Blurred Lines: How The NFL Is Beginning To Resemble Video Game Football
Originally posted to isportstimes.com on August 21, 2013
The pace of play is fast. There’s no huddling up; play’s are called and changed at the line of scrimmage. There are always at least three receivers on the field, and the quarterback is usually in the shotgun. Most plays feature a lot of short crossing patters with at least one guy going long to keep the defense honest. Sure, the teams run the ball occasionally, but now teams pass to set up the running game rather than the other way around. Actually, the most important thing for the running back to do is be a receiving threat out of the backfield.
Obviously, with all the passing going on, a ton of points are being scored. Quarterbacks as a whole are better then ever, and passing records are being broken and re-broken nearly every week. Scoring is up across league as linebackers struggle to cover running backs and safeties get dominating by physically imposing tight ends. If a defense can’t get pressure on the quarterback, they have no chance of slowing down the aerial onslaught.
The scene described above depicts a typical game of Madden. It also depicts a typical game in today’s NFL. The line distinguishing how video game football is played and how NFL football is played is becoming blurrier by the day.
It was only a matter of time before this became the case. The concepts that are favored by Madden players; many receiving threats, no huddles, changing plays at the line, etc; make just as much sense in the NFL as they do in Madden. Football is about mismatches, and there’s no better way for offenses to create mismatches than a no-huddle attack where the quarterback can adjust the play at the line of scrimmage. As noted in this piece by Chris Brown, teams like the Patriots, Broncos, and Eagles have different speeds at which they run their no-huddle attack, and when they catch the defense with bad personnel on the field, they kick the tempo up and continually exploit those mismatches.
Of course, running a complex hurry-up offense that constantly changes plays at the line requires a top-level quarterback. Thankfully, the NFL is stocked with more great passers than ever before. The rule changes dictating how defenses can cover receivers help too. Not only must defenders avoid making contact with receivers outside of five yards of the line of scrimmage, but also defensive backs must be leery of making a huge hit on a receiver, lest they get hit with a personal foul. That trepidation in defensive backs means teams aren’t afraid to send receivers over the middle into tight spaces. In fact, it’s pretty similar to how Madden players aren’t shy about hanging their virtual receivers out to dry.
The similarities between virtual and real-life football don’t end there. In response to all the passing, teams are lining up in more nickel and dime packages to match up with receivers. Defenses are also depending more and more on getting a pass rush from four or fewer rushers so they can drop at least seven men into coverage. Smart coaches are beginning to eschew traditional thinking and are trying to convert more fourth downs. The coaches are realizing with offenses being as prolific as they are, they are best served trying to pick up a short fourth down rather than punt the ball and try to get a stop. Teams are getting more aggressive at the end of first halves, realizing that they can essentially steal a possession by scoring right before intermission and receiving the opening kick of the second half. All of these things feature just as heavily in Madden as they do in real life.
The NFL is constantly evolving, and as long as the passing game is as open as it is now, the NFL will continue to look a lot like video game football. Ultimately for fans, this is a good thing. Developments like more passing, less punting, faster paces of play, and more aggressive play calling are all more aesthetically pleasing than the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust mentality that dominated football’s yesteryears. As fans enjoy the new developments in the NFL, the question now is, how does the game evolve from here?