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How To Design Custom Plays
by: Carl Michalik (daguru@deltech.net)

Introduction

This is not your average "how to" guide. This is more of a "tricks of the trade", "what to do, what not to do" guide written by someone who has spent far too much time in the FBPRO simulator. Take this advice however you like. This guide is for simulation only. I have played the game perhaps twice in my life using a joystick and taking control. In my opinion the game is absolutely horrible for arcade play. It is best played using simulation.

Throw out everything you know about successful NFL plays. This game is unique and to be successful, you must understand itís quirks. If you follow the guidelines I am about to lay out, I guarantee that you will be successful. If you master the following guidelines, you will dominate.

Keys to success:

The following are the elements to success in the order of importance:

1. Good Plays

2. Good Coaching

3. Good Players

Yes, Plays and coaching are more important than the players. Of course, a good coach with good plays and good players can be absolutely unstoppable. Just because you have Barry Sanders does not mean that you have a good run game. Jerry Rice can fail miserably in an offense with bad plays. Good plays must also be backed up with good coaching or they will be worthless.

Offense

Passing

Good pass plays are the easiest way to beat up on poor defenses. Poor defenses will be classified later. There are two types of passes, timing passes and check receiver passes.

---Timing Passes

NEVER line up the QB directly behind center. This will not fool the Defense into thinking run and you are only allowing yourself to be sacked with ease. Timing passes can be very effective. The key to timing passes is of course timing. It is best to time a pattern in practice such that it seems late. This is because during the game, the receiver will tire and will be slower than the full speed represented in practice. The most effective timing passes are towards the sidelines. A receiver running towards the sideline on a timing route is generally the only person that has the ability to catch the pass. The DB is usually behind the receiver. Passes towards the middle are more susceptible to interceptions because a DB can come from the other side to make the play.

Timing patterns seem at times to be too perfect. The downside is that they can easily be picked off. The QB will throw the pass no matter what. If you receiver falls down or is forced off his route, the pass will be thrown up for grabs. Defending timing patterns will be discussed later.

Since during a timing pattern, there is only one receiver that is considered part of the play, the remaining four may seem useless. This is not true. Do not simply send the other 4 out just because. Leave at least 2 behind the line to block for the passer. The other 2 can be used in a number of ways. Zone clearance or decoying are common tactics. If a timing pattern is in a general area, it is sometimes wise to send a WR through that zone to pick up any zone coverage. If you use this tactic, be sure the first WR doesnít go to close to the target area and that he is at least 10-15 yards away from the target area when the ball is thrown. If not, the DB covering the zone clearer, will simply react to the ball and can spoil the play.

The best timing patterns are not the short ones and are not the long ones. Very quick timing patterns can be very dangerous. There is generally more defenders near the target area on short passes. Very Long passes can be difficult simply because of the time it takes to complete the play. On most timing patterns, the QB has a certain amount of time he must wait in order to allow the WR to make his play. Do not simply have the QB stand still and wait for 3.0 seconds. You are only begging to be sacked. Instead, have him either roll out, fake a handoff, or fake a pass to eat up time. Faking a pass can be very effective. LBís or DLís will often be fooled and jump to block the pass. This serves to stop their progress to the QB. Do not abuse the rollout as this is very easy to stop.

The route that the WR is running is very important. Do not simply send a WR long on a go pattern and expect him to be open. You must create separation between the WR and the DB. Cuts and hooks are the easiest way to do so. A WR with good agility can create good separation with a cut. I wonít tell you exactly what routes are the best, Iíll leave that up to you. I can provide tools, but I wonít provide the work.

Lastly, on timing patterns you have an option to use a bullet pass or a lob pass. Bullet passes are most effective 90% of the time. Only the best of coaches know how to utilize a lob timing pass effectively.

----Check Receiver passes

NEVER line up the QB directly behind center. This will not fool the Defense into thinking run and you are only allowing yourself to be sacked with ease.

Check receiver plays are very easy to design. The only problem is it is even easier to design a poor play. On any check receiver play, make sure that all of the routes are good routes. Do not simply perform a good route for the first receiver and then send the others on stupid routes. If the primary route fails, then you wonít have a decent secondary route thus decreasing your success rate. What is a good route? A good route is any route that creates separation between the WR and the DB. I will discuss routes more in depth later.

It is not always best to have a WR look for pass immediately. It is best to have the WR look for pass just before he makes his "move". To coincide with this, the QB must not check the receiver too early. For example. Lets say I send Jerry Rice 10 yards upfield, then have him make a 90 degree cut towards the sideline. If I had him looking for pass immediately, then the QB may throw an ill-advised pass before Rice makes his cut. It is the cut that gives rice the separation desired. To cure this, send rice 10 yards. Then have him look for pass, then make the cut. Remember that a QB will never throw to a WR that has not yet looked for pass (except timing). So, we want to make sure the QB doesnít check Rice before he looks or else he wonít even be part of the play. To delay the QB, have him do a move to, fake pass, or fake handoff. Stop and waitís do not work!!!!!!!!!!!

It is not very wise to design a play that has only one check receiver. The only time this is effective is if the route is a guarantee. Against poor defenses, guaranteed routes are not that uncommon. It is also not wise to always send out all 5 WRís. Most humanís like to play aggressive defenses. Leave at least one, and often 2 receivers to pass block. Remember this however. If you have two Receiverís blocking pass, the DBís that are manned up on the blockers are simply roaming around the center of the field. So, do not design short middle plays with lots of blockers. You will simply be passing into heavy coverage.

Make sure that your WRís are not too close to each other at the key points on their routes. If they are, the DB on the second WR will simply react to the pass and serve as double coverage on the pass.

--- Pass routes

Experiment with different routes. There are some good routes and their are some bad routes. You simply must create separation. Only WRís with great hands can catch passes in heavy coverage. Sending WRís on go routes is perhaps the worst route of all. Routes that have the receiver coming back to the QB can be very effective. Cuts, hooks, outs, ins, and slants can also be effective. Practice, Practice, Practice.

Try not to pass to the same WR all day. Make passes for WR2 and WR3 as well as WR1. If you donít have depth at WR and are forced to utilize your WR1 for most of the game, then make sure you give him rest. On any run play or pass play that doesnít involve your WR1, donít put him in the play!! On run plays, unless you want to use him as a decoy, make sure he is on the bench catching a breather.

--- Pass Blocking

I am about to tell you a trick that perhaps only 5% of the people playing this game know. Now you know too J. The blocking by the OL is simply horrible. It is very easy to slip a player in between the OL and reach the QB. If you are not sure what defensive tactics I am speaking of, just take my word on it. You can stop this two ways. On every pass play, have the OL stop and wait 0.2 seconds, then block pass. Or, have them move towards the center just a tad, then pass block. This serves to clog the holes. Even if you donít understand what I am talking about, just do it.

Running

Most coaches, even successful ones find running to be the most difficult part to do successfully. Designing a good run game requires practice and patience. You simply will not gain 10 yards on every run. Sometimes you will lose yardage, sometimes you will break it for 50.

For the most part, people design bad run plays because they try to model successful NFL plays. Remember thisÖ THE COMPUTER CHEATS!! You will not fake the computer into thinking you are passing by faking a handoff. You will not fake the computer by snapping to a RB. You will not fake a defense by fake passing, then handing off. Plays like reverses and counters simply do not work!! Donít send all your blockers to the right, then run left thinking you just smoothed one over the defense. The best plays are quick and simple.

It is much easier to run outside than it is to run inside. Because of this, good coaches defend the outside better than the inside. Given that, it is a good idea to run both inside and out. Inside runs will rarely go for long yardage, but if you run only to the outside, a good coach will shut down your run game with ease.

---Inside Runs

If you are running inside, it is not always best to clog the line with all 11 offensive players. Use only your lead blockers. Rarely do the WR have any good effect on a inside run play. What they do is bring extra defenders into to the play.

On any inside handoff, it is best to have your RB running full speed as he gets the handoff. Also, you want to time the handoff such that he gets the ball just as he is about to hit the line of scrimmage. Do not hand the ball off to a RB that is standing still next to the line and expect him to blow by the DL. To achieve maximum speed at the handoff point, pull the RB about 10 yards back. Simply hike the ball to the QB and have him handoff instantly. Donít delay the RB. Have him move towards the line at the snap. Then, keep moving the RB backwards or forwards to determine how far he needs to be in order to receive the handoff at the latest point possible.

If you are using a lead blocker, make sure that he is at least past the OL before the other RB receives the handoff. You donít want your lead blocker to simply clog the holes and become a nuisance. The best lead blockers are both fast and strong.

Because the lead blockers often get in the way and cause more harm than good, it is a good idea to design some run plays with no lead blockers. Also, the lead blocker will draw extra DBís into the area.

When using lead blockers, "block nearest defender" is not a good option. Have him Lead to or push or fire out.

The key to a good inside run is speed. If you can blow by the DL quickly, you can get into the secondary and pick up yardage. Another key to getting through the line is to actually draw a move to for the RB past the LOS. Do not simply have him move to the line and then "run to daylight" What he will do is stop, pick his nose, look left, look right, then get smacked by LB. If you donít let him think and instead tell him to move upfield manually, you will find that he wonít stop unless he gets hit by a defender.

Another key to successful run plays are your OL. If you have a fast OL that perhaps isnít very strong and normally rides the pine. Run plays are a good chance to get him into the game. Most defenses donít have 5 DL to match up with the 5 OL. So a fast agile OL has the opportunity to move upfield and block a defending LB. A slow OL simply wonít cut it. If you have an OL like Eric Williams, he is a model run blocker.

--- Outside runs

When designing an outside run, it is important to keep the defense in mind. Take a typical defense with 4 DL, 2 LB, and 5 DB. Now, the only people that initially will be defending the RB with the ball will be the LBís (assuming they are not zoned), the DL, and the one DB that is manned on the RB. The DL rarely have any affect because the OL manages to at least hold them up. So, you have 2 LBís and 1 DB to defend. Remember that the DBís that are manned on your other receivers will not react to the RB with the ball until he crosses the LOS. So what you want to do is use the other WR to block the 2 LBís and the one DB in question. You do not want the blockers to end up blocking the DBís that are on them. You want them to block the others cause the DB manned on him will simply follow him anyway. So, using a block nearest defender is not a good option. What you want to do is to move your WRís or FBís across the grain of the impeeding LBís. Lead blocking, push left, or fire outs work best. Sometimes a move to will do the job Hopefully, you will clog up the area and allow the RB to slip by the defense. This type of running takes practice. . Just remember that on an outside run, all 11 guys are important.

Once again, telling the RB to manually move past the LOS with a "move to" command is best. Double pitches are also very effective because they manage to get the ball outside very quickly. Do not abuse it however cause a good coach knows how to stop this dead in its tracks.

Defense

Welcome to Carlís school of defense.

I always hear people complain about custom offensive plays because they create blowouts and unrealistic scores. Well, I hate to tell you guys, but it isnít the offensive plays, it is the poor defenses. The stock defenses are so bad that I regularly score 100+ points against them. So, if you are still using stock defenses, STOP!! Now, I am not saying that all stock defenses are bad, but a great majority are. The only problem is that if you donít know how to design a defense, it is possible to make worse defenses than the stock ones. So, listen up and take notes.

First of all, and this is the most important rule of all. ALWAYS have at least 5 men on Man to Man coverage. Zones are so incredibly easy to beat, that I would advise never to use them unless they are in addition to the 5 man to man playsers.

Second, Always use at least 3 men on the DL. I myself have used less when playing fools who think they can pass 100% of the time: but generally use at least 3.

Now, if you follow the 3 rules above, that leaves you with only 3 men to manipulate on any given defense. You can put an extra DL down, have 3 LBís, put an extra zone out, or whatever. But, what you do with those 3 guys will make all the difference in the world. How successful you are depends on how well you have scouted your opponents and analyzed the offense you are up against. I will now discuss standard defenses rules.

--- Man to Man

Most people do not understand how to properly setup man to man defenses. Do not, I repeat do not simply put 2 men on the backfield and 3 on the Non-backfield. You may get double coverage and leave a WR without coverage. The best way to ensure that all receivers get covered is to use the "either" command. Simply tell all 5 dbís to cover "Either SP" or "Either HA". Do not mix up the coverage though. Do not tell one to cover HA, one to cover SP, one to cover AG. etcÖ it is best to cover the same stat across the board.

If you want to ensure that a particular DB is manned to a particular WR, then it is possible to have one DB manned specifically on "Backfield ST" or "Non-Backfield SP" and the other four on "either" without any adverse affects. Even two or 3 is fine if you know what you are doing. To be safe though, use the either command.

When defending man to man, it is important to analyze your DBís ability with respect to the opposing WR. IF you feel your DBís greatly outmatch the WRís, then put the DBís close to the line of scrimmage. If however, you have a weak DB core, then place your DBís at least 5 yards off the line of scrimmage so as not to be burned my an agile WR. Placing all your dbís 10+ yards upfield however is simply ludicrous. You are simply begging to be burned by the short pass all day.

--- Bumping

Bumping the WR can be very effective in certain situation, but can also be burned very easily. Also, bumping often causes defensive holding penalties. If you do bump a receiver, it is best to put the DB at least 5 yards from the WR. It is my opinion that bumping receivers has only one purpose and that is to stop timing routes. If you are playing a team that you donít think uses timing routes, simply do not bump. Bumping a RB is never a good idea unless the opponent runs up the middle exclusively.

--- Shading

Shading is better left unused unless you are trying to stop a particular type of play. For instance, if you are playing someone you know is using a lot of hooks and comebacks, then shading under is a good option. Shading deep is rarely a good idea. In fact, I would suggest never to shade deep.

--- DBís Aggressive vs. Conservative

Unless your Dbís are much better than the WR, it is not a good idea to play "if pass agressive". What you will find is that the DB will go for the ball and often get burned. The key to a good DB is not interceptions, but to simply knock the pass down. Play your DBís balanced (default) for the most part. If you are playing a good run team, it is a good idea to have your DBís play "if run conservative" This will keep the big plays to a minimum.

--- Zones

Remember to never use zones unless it is addition to the standard 5 M2M coverages. If you are designing a play to defend 3rd and long or trying to defend a team that passes a great deal, placing deep zones is a good idea. If you are trying to defend a particular area because you know the opponent passes there often, do not make the zone too large. You donít want to be drawn away by the zone clearence. It is also a very good idea to put a delay on a zone. To create a delay, have the DB "stop and wait". For short zones, about 1.2 seconds is good. Deep zones require about 2.0 seconds. Let me explain. Double covering a WR with two dbís doing the same thing is not a good idea. Both will be burned the same way that the first would be burned if he were alone. On typical zones, all you are really doing is designating one receiver to be double covered in that area (assuming you have the 5 M2M DBís). What you really want is the DB to play the Ball in that specified area. So, with a delay, he will do just that. This is difficult to explain, but practice with it and you will see the difference. Tight zones can also serve the same purpose.

--- Double coverage

If you are going to double cover a receiver, make sure they both arenít doing the same thing or they will just get in each otherís way. Have one bump and shade under while the other shades deep.

--- Reads

Never use reads for pass defenders. Reads are only good for run defenders (LBís). I will explain this later.

--- Line Backers

Line backers are the pivotal part of any defense. What you have them doing is very important. Is not a good idea to blitz them too often. Blitzing a good coach too often is an invitation to giving up the big player. Other options for LBís are run defense, Pass defense and reads. Throw out pass defenses. Having a LB on Man2Man is not a good idea and is best left to faster more agile DBís. Reads can be very effectice for LBís. Remember that the computer cheats. LBís almost always read correctly. IN and DI are the factors in determining whether they read the play. If you have LBís on run defense, you may find it better to have them read. If it is a run, they will perform the same duty as the run defense logic. But, if it is a pass, they will drop back into short zones. Where you place the DBís is dependent on the team you are playing. It is best to spread them out however.

If you want to avoid giving up big runís put a fast LB on Run conservative and place him 10 yards upfield. This will also serve to contain the QB on any scrambles.

--- Blitzes

If you do plan to blitz, the most effective blitzing is just behind a DL. If you plan to blitz the outside and want to avoid getting blocked by an OL, do a Move to about 3 yards into the backfield first, then blitz. Remember, a good coach is just hoping that he will be blitzed. Beating the blitz is so incredibly easy. But, if you pick your spots, it can be effective.

Here are a few hints on blitzes:

Donít blitz a team that runs a lot. Running through a blitz is very easy. The best time to blitz is in passing situations. Most of all, scout your opponents to see what kind of blocking they do, how often do they pass. If you play a team that rolls out a lot, blitz outside.

--- Defensive Lineman

I never rely on my DL to stop the run. I leave this up to my LBís. Because of this, I find it best to either pass rush or Run Rush Aggressive. In an aggressive run rush, the DL will attack anyone with the ball, including the QB. If you decide to cheat the pass and put some LBís in deep zones, you may want to put you DL on run conservative as to not give up the big run plays. Practice with Move to Logic on DLís to see if you can slip by OLís.

Saving Plays

How you save your plays is very important. Far too often I see a coach call a 5 yard pass route on 3rd and long. To avoid this, I have adopted the following rules on saving plays.

0-5 yards = Pass Goal Line 6 -10 yards = Pass short 11-20 yards = Pass Medium 20+ yards = Pass long.

With this method, you can ensure that the proper play is called in certain situations. For example.. On third and 6, I can call either a short pass, medium pass, or long pass and be assured that a completion will not fall short of the First down. On 3rd and greater than 10, I make sure that a pass medium of pass long is called.

Coaching

The key to good coaching is scouting. There are a number of good utilities out there to assist you in scouting. If you need assistance obtaining them, email me at (daguru@deltech.net).

For the same reason, if you play a good coach that you know scouts well, donít do the same thing you have been doing all year long. The best way to keep everyone guessing is to mix it up. Change your gameplan from week to week to keep them guessing. Never rely on a single play too often.