5 Common ‘Madden’ Mistakes You Don’t Know You’re Making (But Your Online Opponents Do)

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We’re now about a month removed from Super Bowl XLVII and the end of the NFL season. Though news from the NFL world keeps pouring in, it’s all related to off-field stuff like trade rumors and players getting arrested (and posing for insane mugshots). Fans jonesing for some actual football have no option but to turn to the virtual world.

Regardless of how experienced you are playing Madden, there’s always stuff you can do to improve your game. Simply playing a lot of opponents online isn’t always the best way to improve — it can actually cement the bad habits you currently have in your repertoire.

Below, we take a look at five common mistakes that even experienced Madden players often make — and offer some advice on how to eliminate them from your game.

5. Using a team that doesn’t fit your playing style

In the 2012 NFL season, we saw the meteoric rise of teams running read-option plays out of the pistol formation. Quarterbacks like Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick redefined what it means to be an athletic quarterback. As a result of this, playing teams like the Redskins, Seahawks and 49ers became very popular among Madden gamers.

There’s no doubt that a well-timed quarterback run is one of the best weapons you can unleash on your Madden opponent, but way too many gamers force the issue when using these teams. Don’t fall for the “trendy team” stuff if it doesn’t suit your style.

Try out several teams with different playing styles to find out what works best for you. Grinding out the game with clock-eating power run plays isn’t the most exciting Madden strategy, but it can be very effective — and it has the added bonus of being extremely frustrating for your opponent, because he’ll feel like offense never gets on the field. Remember: not everyone excels at running a spread offense and passing the ball on first, second and third down. If you develop a strategy that can defeat all the trendy gamers using teams with athletic quarterbacks, you’ll be set to win an awful lot of games.

4. Not protecting the ball

In real life, turnovers often determine the outcome of an NFL game. Year in and year out, the teams with the best turnover ratio are at the top of the standings at the end of the regular season — and are usually left standing at the end of the playoffs.

In Madden, where good players score on practically every drive and the clock is accelerated, turnovers are even more important. Give your opponent an extra shot to score and you might as well kiss your chances of winning goodbye.

It sounds like it should be completely obvious, but the best way to prevent turnovers is to protect the ball. Train yourself not to force passes into heavy coverage. If the receiver you want to throw the ball to isn’t open, then throw the ball away (press down on the right joystick). The vast majority of Madden player never take advantage of this ability. Likewise, when you take off and run, put both hands around the ball as you’re about to be tackled (RB on Xbox 360, R1 on PS3) in order to greatly reduce the chance of fumbling. This is extra important when you’re running with a quarterback or another player with a high chance of fumbling.

3. Not focusing on defense

Way too many Madden players become offensive whizzes, but have no idea what the simple difference is between Cover 1 and Cover 2 (let alone what a zone blitz is). Take the time to actually learn how to call a good defense. You don’t have to turn yourself into a young Dick LeBeau, but you should understand the benefits of each defensive package (nickel, dime, etc.) and learn how to pressure the opposing quarterback out of each one.

Learn the ins and outs of the defensive audible system, too. This doesn’t mean sending every linebacker on a blitz — it means knowing when and how to put a player in man coverage (or a spy) against the player you opponent keeps beating you with.

2. Taking stupid risks

It sucks to punt the ball to your opponent, but it’s something that you just have to accept when that’s the hand you’re dealt. Way too many Madden players have some kind of mental block or irrational pride that prevents them from ever punting the ball.

Don’t be one of these guys. Rise above that level of stupidity.

Playing smart football pays off in Madden. Punt the ball when a real NFL team would punt the ball. It’s fine to go for it on fourth and two from your opponent’s 45-yard-line — because an NFL team would probably do the same thing. Fourth and ten from your own 25, though? The odds are stacked against you, and you’re basically handing your opponent free points (and all the momentum) if you don’t make it. It isn’t worth the risk.

Get over whatever mental block you have. It doesn’t make you a p*ssy to punt the ball (even if your opponent calls you one). On the contrary: it makes you a smart player. Let your opponent be the one to make stupid mistakes and then capitalize on them.

The same thing applies to field goals. Don’t try to score a touchdown on fourth down in the red zone unless the game situation dictates that you have to. Take the three points. Every scoring drive matters in Madden and three points are often the difference between a win and a loss.

1. Being reactive, not proactive

The best Madden players force their opponents to adjust to them — not the other way around. The biggest mistake you can make is to always call a defensive play that would have worked against the play your opponent just ran (and beat you with). Doing this means that you allow him to stay one step ahead, and any good player will burn you repeatedly if you play this way.

Say you just got beat by a deep pass. Often, the best strategy is to come back out with a defense that makes it look like you’re putting a bunch of defensive backs into deep coverage to avoid getting burned again, but then you actually send some of your defensive backs on a blitz. Your opponent will think you’re still one step behind and probably won’t see your pressure coming.

Always keep your opponent guessing on both sides of the ball. This will prevent him from getting into a rhythm and it will nullify most of the advantage he gets from calling audibles.

Ultimately, winning at Madden is about mental discipline. It’s about controlling your emotions, not making any dumb mistakes and out-thinking your opponent. When you do make a mistake, it’s about putting it behind you (you can’t change the past) and looking ahead to what you can do on the next play.

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