For years I could rely on the Steelers defense to lock down an opponent’s ground game with little concentration from my part on making plays at the line of scrimmage as a user. This greatly assisted any defense against the passing game as I would freely roam around with Lawrence Timmons or Troy Polamalu. Part of that comes from being a spoiled fan of how good the Steelers’ front seven has been in recent history.
Having a defensive line that consistently included players with the Madden overall ratings in the 90’s, it was easy to stop people who intended to rely on a ground attack. Today however, one must be more creative with their play-calling to stop the run and be able to defense the pass. Madden 13 involved a change in the style of play for the game in that it allowed for the quarterback to better lead receivers into open space with their passes.
Since Madden 11, EA Sports seems to have been tooling the franchise to mirror the growing importance of the passing game in the NFL. That has created an increased importance of speed for receivers and defensive backs. In Madden 12, the Raiders were a prime pick for many users because of the game’s perception high-end speed of many of their receivers. In response, it became more important to have a fast defensive back corps who can run with receivers in open space. Overall the Steelers defense is one that can make the plays to keep leads throughout the game, but it requires more changes to your base sets than it did in the past.
I’ll review my strategies after a review of the players.
Casey Hampton: Strength: 96; Block Shedding: 84; Overall: 84. "Big Snack" isn’t the dominating force that he used to be, but he still wrecks shop. On occasion he will make a solo stop of a dive run to the middle of the defensive line or stagnate the line’s momentum in goal-to-go situations. I have never been a player who was big on controlling a defensive lineman to shed offensive lineman and get to the backfield, I prefer relying on those players to occupy blockers so my linebackers can do the work (much like normal football strategy).
Hampton is a solid occupant of opposing blockers for cross blitzes from Foote and Timmons to the middle of the offensive line. Backups: Steve McLendon, Alameda Ta’amu and Loni Fangupo
Although the bell toned for more McLendon involvement this season from fans, he was not ready in Madden. He’s a good spell option and a better pass rusher on 3rd and 4th down but does not occupy blockers as long as Hampton. Keep Casey at the nose position until Madden 25 comes out, he’ll be substituted out by the formations that are designed more so to stop the pass. I am excited to see what McLendon could bring to the table when he’s given the chance to blossom.
Brett Keisel: Strength: 88; Block Shedding: 88; Play Recognition: 97; Overall: 86. Keisel’s veteran awareness and his ability to read plays as they develop is an invaluable tool for this defense. His overall abilities are above average and make him a formidable force in the trenches, but his ability to read defenses is uncanny. Many times when he has a blitz assignment, if there is a screen called by the offense he reads the play before it happens and is running behind the blockers to disrupt the play. This is extremely helpful while you’re playing other positions and covering other receivers or blitzing the quarterback.
Some people like to be defensive ends in order to confuse their opponents and try to make similar plays as this on their own. Keisel’s advantage is that you don’t have to control him and he can make those types of plays. He also takes smarter routes to the quarterback when running him down in order to limit your opponent’s ability to escape. Always have this guy in. He’ll be a solid role player, and it’s fun to tell your opponent to fear the beard and have them ask "who is he?"
Ziggy Hood: Strength: 85; Block Shedding: 80; Play Recognition: 75; Overall: 77. Ziggy is an imposing force on occasion, but not enough to my taste. He can occupy lineman decently, but when you’re used to Aaron Smith dominating that side of the line of scrimmage, Hood leaves you disappointed.
Ok, yeah Ryan Clark was right, I’m spoiled. But his value to the team isn’t what past ends have been. The best value Hood has is making him a nose in the quarter packages to give you a force that can chase the quarterback stay in the play. Nothing exceptional. Replace him with Cameron Heyward.
Cameron Heyward: Strength: 91; Block Shedding: 91; Play Recognition: 73; Overall 78. Heyward is a stronger, faster and better skilled version of Hood. His only recognizable drop-off is his awareness and play recognition. However in my experience there are little advantages that awareness and play recognition are afforded to you from starting Hood.
Heyward becomes the better option because of his ability to disrupt more plays at the line of scrimmage. For the record, I hope that both him and Hood work out for the team and I think they will eventually. But in Madden Heyward puts Hood on the bench. Backup: Al Woods Woods’ overall is still at 63, even with an imposing strength stat at 94. He is only to be in the game because of injuries or extreme fatigue by lineman.
Lawrence Timmons: Speed: 85; Pursuit: 95; Play Recognition: 84; Overall: 91. Timmons is a monster for the defense. His awareness and play recognition still leave something to be desired, but his ability to fly across the field to stop runs in the backfield or sky after a cheap throw by the offense make him a vital part of the defense. I have been a Timmons fan for a long time because I’ve heeded the words of Foote and Farrior that he was a key to their defense; but I have to admit part of that was because I have always liked his play in Madden. He will make a play once or twice a game to create that crucial turnover or defense a pass that stymies your opponent’s drive.
In your defense you need linebackers who can cover tight ends and receivers out of your nickel, dime and quarter packages. Timmons is the perfect asset to do just that.
Larry Foote: Speed: 73; Pursuit: 84; Play Recognition: 78; Overall: 75. I have always liked Larry Foote, but his usefulness in Madden is running thin. He doesn’t have the speed or cover skills to take on running backs coming as receiving options from the backfield and his best use is to occupy a blocker on a blitz scheme so that Timmons, James Harrison and other pass rushers can get the job done.
I think Madden doesn’t give Foote enough credit for his awareness and ability to read plays developing as that is what makes him starting material for the Steelers in the first place. Whereas Ziggy’s awareness wasn’t enough to keep him over Heyward, Foote’s abilities are enough to separate him from the pack. His awareness is at a 77 while the rest of the middle linebacker in Pittsburgh are in the 60s. Keep him in there.
Backups: Stevenson Sylvester and Brandon Johnson. Both these players have talents that outrank Foote in some categories. They are slightly better in man and zone coverage abilities and are faster than him. However their awareness is not enough for that to matter. They often get caught out of position which can be annoying when all you need from your weak side inside linebacker is to plug up a lane to stagnate the offensive line’s momentum.
I was definitely banging my head after Sean Spence was placed on Injured Reserve last season because that meant I couldn’t use him in Madden at all this year; he would not be upgraded with updates and remained in the 60s of overall ratings. The idea of two speedy middle linebackers flying around the field and catching running backs in the backfield or in the flat is something that I hope becomes a reality soon for the Steelers.
James Harrison: Speed: 83; Awareness: 96; Power Moves: 93; Pursuit: 92; Overall: 91.
I will miss Silverback’s reign of terror on my opponents. With a hitting power stat of 99, he would often produce rock hard hits and has been the most likely defender to cause a fumble. I rely on Harrison because of his incredible pursuit and power rush abilities from his position. Many Madden users rely on the mobility of their quarterback to save them when they have failed to find the soft spot of your defense. Harrison’s elite awareness and pursuit allow for a spy that can be a challenge for even Redskins users to avoid with the speed of Robert Griffin III.
I don’t care about Harrison being a Bengal, he’ll always be one of my favorite Steelers.
LaMarr Woodley: Speed: 93; Awareness: 90; Power Moves: 95; Pursuit: 96; Overall: 92. The master of the flying kick is a force to be reckoned with when challenged. While a solid option as a spy like Harrison, his power move stats, block shedding abilities and pursuit skills all make him a better option as a pass rusher if you need to decide between the two of them. Personally I don’t think Woodley has surpassed Harrison yet in reality, but in Madden you must use the advantages you are given.
Woodley will often be the pass rusher that users will have to avoid once their first and second receiving options have been covered and they are searching for alternative receiving outlets. He also does a good job stopping the run and setting the edge on his side of the line of scrimmage. At least we get to keep him.
Backups: Jason Worilds, Chris Carter, Adrian Robinson. While Worilds does have serviceable abilities as a backup, he is not comparable with anything that Harrison or Woodley bring to the table. The other backups are fast and to be used in the 1-5-5 nickel package. Chris Carter does make the occasional interception or big tackle when given the opportunity though. But maybe that’s just because I put him in for garbage time stats when I have already locked up a win.
Ike Taylor: Speed: 95; Man Coverage: 86; Zone Coverage: 93; Press: 93; Overall: 91.
Ike’s a cornerstone of this defense because of his superb coverage skills. While he can press a receiver very well and run with the best of them. I have yet to actually experience a shutdown corner in Madden (not for a lack of trying either) so anyone expecting total lockdown coverage on every down is sadly mistaken.
While Ike’s speed allows for him to run with any receiver in man coverage, his ability to play deep coverage in the zone is where his best value can be put to use. When challenged deep, he has the ability to jump a pass and make a play on the ball to prevent the big play, as well as create a big play for the defense. He also is the best Steelers corner at recognizing the play and has the highest awareness of the group. If Ike were younger than Ryan Clark or significantly younger than Troy Polamalu (Taylor and Clark are 32, Troy is 31) I would say he would make an excellent convert to the safety position if there is a vacancy from the retirement of our stalwart safeties.
Keenan Lewis: Speed: 86; Man Coverage: 85; Zone Coverage: 89; Press: 88; Overall: 82. Keenan Lewis finally broke into the 80’s for his overall Madden rating this year. He is also a player that I am going to miss on Madden because he provided more stability at the position than what we have had in the past few Madden games with our corps of corners. He’s not a shutdown player or an ultra-playmaker but he can make a play for your defense on a crucial 3rd/4th down to turn the game in your favor.
Cortez Allen: Speed: 87; Man Coverage: 81; Zone Coverage: 76; Press: 81; Overall: 71. Allen is capable of being the nickel corner because he can take away under routes with his man coverage skills. Whereas he does not yet have all the abilities necessary to be a major playmaker in Madden, he does make enough plays to keep him here. His press is enough to cause problems for receivers that are 3rd on most opponents’ depth charts and his overall play is enough to gain the Steelers some advantages in the strategy.
Backups: DeMarcus Van Dyke, Justin King and Curtis Brown. If you consistently use the Steelers and haven’t switched out Curtis Brown from the entirety of the Pittsburgh cornerback depth chart, stop everything you’re doing, make every effort to get to your PS3/XBOX 360 immediately and do so now. He is actually the worst corner on the entire team in Madden.
The key to a strong cornerback corps in Madden is SPEED ("Mike Wallace Speed" isn’t needed, but anyone in the mid-90s is effective). Brown is only at 88, while Van Dyke is at a 98 and King is a 95. His overall speed is also noticeably lower than both of theirs. Some Steelers users, like the Madden legend iMAV3RIQ (go checkout his site, he’s funny, creative and fun to watch play), prefer to put Van Dyke in as a starter with Taylor in order to maximize the potential of his blazing speed.
Van Dyke’s biggest weakness is his awareness and the abilities assigned to him when he is not being controlled by the user. But if he is in position to jump a pass there is no person better suited to grab the ball in this group. He has the best hands of the group and with his top-end speed can easily take a quick pass to the flat 90 yards the other way for a defensive touchdown. King’s speed is almost identical to Van Dyke’s and is more talented than Van Dyke is when comparing how the computer uses both players while the user is focused elsewhere. However I still prefer to put Allen at the nickel slot for his advantages at pressing receivers, while letting Van Dyke or King spell so I can use their speed to make plays on poorly thrown passes.
Ryan Clark: Speed: 82; Awareness: 87; Play Recognition: 78; Zone Coverage: 76; Overall: 85.
Clark may not be the fastest safety out there, but his ability to be in the right position at the right time while playing a deep third zone is very helpful. He also is a major help in run support with an 87 tackle rating and a 93 hitting power rating. The best feeling is when your opponent completes a pass in into your secondary for a brief moment and as he is in mid-sentence of mocking you, Ryan Clark knocks the receiver senseless, jars the ball loose and you’ve caused a turnover.
That doesn’t happen every game, but his hit power statistic makes it a common occurrence when people test the middle of your secondary.
Backups: Ryan Mundy and Robert Golden.
Until writing this article I had not realized that I don’t think I have ever seen Ryan Clark get injured in Madden. I have had to use Mundy in a few packages with extra safeties, but never as his replacement. Mundy is an ok option to aid certain packages in Madden despite his several mistakes this season. But I have never had to rely on Golden as a player and cannot see any reason why anyone should.
Troy Polamalu: Speed: 90; Awareness: 87; Play Recognition: 95; Zone Coverage: 71; Overall: 96.
Polamalu’s portrayal in Madden is an exact replica of his awesome abilities on the field. He flies everywhere on the field, makes great plays behind the line of scrimmage, and can intercept any pass thrown near him if executed properly by the user. The game has even captured Troy’s amazing ability to make a miraculous play on an interception by making his spectacular catch skill rating an 87.
I lied earlier when I said the best feeling in the game is when you destroy someone with Ryan Clark. The ultimate moment is when you get Polamalu to make a one-handed interception from a position your opponent thought impossible for him to make a play, and they exclaim "THAT’S IMPOSSIBLE!" It happens enough to get your kicks, especially from Ravens users.
Just try to ease their pain by saying, "hey man, it wasn’t your fault. You just got Polamalu’d."
Backups: Will Allen and Da’Mon Cromartie Smith If Troy Polamalu gets injured while you’re playing, pause the game and take a minute for yourself to process what has happened; let out an expletive and focus on winning the rest of your game with Will Allen.
Much like Allen this year, he is not all that bad. But when you go from one of the greatest safeties in the history of football to not all that bad, it can be very annoying.
Be sure to check out Part II, focusing on game strategy