While they were streaming on Thursday night, EA Sports released the Gridiron Notes for the gameplay deep dive for Madden 21.
From the run defense to the passing game, there’s a lot to read through for this year’s game. You can check out the notes in full below courtesy of EA Sports. Checkout our video for an even more detailed breakdown of all of the new gameplay features and improvements.
Simply put, stopping the running game in Madden 20 was too difficult for most. For Madden 21, we aim for a more balanced run/pass ratio, so we’ve made some improvements to our Run Fits and Defensive Gaps system, with a strong emphasis on the Force defender, who is the defender responsible for setting the edge vs. the run. Here’s some specific improvements we’ve made towards that goal:
- Force Defenders aligned on the line of scrimmage at the snap will use wider angles at the start of the play to show more anticipation and better pursuit prediction to set the edge vs. outside running plays.
- Force Defenders will show more anticipation in their pursuit angles at the start of the play when facing quick hitting outside running plays, such as Jet Sweep and Touch Pass so that they’ll get in better position to set the edge.
- Hammer and Fill players, who are the defenders in the run fit responsible for the open gaps inside of the Force player, will take wider initial pursuit angles vs. outside running plays, that will help them get over the top towards the outside of the formation quicker, and prevent them from getting mired up inside by blockers and other traffic.
- Force Defenders will have wider formation alignments in many base defensive formations, such as 3-4 and more plays within those base formations will have the Force player aligned on the line of scrimmage instead of off the ball.
- Edge and Force defenders will have wider Gap integrity vs Heavy/Wing TE Sets.
- New/improved blocking interactions with defenders disrupting running lanes by pushing blockers further into the backfield during engagements vs. all run types.
- Defenders will have better anticipation of the ball carrier’s movement by taking smarter angles while/after shedding blocks.
In addition to the upgrades to our Run Fits system, we know how important tackling is to run defense as well. We didn’t JUST add the new Breakdown and Pylon tackles; we also made some core improvements to existing tackling systems to make tackling more accessible and a stronger part of countering the run game:
- Defenders will now be much more aware when they are engaged in blocks near a ball carrier, and they will trigger tackle attempts from these engaged blocks inside the trenches, and in the open field vs. impact blocks.
- Hit-Sticks and Dive Tackles have been tuned to make them more accessible and functional, all of which come together with our new Breakdown Tackles for a more intuitive defensive experience.
One of the new features that has the Madden Dev team really excited is Location-Based Tackles. These are tackles where you’ll see the running back reach the ball out for the pylon at the last second to get that critical touchdown, or where the tackling defender will struggle and strain to keep the ball carrier from reaching the First Down sticks on a huge 4th down. Here’s a quick breakdown on how these work:
- These tackling interactions make our players more aware of their field location and react accordingly, including the pylon, goal line, sideline and first down marker. While there’s not a direct button input on the sticks for these tackles, they will be driven by player ratings and Superstar Abilities. In addition to the abilities, the defenders’ Tackle and Awareness ratings compared to the Ball Carriers’ Vision and Awareness ratings will drive the outcomes of these interactions dynamically.
ZONE DROP COACH ADJUSTMENT
- We’re introducing a new set of Coach Adjustments that will allow you as the defensive player to customize the depth of your zone-drops for UNDERNEATH zone defenders. These coaching adjustments will give you the ability to change the drop depths of Flat, Hook and Curl-Flat zones in increments of 5 yards, up to a max of 30 yards from the line of scrimmage. When using these adjustments, keep in mind that all Match Zone logic will be disabled in all zone coverage plays while using the adjustments, including the Deep Zone players. When facing a no-huddle offense, you can turn off these coaching adjustments by using the ‘Reset Play’ option in the Pre-Play Adjustments menu.
QB & PASSING IMPROVEMENTS
With a more balanced run game comes more reliance on the air attack. To ensure that players will have the tools they need to run more balanced offenses in Madden 21, we’ve made some significant improvements to throwing the football:
- Throwing out of Sacks – All QB’s will have the ability to throw the ball while being tackled. The accuracy and power of the pass are dictated largely by physics – the further into the passing animation the QB is at the point of contact, the more likely the pass will be accurate. However, if at any point the QB’s arm or shoulder are hit during the pass, that too can impact the accuracy. Throwing out of sacks does carry some risk as well. The earlier in the throwing animation the QB is hit in combination with the QB’s Strength (STR) rating, the more likely he will be to fumble.
- Deep Passes Under Pressure – New to Madden 21 are ‘Under Pressure’ throwing animations, which allow QB’s to contextually speed up their throwing motions when feeling pressure on deep passes (throws of 40 or more yards from the spot of the pass to the landing spot). These animations are dictated by ‘threat-to-impact’ prediction, meaning that at the time the pass has been initiated, if the QB thinks he will get hit by an oncoming defender before the release of the pass, he’ll use an under-pressure animation. And then the QB’s Throw Under Pressure (TUP) rating will modify both the power and accuracy of the pass.
- QB Branch-Outs – QB’s can now quickly branch out of the drop back to throw the ball at any time. As soon as the QB has received the snap, if a receiver button input is given, the QB will immediately branch out of his existing behavior and throw the ball to the intended receiver, which also includes branching out of play-action fakes. QB’s will also have more control to branch out of the drop back to scramble by moving the stick toward either 45 degree angle away from the line of scrimmage, while also re-enabling the controlled ‘Rollout’ movement, which you can toggle by tapping the RT/R2 button. Along with this change, the ‘Quick Throw Inaccurate’ from Madden 20 has been turned off.
- Accuracy/Power Tuning – With the variety of improvements done to passing, we also did some tuning to improve ‘Under Pressure’ and ‘Cross Body’ passing accuracy to bring more balance for both by making the inaccurate penalties more contextually appropriate to the situation.
- We’ve added a new ‘Max Distance’ passing power penalty, which will activate when targeting a receiver who is deeper than the QB’s max passing distance. The max passing distance for each QB is dictated by his Throw Power (THP) rating. This penalty also decreases the strength of the pass when throwing deep passes on the run, with more severe penalties to throw-power for ‘Cross Body’ throws.
- Enhanced the in-game Passing Feedback text so that players will have a more transparent understanding about the result of the each type of throw.
- Parity for Handoff Animations – All handoff animations have been tuned so that all respective handoffs are the same speed going either direction.
- Pass Interference and Illegal Contact – We’ve added support for a more robust management of user-controlled Pass Interference, and also for the first time, the Illegal Contact penalty. The goal with these is preventing users from intentionally obstructing receivers from getting to their routes and/or the catch-spot, while trying to overlook incidental and unintentional contact. These penalties will be used in both Competitive and Simulation game styles and will be called primarily on user-controlled defenders. For Franchise players, these penalties can be adjusted by the Penalties settings menu.
DEFENSIVE CONTAIN BALANCING
One of the more popular online strategies in Madden 20 was the ‘Contain Blitz.’ Players told us this felt unbalanced because unblocked contain players were very effective pass rushers, but also very quick to react to scrambling QB’s. So, again on the theme of ‘balance,’ we’ve made some changes to Contain behavior in Madden 21:
- When utilizing pass-rush schemes that free up the contain player from being blocked via an overload to either side, that player will now rush the QB at a slower speed than if he were not in the contain assignment, as long as the QB is inside the pocket and NOT using scramble movement. The contain player will be moving at a speed slow enough to read the QB with the intent to keep him in the pocket, but will not break into a full-speed rush unless the QB starts to scramble.
- This change will bring balance by giving the defense the ability to quickly react to a scrambling QB with an unblocked contain player, while giving up a little power in the pass rush.
Like many of our other features and improvements, Madden 21 has a strong focus on player control and agency. Catching is no different. We’ve made a few tweaks to our catching system to offer more ‘stick work’ towards making plays:
- Players can now dictate the direction they want their catch to take them as they secure the catch via Left Stick input. For example, when holding up/vertical on L-Stick and using the possession catch, you’ll be selecting a possession catch that will fall in the same direction as your stick input, ensuring the receiver won’t go to the ground short of the sticks. This increase in control is also critical when throwing underneath routes, as the responsiveness allows receivers to quickly turn up the field after using a RAC (Run After Catch). One obvious case to notice this improvement is when a receiver in nearing the sideline, the user will have the control to keep him in bounds as he turns up the field rather than running out of bounds.
PLAYER PERSONNEL PACKAGING
For those players who like to get creative with their formation personnel on offense, we’ve added a new way to use packages and formation subs while using audibles:
- The pre-play audibles system now considers the actual personnel on the field. When changing your personnel in the Play Call menu, either via packages or formation subs, your pre-play audibles will now match the personnel package on the field. If you are using 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TE’s) in a formation like Gun Empty Flex, you will be able to audible to any other formation in your playbook that also uses 12 personnel. For now, this feature only applies to the offense, but as it continues to evolve, we are looking for opportunities to continue to expand upon it.
BALANCE FOR REPEATED AUDIBLES/PLAY FLIPS IN PRE-PLAY
Another aspect of bringing more balance to the run/pass ratio in Madden 21 is an authentic solution for spamming audibles and play-flips by the offense before the snap until an advantageous alignment for a running play is found. This popular tactic will now carry some risk:
- The offense will now have the risk of the offensive line committing a false start penalty after the use of multiple audibles or play-flips, and the chance of penalty will significantly increase with each additional audible thereafter. This penalty has been put in place to simulate the confusion an offensive player would likely have if the QB changed the play 3-6 times while sitting his is pre-play stance the entire time and it applies to all Game Styles and difficulty levels.
PLAYER FATIGUE FOR OUT OF POSITION BALL CARRIERS
Madden 20 was a year of the gadget play for many, but players told us that gadget plays were too frequently relied on as the primary source of consistent offense. In response, you’ll now have to strategically manage the workload for ball carriers who are NOT a primary running back, or risk penalties to their ratings via Fatigue for overuse:
- After a player who is not a running back by trade, such as a QB, WR or TE, has carried the ball as the ‘primary’ ball carrier on multiple consecutive plays, that player will start to quickly deplete his stamina, especially on tackles and hit-sticks. This risk applies to non-RB’s in plays like Wildcat Power, Jet Sweep Touch Pass and QB Blast and as they get tired, you’ll notice them become less effective on the field regardless of their role thereafter. These players will need to be subbed out of the game if overused; if not subbed out, their play will continue to degrade as they get more tired. This system will be used on both Competitive and Simulation game styles.
- With this change is a significant reduction to fumbles by scrambling QB’s on all game styles, EXCEPT FOR ALL-MADDEN COMPETITIVE. However, as players start to get more fatigued, the likelihood of fumbling will naturally increase.
KICKING GAME TUNING
We received feedback from players that some aspects of the kicking game were in need of some improvement, so here’s a quick list of some changes there:
- Kick Meter on Competitive Game Style has been tuned to be more skill-based, meaning it will be more difficult to get accurate kicks for Competitive play and missing the accuracy window will be slightly more punitive.
- Kick Power/Wind Impact has been tuned on Simulation Game Style so that kickers and punters don’t always launch unrealistically deep kicks, while the wind impact on the kicking game will be less significant.
- We tuned ball physics to bring more ‘skid’ to the ball on kicks bouncing on the turf to make the coffin-corner kickoff exploits (known in the community as the ‘Scum Kick’) much more difficult to execute.
In Madden 20, we introduced Superstar X-Factor abilities into the game. While these abilities brought a ton of excitement and different strategies to gameplay, we also recognize that in our first attempt at adding in this game context that some of our abilities were a bit unbalanced. Here’s some of the most critical changes we’ve made to existing Superstar X-Factor abilities:
- Wide Receiver Route Ability Balancing – Wide Receivers had a number of abilities granting them catching bonuses on specific route types. These abilities, while strong, were difficult to use since they required detailed knowledge of your team’s playbook or very specific hot-routes that might not always be available. In Madden 21, we have reworked these abilities to grant their bonuses when the receiver catches the ball in specific areas of the field, regardless of the route they are on. This allows them to accomplish the initial goal of creating receivers that excel at making plays on specific route types, while making them much easier to utilize.
- Coverage Defender Ability Balancing – On the other side of the ball we had the opposite issue with coverage defender abilities in Madden 20. Abilities like ‘Man Up,’ ‘Zoned Out,’ and ‘Universal Coverage’ were essentially one stop shops. It was too easy to pick up one of these abilities on a defender and just ‘set it and forget it.’ Ultimately we didn’t like how easy it was to make a defensive powerhouse with very little ability investment. As a solution to this, we have split these abilities up into multiple versions that grant their bonuses across specific areas of the field, mirroring the new wide receiver abilities. Now coverage defenders will need to specialize in defending an area of the field rather than being able to cover the whole gridiron. Additionally, ‘Universal Coverage’ has been converted into an X-Factor ability, so the idea of a powerhouse “play-the-whole-field” defender can still exist, you’ll just have to earn it via the X-Factors objectives.
- Pass Lead Ability Balancing – The Pass Lead abilities from Madden 20 were fairly polarizing. They allowed you to make some impressive plays and throw receivers open in the best of circumstances, but more often than not, they could result in throwing uncatchable passes that were out of reach of your receivers. In Madden 21 we have removed the increased leading distance of these abilities, and instead boost the ball’s velocity when using the Precision Passing mechanic on the left stick in combination with bullet pass. This new benefit greatly reduces the ability for defenders to make a play on the ball when making the correct read, and should prove to be a powerful perk for pocket passers.
- We have a TON of additional information to share with you regarding new abilities coming in Madden NFL 21, as well as more updates from the previous season that have been re-imagined. Stay tuned for upcoming news on Superstar X-Factors in Madden NFL 21.