an opposing player and bring them down with a form tackle.
Five Strong Offensive Formations
Slot Offset (Eagles)
This Eagles formation features two running backs and a lot of interesting screen passes and draws. Eagles Cross Scrn, Mtn InsideZone, Triple Option Lt., and Mtn Spot highlight a great shotgun formation.
Tight Flex (Falcons)
Home to consistently one of the best plays in Madden in Falcons Cross, which features a variety of interesting crosses and wheel routes. Trot this out on 3rd and Medium and convert all day long.
Trips TE (Vikings)
Overloads one side of the field while putting a receiver between the slot and the left tackle. HB Wheel, Speed Option, and Quick Slant are all first-rate plays that will almost always gain you yardage. Trips TE is especially useful in red zone situations.
Normal Flex Wk (Patriots)
Another formation that's great for getting some quick yards. Patriots Drag matches a drag route that's hard to stop with an out route for the running back for a near guaranteed completion. If your receiver gets single covered on the outside, the little wheel route will destroy them deep.
Empty Bunch (Vikings)
One of the better bunch plays in the game. Empty Bunch features a nasty option play in Mtn Read Option to go with Divide Wheel, which crushes both man coverage and zone with its variety of crossing routes, wheels, and route routes. The coup de grace is Stick, which includes a great corner route on the outside.
Five Strong Defensive Plays
Aggie Cloud Star (4-3 Stack, Vikings)
Useful for stopping the run. Clogs up the middle while the corners clean up on the outside. If they pass, the linebacker has a good chance to shoot the gap for a sack. Zone Blitzes are better than ever in Madden 15.
Fire Zone 2 (5-2, Panthers)
Another run stopper. The 5-2 formation stacks five players on the line, which is an intimidating formation to face for a running team. Especially great if your team has a strong linebacker corps.
Sugar Blitz (Nickel 2-4-5 Even, Chargers)
A Cover 0 blitz (i.e. no safeties over the top) that sends six rushers for great heat with virtually no adjustments. Mix with Sugar Cover 3 Bluff for maximum effect.
Sugar Cover 3 Bluff (Nickel 2-4-5 Even, Chargers)
Presents an intimidating front before dropping most players back into coverage. Still gets decent heat with four pass rushers. Mix with Sugar Blitz to keep opponents guessing.
Cover 2 Man (Dollar 3-2-6, Seahawks)
Great for passing downs. This variant sends a linebacker on a straightforward blitz for some added pressure. If you want more coverage though, you can always put the blitzer in a hook zone to cover the soft middle between the safeties where the Cover 2 tends to get abused.
All playart courtesy of Prima. Go here to see their complete guide to every single playbook in Madden NFL 15.