EA Sports

The Madden NFL 17 video game comes out this summer, and the EA executive producer shares some of the new features and changes. Plus mailbag topics include Patriot play-calling and a debate of John vs. Von

By Robert Klemko
June 15, 2016

The Madden NFL 17 video game released its first trailer two days ago, and it’s a doozy. Even if you don’t partake, it’s worth a view simply for your June football fix. 

The release of a new Madden has always thrilled me in ways I find harder and harder to justify as I get closer and closer to 30 years old. The franchise carries special memories for me, beginning in 1996 with the NFL combine feature that asked you to mash the A and B buttons on Sega Genesis as fast as you could in order to run a fast 40, and continuing through the successful implementation of the Hit Stick and the unsuccessful attempt at forcing users to direct QB passing vision before throws.

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Ever since those ambitious first 15 or so years of the game, many casual players have complained that the folks at EA rarely do much more than tweak each new edition and rake in the profits. (One contributing factor is EA Sports’ exclusive deal with the NFL, which prevents another game-maker from producing a competing NFL game.) After the release of the trailer, I had a conversation with Seann Graddy, the game’s executive producer, and posed a critical question for those of you considering whether or not to shell out $60-plus for the franchise that annually moves more than 1 million copies in its first week: What’s new?

Four takeaways:

1. There’s no development in gameplay akin to the introduction of the Hit Stick, but the makers say they have made significant improvements in artificial intelligence for a game that necessarily relies on 10 AI players to support the actions of one user. “Your teammates are playing better,” says Graddy. “Most people feel it right away, that the zone coverage is fundamentally better or the linebackers are hitting the holes harder. That’s a tough thing to sell, but I think it will be a big story this year.”

2. I’m excited to hear the new broadcast team of Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis, who replace Jim Nantz and Phil Simms in Madden 17. Nantz and Simms could not afford to spend the time EA felt was necessary to make the franchise an industry leader in sports commentary, so they recruited Gaudin, a veteran of the Big Ten Network and Westwood One radio broadcasts, and Davis of Fox College Football and NFL Network fame. Conveniently, Davis lives in Orlando, home of EA. Says Graddy: “Jim and Phil were awesome, but they had a lot of different commitments. With Brandon and Charles, there have been times when we were able to do as much recording in a few short weeks as we normally would have recorded in an entire year.”

EA Sports

3. In a nod to the success of the Red Zone channels, which show all the critical plays from around the league in real time on football Sunday, the makers have added Play the Moments to the franchise mode, allowing the user to play only critical moments during his team’s season rather than entire games. Even simulated football isn’t moving fast enough for the ADD generation.

4. As part of continuing efforts to define and streamline critical choices players make in games, EA added recommendations for special moves for running backs with the ball in hand, similar to the addition of the spectacular and conservative catch options to the receiving game, or the ability to jump the snap as a defensive lineman. Plus, the whole thing will look cooler, which is important. “When you’re running with the ball there’s an icon that recommends a special move based on the skills and traits that he has,” Graddy says, “and all those animations have been overhauled and will look different and fresh.”

The new Madden comes out Aug. 25. I’ll be back this summer with a full review as long as The MMQB readership doesn’t revolt with all this video game talk.

And now for your email...

• OUR THOUGHTS ARE IN ORLANDO: Robert Klemko begins his guest MMQB column with thoughts on Florida tragedy before diving into football topics

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ON ORLANDO SHOOTINGS

I greatly respect you and I appreciate your MMQB installment today. You were right to characterize the Orlando shooting as being borne out of hatred, yet you failed to mention the source of that hatred. Omar Mateen was not just a man who hated homosexuals, he was a man on a jihadi mission, a man who aligned himself with ISIS, a man who so twisted the teachings of Islam that he took pleasure in the slaughter of innocents.  He targeted them because of their homosexuality, yes, but he targeted them specifically because ISIS is teaching that homosexuals should be killed. By leaving out this extremely important detail, you failed to point out the root cause of Omar Mateen’s hatred. Until we routinely highlight the evils of ISIS, we will continue to gloss over tragedies such as this as if they were random acts of hateful people. These attacks will continue until our nation responds with vigor and force and disallows these organized groups from operating on our soil. My humble request is that, next time, you please bring this type of important element into your story.

—Jon Miller, Currituck, N.C.

Thanks Jon. Several emailers commented with this sentiment, though not as graciously as you did. The reason I didn’t mention radical Islam, or homophobia, or mental illness for that matter, is that as of the writing of the column, we did not have a full portrait of the shooter. We knew he was an ISIS sympathizer, but was the assault organized by ISIS, or did he simply share an ideology? We knew he was disgusted by homosexuality, but was this motivated by his religious beliefs or by his own sexual frustration? Having none of these facts at the time, I decided to focus on the victims and the space they inhabited, which I do happen to know a bunch about. Any mention of the killer’s allegiances, I reasoned, would require more context and discussion than I was prepared to provide in a football column written less than 24 hours after the killings.

QUARTERBACKING, AND THE LESSON OF PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY

Referring back to your conclusions regarding quarterbacks and socioeconomic status, I think a more accurate conclusion would have related to socioeconomic status rather than race. I feel that today socioeconomic status is far more of a determinant in most aspects of our society than race.

—Richard M.

Richard, thanks for your note. I’m glad you called me on this. For those unfamiliar, my story last month focused on the socioeconomic advantages and family support necessary to become an NFL quarterback. In a later discussion in Monday’s column, I mentioned the link with race, but I didn’t dive deep enough into why I think race matters other than the suggestion that socioeconomic status and race are linked. Obviously a higher proportion of black children than white children are in poverty in America, but that fact alone doesn’t validate my opinion that race and opportunity to become an NFL quarterback are directly linked. Here’s what does…

When I covered high school football in Prince George’s County in Maryland, I was struck by the number of kids who could flat out sling the ball. There was at least one kid on every other team who could launch a football almost 50 yards, yet the roughly two dozen public schools in the county threw the ball only about five or six times a game, and you could see why. The quarterbacks were frantic and sloppy in their drop-backs and often inexperienced at making reads. Only a handful were willing to trust their eyes to find the right receiver rather than tuck the football and run.

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Also, there was something special about this community: It was and remains the wealthiest majority-black county in the United States. Based solely on my findings about the link between economic status and quarterbacking, the county should have produced two or three FBS quarterbacks every year, but it didn’t. It produced a handful of four- and five-star recruits annually, some of whom went on to play in the NFL—Bills cornerback Ronald Darby and Browns cornerback Joe Haden come to mind. But none of them were passers. Why?

In the course of reporting last month’s story, I realized why. In Prince George’s County, none of the black fathers had been quarterbacks, and none of the offensive coordinators or head coaches had been quarterbacks, and none of the older brothers of the quarterbacks had been quarterbacks. So they ran option and power football because that’s what they knew, because despite having access to the resources necessary to cultivate a quarterback, they had been excluded from the tradition of quarterbacking. In many cases, no doubt, this was the result of prejudice. The well-documented obstacles faced by the first black quarterbacks in the NFL during their youth and collegiate careers tell us this much. So in the case of Prince George’s County, the legacy of race trumped money.

Anecdotally, I can tell you that in a great many majority black communities—rich, poor and in between—this remains the case. It’s a thought for another 5,000-word story.

PATRIOTS PLAY-CALLING

You wrote in your ranking of head coaching candidates, “c. Josh McDaniels, Patriots OC: Comfortable, and picky.” Sorry, but Josh is not ready to have the training wheels taken off. Look at how many Patriot assistants have gotten their shot and failed. Josh is a good OC, but he always messes up when it counts. He’ll have Tom Brady throw for 30 yards on 3rd-and-3. On 3rd-and-1, he calls for a 7-yard pass. On 2nd-and-1, we go long. Why? And in way too many games, Rob Gronkowski is not involved in the offense until the second half. And when he is, the play call often puts Gronk in harm’s way.

—M.H.

You can gripe about McDaniels’ play-calling all day, but I’m still going to tell you the Patriots won a Super Bowl following the 2014 season having rushed for 14 yards in the divisional round and 57 yards against the Seahawks. That just doesn’t happen in the NFL without some brilliant scheming and a next-level understanding of the passing game. That’s not to say McDaniels’ day-to-day play-calling doesn’t need work—I also cringe when throws unnecessarily put Gronkowski in harm’s way—but you would be hard-pressed to find a coach or GM in the NFL who could tell you without bias that Josh McDaniels isn’t a Top 5 OC in football.

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Three reasons I think Josh McDaniels is ready to have the training wheels taken off, as you put it:

1. I think smart evaluators of coaches and players reject statements like, Look at how many other Patriots coaches get their shot and failed or Nick Saban’s players are just products of his system and the like. They factor trends, but they weigh case-by-case evaluations more heavily. McDaniels will not be dismissed simply for being a Belichick pupil.

2. At some point, McDaniels will be asked by a franchise to help pick a quarterback of the future, and he will have spent the majority of his career in the sport with the one player who made the football world reassess the way it evaluated quarterbacks.

3. The Denver experience. You could look at his disastrous two-year run as head coach in Denver as a negative, or you could view it the way I think many who know McDaniels view it—as a valuable and humbling experience.

JOHN VS. VON

Robert Klemko wrote, “Of course, if you’re looking for someone to blame for this contract standoff between an all-pro and his Hall of Fame GM” with respect to Von Miller’s contract situation. It's an important distinction to make that John Elway’s HOF credentials are as a player, not as a GM. Elway is not [yet] a HOF GM but is a HOF player. Yes, he has had some success as a GM, but I ask, is his level of success as a GM comparable to Miller’s success as a player? The story is better served if you omit HOF.

—Pete

You’re right. If I could do it over again I would have attributed him as John Elway, the Hall of Fame quarterback and pretty damn great GM. I would say his level of success as a GM is comparable to Miller’s as a player, if not better. Miller has 60 career sacks and is arguably the best player at his position in the NFL; John Elway successfully recruited Peyton Manning to Denver, then had the foresight to build one of the greatest defenses in football history rather than spend cash and valuable draft capital assembling play-makers around a legendary quarterback in decline. If I was the Broncos owner and you asked me who I would choose between Miller and Elway, I’m taking Elway without a moment’s pause.

THE FLUIDITY OF COACHING LISTS

Great MMQB this week—a well and fitting sub for PK. As a Falcons fan I was particularly interested in your “Top Ten Coaching Candidates of the moment” section and how delicately you phrased those last three words. After all, Kyle Shanahan has gone from the darling of the coaching world in Week 5 to not even being mentioned on your list eight months later. “At the moment” is the perfect way to describe this list. With all the talk about how players are rated in the draft, is there a similar set of metrics for coaches? If so, that would be fascinating.

—Ben P., Atlanta

Trying to rank coaches seems to be a fleeting pursuit, doesn’t it? Here’s an example. Before the 2014 season I had multiple front-office talent evaluators tell me Seahawks OC Darrell Bevell was on the cusp of some job opportunities if he could nail the interviews. That season the Seahawks finished 10th in points scored and ninth in yards while advancing to the Super Bowl, then Bevell called for a pass at the goal line at the end of the Super Bowl and Russell Wilson threw an interception. Later those same evaluators told me Bevell wouldn’t get a shot until washed clean of the stink of that decision/loss. There is no go-to metric for coaches—often it’s a feel thing, which I think is a big part of the reason finding the right fit is so difficult.

Also, I’ll tell you a little secret about lists: We write them because people click on them.

THE ALLURE OF VEGAS

I am surprised that one issue not being discussed in this: The impact of visiting fans on the attendance/makeup of the stadium audience.

You can get reasonably priced flights from just about anywhere in the United States to Las Vegas. I foresee an entire tourism structure of flights to Las Vegas on Friday, two or three nights in a hotel on the strip, tickets to the game, and a return flight Sunday night or Monday depending on where the visiting team is from. What does the visiting fan do on Saturday? Spend the day in the casino/shows/sports book (especially if there are some big college games that weekend).

The Las Vegas stadium will be filled with 15,000 or 20,000 fans for the visitors every game—and maybe even more. A December game in Las Vegas versus the Vikings or Packers? 25,000 fans traveling to the sunshine and warmth. Same thing for Buffalo, Cleveland, etc. And then think about what happens with a fan base that is known to travel well—like Steelers fans. The Las Vegas Raiders’ home games would be the equivalent of a neutral-site game—that could be one reason so many other teams are supporting the idea. 

—Mark M.

If you’re right, and NFL types agree the population at Vegas games would be a neutral one, I think that’s actually one reason a majority of owners ultimately will not approve the move. Teams that rely on opposing fans to fill seats aren’t sustainable when the home team is struggling on the field. That scenario produces less money in the long run than a team with a loyal fan base and a bad stadium situation.

PETER KING IS ALLERGIC TO VACATIONS

Expressing the sanctuary a gay club provides to its patrons was meaningful and something I had never considered at least not to that degree. I just figured it was a place they could let their hair down so to speak. Thanks for your work. That was one of the best pieces ever to appear in this column. The way you articulated your thoughts really spoke to me. He won't, but get Peter to go on vacation more.

—Brian

Thanks Brian, and you’re right—he won’t. We like it that way.

ON DEANGELO AND SOCIAL MEDIA

Seems to me DeAngelo Williams has his head on straight. I especially like that players can speak for themselves through social media and not have their thoughts or feelings interpreted by a reporter. To be honest, until I read DeAngelo’s column, I hadn’t appreciated the players using social media. I get it now.

—Landy

Thanks for the note, Landy. DeAngelo is a smart guy and one of the most honest talkers in football. We are always thrilled to have him contribute to the site, and we take special care not to twist his or any other player’s words.

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.  

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