Calling defense hinges on knowing who you are, knowing your personnel and knowing the down and distance. In a game where the correct play call results in a turnover, or the incorrect play call results in six points for the offense, every play counts. In this blog, I intend to break down some play calling principles for defense.

In order to understand defensive play-calling, I must briefly discuss some formations. The first formation I’m going highlight is the 4-3 defense. The 4-3 is primarily a solid base defense with 4 defensive lineman and 3 linebackers, hence the term 43. It also contains two safeties and two corners. This defenses strength lays in the frontline. This defense is one of the most flexible defensives, which is widely used on all levels of football. The second defense is the 3-4 defense, which has an extra linebacker and is minus a defensive lineman. This defense adds speed on the outside but gives up strength and size in the front, at times. The 34’s weakness is stuffing short runs. All defenses have strengths and weaknesses, your job is to know why you’re calling any particular D.

Okay, let’s dumb it down, any defense that has seven or more defensive lineman/linebackers is focused on run stopping. Any defense that has five or more defensive backs is primarily a pass defense. Likewise, any defense that has five or more defensive lineman is primarily a run defense. There are also mix defenses like the nickel 146, 155 prowl and the Dollar defenses. They attempt to balance the field with safeties replacing linebackers, and linebackers replacing ends.

Play calling begins with your philosophy. However, your philosophy may or may not fit with your personnel, which may cause you to flex your principles to make your system work. For example, you’re a zero (man) coverage blitzing type of person, but the Left corner on your Detroit Lions will not hold up long enough to allow the pressure. You decide to bring one less rusher to double cover the left corner spot.

Secondly, play calling involves having knowledge of your personnel. A good knowledge of your personnel allows you to do things on defense that goes against conventional wisdom. For example, the New York Jets star corner Darrelle Revis, plays excellent zero coverage. His ability to guard the offenses best player without help allows the defense to bring safeties in the box to support the run, or bring additional pressure. If you are using a team like the Bears, blitzing the house in man defense may not be smart. Majority of the time, they run a Tampa 2 / Cover 2 defense, with a sprinkle of Cover 3. Naturally, in this Madden, you will have a lot more success playing to your teams strengths. Knowing your personnel will always help you with the last and final step: knowing the down and distance.

Finally, down and distance compiles all the data and allows you to apply it effectively. I’ll briefly explain play call philosophies as it applies to the down and distance. 1st down is the offenses essential money  maker in more ways the one. A good play results in stockpiling 1st downs. If you stockpile enough 1st downs it will result in Touchdowns. A bad play on first down, may result in a predictable set of circumstances for the defense to read and carve up like a thanksgiving turkey. Below is a lay-out what to expect on each down and distance:


  • 1st and 10 – you should expect run and play action on this down. It is wise to play a base defense on this down. The expectation is to “expect the unexpected”. (when defending a first down with a new opponent, especially, exercise caution until you gain a feel for him/her)
  • 2nd and 10 or more – this is a high run down and if the offense believes that they can run against you, they will do it here. In an efforts to shorten the distance to the sticks (1st down markers) the team puts their offense in manageable distances, which is from 3-5 yards.
  • 2nd and short – this is a toss up because the offense has a good advantage. So, playing a defense that is safe against the run and pass is ideal.
  • 3rd and 10 or more – this is ideal for the defense and I would focus on screens and draws with particular emphasis on the pass. So, defense pin your ears back and let your pass rush attack the QB. Ensure that your CB focus on the sticks is to guard against curls, slants and streak routes. Also, prepare against fade routes; they are extremely effective in Madden 13 to the Tight Ends or outside Wide Receivers.
  • 3rd and short – prepare your defense for a run and if your opponent is an aggressive player and on the plus side of the field (beyond the 50 yard line) you may want to play this down like second and short.  Try to focus on tendencies, which may allow you to make a solid decision against the offense.
  • 4th and long – It’s obvious when a team has to go for the gusto and in these situation you must react accordingly. When the game is on the line, a team will go for it because they have nothing to lose.
  • 4th and short – The side of the field your opponent is on will determine his/her actions and if you combine it with tendencies you will know exactly how to respond. If an opponent is in plus territory he’ll probably go for it. Also, if the opponent can’t stop your offense, he may go for it no matter where he is positioned on the field.


All and all, I attempted to cover the details of play calling which focuses primarily on knowing who you are, knowing your personnel and knowing the down and distance. Another play calling focus could be tendencies of your opponent and if you combine all these principles, it should provide a solid and effective baseline in defending against your opponent.



    • Just based off real life and your player’s ratings. If the team you’re using usually runs a 43 in real life, you will be weakening your defense if you use a 34. However, if you have 4 good LB’s and 3 Big and strong (but slow DE’s) there is no point running a 43