This past weekend, Madden NFL 23 was free-to-play for the entire NFL opening weekend. I basically had carte blanche to the entirety of the latest Madden game for over 72 hours — Thursday to Sunday. In the past, this sort of marketing campaign would have most likely convinced me to buy the new Madden. I played over the weekend on my PlayStation 5.
The first weekend of NFL football is the perfect time to run a free trial weekend for Madden. Think about all of the football fans and fantasy football geeks who probably decided to purchase the game after playing this weekend. I was not one of these people — not yet at least.
The last Madden game I owned (and played) was Madden NFL 20. Up until that point I had owned almost every Madden game since the mid-90s. In fact, I still own my SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) copies of Madden 96 and 97. So, I probably bought every Madden for almost 25 years straight.
Side Quest: I talked about Best Buy’s EA Sports (Madden and FIFA) deal before, where they would give you extra trade-in credit when trading in last year’s version towards the new game. This was the sole
reason I continued to purchase Madden up until 2020. There were even a few times where I thought
I had successfully convinced myself that I didn’t need Madden that year, but once I watched that
first NFL game of the season I drove straight to the store to pick up a copy.
Playing Madden has always been my way of giving my team, the Miami Dolphins, a better virtual season. However, in the past few Maddens I’ve barely finished a single season in Franchise mode.
From year to year, the changes in a Madden (or any yearly sports title) are usually hard to catch, other than slight graphical improvements. After taking a couple of years off I was able to notice some bigger differences. Still Madden is basically the same game it’s been for 20+ years. There have been some newer game modes introduced over the years, including the story mode Face of the Franchise.
The first thing I was asked when I booted up Madden 23 was if I wanted to try out some new “Advanced Passing” techniques. I tried both out (Accuracy and Power), but ended up sticking with the original passing system. The passing system has become complicated enough over the years, and frankly I don’t need to add anything else to it. That would just add more interceptions to my passing. It’s cool that they introduced this, but also, no thank you.
Ever since the introduction of the Hit Stick (and Truck Stick), I have had a love/hate relationship with them both. I love it when they work, but I hate it so much when I fail — and boy do I fail.
I rarely go for the safe tackle anymore. Instead I go for the big hit, often missing and letting the other team score. The hit stick has lost me many games, but has also caused the occasional rewarding fumble. So, is it worth it? Probably when you have a backup plan, like other defenders in the vicinity.
There are way more options now with playing as a defensive lineman or anyone blitzing after the Quarterback in Madden 23. I remember slamming down the triggers (L1, L2, R1 and R2) back in the day to get past the offensive line with power and speed moves.
In Madden 23, there are so many new moves to use. I just was never sure if they were giving me hints or repeating back to me what I had used. The options are endless using the thumbsticks, different button combinations, juking, spin moves, and even just blowing right past blockers. Once I got used to it, I really started to like these defensive maneuvers.
Back in older Maddens, Kick and Punt blocking were a bit of a hack. It was easiest to block a field goal when playing with an inexperienced friend, in person. You just had to start running once they hit the accuracy bar on their kick meter. If you did that, then you had a great chance at blocking a field goal (or punt). More gaming savvy friends who knew about this trick would just hold down the button to draw you offsides.
Today, there’s sort of a science (or physics) to blocking kicks and punts in Madden 23. I was able to get pretty good at the field goal blocking, but my punt blocking still needs some work.
You mainly have to watch for the snap and start sprinting. If you time it just right, you’ll get past the outside blocker and it feels as if time slows down a bit to give you time to dive for the block. In my last game of Madden on Sunday, I ended up blocking a couple of field goals.
I’ve always been a classic play-caller in my Madden games. Meaning I choose my offensive and defensive plays by formation (aka the right way!). At some point they started to introduce new ways to call plays. Sometimes, when I’m feeling a bit lazy I may go with the coaches suggested option.
I remember when Madden first introduced player-centric play calling. Using this style you choose a player and are given options of plays intended for that player. I was never really a fan of this style, since I rarely throw to the “main player” in plays. I just look for whoever is open.
The thing I like about Madden 23 is that it’s very easy to switch between play call styles. While I’ve been mostly a formation picker, it’s nice to quickly switch over to find a player, gameplan, ask the coach, or try some other unique way to call plays.
RPO and Options
These are optional play calls where you must very quickly choose what to do — pass, run, pitch, toss, screen pass, or some other option. First off, when it comes to the Option (the QB runs the ball but has a choice to toss it back to the RB), I like to keep those plays to NCAA Football, which is returning in the next few years.
These RPO plays are like running the option, but with more options. Instead of running and deciding at some point whether to give up the ball or keep it, you must do so immediately after the snap. Certain plays give you even more choices as you go. These plays are almost like a choose your own adventure book. I’m sure they can be very effective, once mastered.
Learning to Run
Even though I’ve been playing Madden games since the early 90s, it wasn’t until some time in the past decade that I truly learned how to properly run the ball. I’ve always been trigger happy with the sprint button, whether on offense or defense. This is a reason why I miss tackles and mess up big play opportunities.
It wasn’t until a tutorial lesson a few years back when I realized that sprint is something to be saved for special occasions. In the case of a run play up the middle, I shouldn’t even touch the sprint button before making my way through the hole in the line.
There are special circumstances which may require early sprint usage. Instances like beating a defender around a corner, or escaping a tackle for loss.
I would also perform jukes, spins and other special moves all while holding the sprint button. I have since learned that this is also a special occasion occurrence. Certain moves need the addition of sprint in order to be exaggerated and give you the advantage, such as a big juke or spin. Other times a smaller, natural move will do.
Lead Blocker Control
Over the years, Madden has added and taken away different features. There’s one that I loved from the early to late 2000s, that was since taken away. It was called Lead Blocker Control (or LBC).
Back in the day, most people I know would play Madden against each other when at a friend’s house. I have one friend who was all about playing on the same team. He just wanted to block for me on offense. He was always excited to play my Dynasty/Franchise/Season of Madden and protect my QB, RB and anyone else who might need protecting. He would also play defense as someone in the backfield and go after the ball. It was actually very helpful.
I never really understood his obsession with being what I thought was the number two role on my team until Madden created the Lead Blocker Control. In LBC, the player gets to control the fullback or a lineman on run plays until they lay down that first block. Next, the player controls the running back.
It was very satisfying/rewarding to lay out defenders before running through these gigantic holes that you just created by controlling a different player. I would love for them to bring that feature back some day.
Another Year Off
One thing that playing Madden 23 brought back to my memory is that I am terrible at these games. They are so frustrating for me.
After playing through many tutorials (mainly to see what new features have been added), I decided to play a game on All-Pro difficulty as the Miami Dolphins. The game started off fine. I went up by two touchdowns, but missed the extra points because the kicking always takes some time to get used to. Next thing I knew, I had thrown four or five picks and was down by 40 points in the third quarter.
Not only have I always been terrible at Madden. Even on Pro difficulty, I can have a victory in my sights and let it slip away on a stupid turnover for a TD. This game just always makes me so angry and it’s mostly my own fault.
I have always aimed to be All-Pro in Madden, never All-Madden (that’s too hard and frustrating). Instead, I usually end up playing on Pro, sometimes Rookie. What I learned is that Pro is a little too easy, while All-Pro is a little too hard. Luckily, they have added many accessibility sliders to the game for almost every setting and AI configuration. This means I can now fully control the difficulty I need from Madden.
The main reason I’ve decided that I don’t yet need Madden 23 is because I don’t have the time for it. Years ago, I would play through a game or a few each night in Madden, or I would start a game over and over because of stupid mistakes and it would take hours to complete. Either way, I don’t have time for this. Still, I really enjoyed playing Madden 23 over the weekend.
I may end up buying the game at some point, just not right now. We’ll see how much NFL football I actually watch this year.
Madden NFL 23 is out now on PC, Xbox and PlayStation consoles.
*I only played with the Miami Dolphins this weekend which is why most of the pictures used in this article are of the Miami Dolphins.