If you want to be a defensive mastermind, you have to have a broad range of knowledge of the various zone defenses featured in Madden. Regardless of formation, zone defense will always test a quarterback, and in this case, an opposing Madden player.
For offenses, memory, recognition, and application are the three components to beating a defense, but usually, the quarterback can only achieve two out of those three. Maintaining a healthy cycle of zones will keep the offense guessing as to how to solve your defense, thus resulting in you setting the tempo of the game.
Let’s analyze some of the zone defenses you will encounter and/or utilize in Madden.
What it is: The two safeties play a deep zone, with each of them technically covering half of the field. The cornerbacks play the flats on each side of the field, while the linebackers play hook zones (yellows, if you will) across the middle of the field.
What it’s good against: Passes to the flats will either become quickly defended or even intercepted by the corners if thrown improperly. Any routes across the middle (slants and in-routes to be specific) are covered by the linebackers. If your safeties are reasonably speedy, they can snuff out an overwhelming amount of deep balls.
What it’s vulnerable against: Posts, and all kinds. If the defensive line can not pressure the QB in time, a deep post will effectively split the safeties for considerable gains. Moreover, post-corner routes will find an opening in between the safety and cornerback’s flat zone. Beware if you see an opponent constantly lining up with slot receivers!
Cover 2 Buc
What it is: A variant of the Cover 2 that is best known for being the core defense of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the early 2000s. The main difference is that the middle linebacker plays deeper coverage.
What it’s good against: Everything the regular Cover 2 can stop, plus the dreadful post route (perhaps even a streak from the tight end). A comfortable defense to run on first down/second down and more than 6-7 yards.
What it’s vulnerable against: In addition to corner routes, a strong inside running game can really shake this formation up. Because the linebackers’ first reaction is to drop into a zone, they lose a yard or two once they come up to meet the run. This holds especially true for the MLB, who is usually the most fearsome run stopper on your squad. Refrain from using this frequently if you’re playing a team built for the power run game.
What it is: Deep zones from three defensive backs, usually the two CBs and one safety, each covering one-third of the field. (Duh.) The remaining players underneath (safety and linebackers) usually combine for a combination of two flat zones and hook zones.
What it’s good against: Simply, a combination of the zones help stop a variety of routes. Intermediate and deep balls down the seams are snuffed out by the safety playing a “center field” role. Low-risk passes such as flats, hooks, and drags over the middle become endangered due to the presence of defenders along the width of the field.
What it’s vulnerable against: Wide receivers who have a significant size advantage against the CB they’re lined up against may have an easy time with deep balls that turn into jump balls. Again, if your Cover 3 doesn’t have a purple zone, corner routes can do damage.
What it is: I’m sure you’ve taken the hint by now. A Cover 4 is (surprise) four deep zones, with the two most wide cornerbacks and two safeties retreating deep. The linebackers have a variety of different assignments, with the outside linebackers usually taking either the flat zones or corner zones (those all-important purple zones).
What it’s good against: Many passing plays on third down and deep can be effectively foiled by a conservative Cover 4. Streaks, posts, and corners can all be cut out easily by the swarming defensive backs. Depending on the linebackers, passes that stretch the width of the field can be easily defended.
What it’s vulnerable against: For all of the protection the Cover 4 offers against a plethora of passing, simple balls on drags and slants across the heart of the field can overwhelm the defenders. As one would assume, this defense is great when you absolutely know the offense will air it out.
What it is: This unorthodox look combines the intricacies of a Cover 4 and Cover 2. One half the field has the guise of a Cover 2 (a deep safety and shallow CB in a flat), but the other has a CB playing a deep zone in conjunction with the safety, with according coverage underneath.
What it’s good against: It can confuse many opposing offenses at first, which can lead to misthrown balls and what-not. Moreover, outside running plays can be contained by the corner playing shallow if you guess correctly as to what direction the run will be heading. Deep ball coverage is good for the most part.
What it’s vulnerable against: Some of the weaknesses of the Cover 4 and Cover 2 can be exposed when run against smart players. Again, offenses with taller receivers can win jump balls when placed in one-on-one situations against cornerbacks. Inside running plays can defuse this moderately easily, so use this sparingly on first and even second down.
Bear in mind that this is a simple breakdown of the various zones. There are many wrinkles and adaptations of these schemes like zone blitzes but I suppose that will be for another time.
Do you have a favorite zone to run? Will you base your defense on a particular zone scheme this year for Madden 13? Have your say in the comments below and stay tuned for more Madden tips now that the game is released!