So, you’ve got your quarterback. Now what?
The second component to an effective offensive attack is the running game. I’ve often argued that Madden is about three things — passing, running, and defense — and that you can really only get two of them right consistently. There will be games where the AI says “Nuh uh! No passes today!” or “Every tipped pass by your defense is a touchdown for the other team!” or “Watch a 160 lb cornerback tackle get a big hit on the running back for a fumble!” The most predictable part of your offense, and the most consistent from game to game, is your running game. Even a great QB will have bad or mediocre days. This is less true for great running back (although there will still be 8-men-in-the-box style games).
There are three main types of running back; like a quarterback, you should tailor your running game to your running back. I’ll also discuss fullbacks, because they don’t get nearly enough love.
Halfback — If the QB is the upper limit to your offense, the HB is your lower limit. Now, most of your running game depends on your offensive line, in all fairness, and we’ll get to that in two posts, but there are still things to worry about with each type of running back.
Power backs are slow but strong (80+ strength, 90- speed. They’ll give you two to three yards at minimum and six to seven yards at maximum, with an occasional ten or fifteen yard run just to blow your mind. Example: Peyton Hillis, Jerome Bettis, Jamal Lewis (Browns years), Brandon Jacobs.
The benefit of brute strength is that you, the player, have very little need to make fancy moves. You won’t get big runs without great blocking, but you’ll still get your fair share with or without offensive line play. You’ll be mostly running dives, slams, and other runs straight up the gut, with the occasional counter or misdirection to keep defenses honest. If it’s a good back, you can get at least ten years out of him before he’ll be so slow that no amount of strength will matter.
Availability: If you can’t find a bruising power back in the draft, I recommend you try another video game.The bigger the back, the more like he is to be a power back.
Scat backs (which sounds vaguely obscene) are all speed and no strength. You might get a 50 yard run or a 10 yard loss. Example: Darren Sproles, Reggie Bush, Willie Parker, Ray Rice
Speed is all about explosiveness, and that’s what these backs will give you. They tend to be good at catching passes too, so a screen or flat can help them get the ball with a little bit of space. You’re much more dependent on slick moves and/or line play; they’ll be all but useless without a great line. However, even with a small number of touches, they can surprise you. Rely on sweeps, tosses, misdirection plays, anything to avoid tackles. They also tend to be bad at holding on to the ball, and are sometimes really fragile. They’ll age poorly, but you can get premier talent for those few years.
Availability: Ditto power backs, just pick short and light guys.
Elite backs have great speed and strength, and are among the rarest of all players in Madden NFL 12. These have 90+ speed and 80+ strength. They’ve got moves, power, everything. Examples: Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, nearly every awesome back you can think of.
The strategy is going to be mostly that of the power back, but with the occasional pitch or outside run to take advantage of speed. They might or not might be good pass catchers; it’s not terribly relevant, though. If they can do it, find four or five touches a game that way; if not, don’t.They’ll age well, but will morph into being pure power backs, since speed always goes faster than strength.
Availability: This is really hard to pull off, because running backs can be found all over the place in the draft. All I can tell you is scout halfbacks the year you need one; it might be a first rounder or a fifth rounder. Watch for injury, in particular, since it’ll be the main difference between the elite back and a little faster power back.
Avoid fumble prone backs like the plague if you can. The game specifically screws you on this; up 30 points and on first down? He’ll protect it with his life. Down 7, on the opponents’ 5 with a minute left? A stiff breeze will knock it out.
You are going to want three running backs. Even the healthiest of backs misses time; it’s the nature of the position. You can, with a lot of luck, hide a weak QB through efficient line play. A fragile HB can’t be hidden. The ultimate question is single back or committee. The answer depends, mostly, on your options at HB. Kevin has had success with two scat backs in a committee. I’ve used both power back/scat back and elite running back alone.
The critical stat is stamina, or how quickly a player is fatigued. Even a elite back, with low stamina, will need to be replaced frequently. I had this problem with a scat back of mine; my solution was to mostly use a power back to soften up the defense, then pull out the scat back for ten or so touches a game in key situations. Kevin does it by formation, which works against the AI but not against a human.
A natural committee is to use your best pass catcher as a third-down back; this adds an element of surprise to your game plan. The AI usually won’t cover a HB, and that means you can sneak it to him any number of times. He needs to be good enough to run occasionally, obviously, but not necessarily every time.
The important thing is to make sure you choose the best player at the best time, and no stat can tell you a definitive formula. I play with 8 minute quarters, so for me, most games are 50 to 60 offensive plays, or a little under the average NFL game. My Zen goal is the 50-50 balance; I rarely achieve it, but I always try. Usually, and in my current season, I run the half back 25 times a game, with 5 pass receptions. Some games I go nuts and pass 40 times, but for the most part I try to keep passing numbers low.
The misunderstood player: the fullback
It is something of a shame that the average NFL team rarely has a fullback. Some don’t even have one on the roster. With skill and planning, however, they can be an integral part of your offense.
There aren’t hard and fast numbers on good or bad fullbacks. You’ll never find a fast one (my next 85 speed fullback will be my first). Even in the most creative of offenses, you’re going to block with them 75% of the time or higher. But a fullback can do so much more.
If you’re running a scat back, the fullback is a godsend. He’s a poor man’s power back, and can help you rest the scat back while simultaneously throwing the AI off balance. He’ll get a lot of work at the goal line, as well he should.
The fullback is also an excellent goal line target; they often aren’t covered, and unless they’re absolutely horrid at pass catching (and some are), they’ll have a wide open touchdown. I also use my fullback as a third down pass receiver — in Split Back Formation, there’s a play called Texas, which puts the fullback on an angle route and the tight end on a streak; the linebacker can’t cover both, so it’s either a guaranteed first down for 6 or 7 yards or a guaranteed first down for 10 to 20. My three favorite formations are I-Formation, Split Back, and Shotgun — it’s no coincidence two of them feature fullbacks. I used to run mostly Singleback, but I’ve since learned the error of my ways.
All that matters for a fullback is potential. Get him 5 or 10 touches a game, and he’ll be a 90+ in no time. Make two or three of those touches touchdowns, and you’ll have a dangerous weapon in your offense.
The sneakiest thing to do with the fullback position, although it might hurt you in the long run, is putting a speedy TE there. The H-back, as he’s called, will completely screw with the opponent. Eventually they’ll bring in CB or safety blitzes, and that means big receptions for your receivers!
Next part: Wide receivers and tight ends.