There are a couple of big games on the NFL schedule this coming weekend, but for the first STAT BOX STORIES entry for Madden NFL 12 I decided to go with a heated AFC North rivalry; the Baltimore Ravens traveling to Heinz Field to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in primetime for Sunday Night Football.
Even though Baltimore won big against the Steelers at home at the beginning of the NFL season, times have changed for each team since then. While Pittsburgh seems to be resurging behind the improved play of Ben Roethlisberger and their vaunted defense, Baltimore’s Joe Flacco seems to be on a downward swing, regressing from his previous form. With the Steelers holding a slight ratings advantage, I decided to take control of the road team. The game settings were All-Pro difficulty with 7-minute quarters and default gameplay sliders; the only sliders tweaked were penalty sliders to try and create a more realistic game of calls.
Even though NCAA Football 12 and Madden NFL 12 were developed by the same studio and share some development team members, I find that the games have to be approached differently. My normally-solid rushing game in NCAA Football, for example, often doesn’t translate itself so well into Madden NFL. This was exemplified in this match-up, as even though I had Ray Rice I found myself getting tackled behind the line of scrimmage more often than not.
Early in the game, it was disheartening to give up a long touchdown run to Rashard Mendenhall to fall behind 7-0 on Pittsburgh’s second offensive drive. When I got the ball back, my rushing game woes continued and I was forced to turn to the arm of Joe Flacco and a motley crew of receivers to work my way down the field into a comfortable range to convert a field goal and get points on the board. In the second quarter I was finally able to put together some plays, culminating in a pass to Ray Rice in the flats where he made one defender miss before getting tackled into the end zone for a 10-3 lead.
Although I only managed another field goal before the half came to a close, I was fortunate enough to keep Pittsburgh not only out of the end zone, but also out of field goal range. With a 13-7 lead, I knew that I was in solid position for a road game but I also became aware that it would not be enough and that the second half would be important. Thankfully, another Billy Cundiff field goal was followed later in the third quarter by a Ray Rice touchdown run up the middle, getting the score to 22-7 in favor of Baltimore. Unfortunately, a pass attempt for the two-point conversion went through the back of the end zone for an incompletion, swinging the momentum.
The second play of the fourth quarter on Pittsburgh’s possession went for a long 82-yard touchdown from Ben Roethlisberger to Hines Ward, who made Ed Reed miss bad on a tackle attempt that would have kept the Steelers on their own side of the field instead of giving up a long touchdown to bring the score to 22-14. To make matters worse, I threw an interception to Pittsburgh’s Chris Carter on my next possession, setting up the Steelers with a short field that was turned into a long field goal conversion after some key defensive playmaking. With the lead trimmed to 22-17, I could feel the game slipping out of control.
With my first few rushing attempts resulting in a tackle for loss and a run for no gain, I put my trust in Flacco’s arm once again and managed a long completion into Pittsburgh territory. Having the ball in field goal range already allowed me the freedom to put the ball in Ray Rice’s hands and chew time off the clock; with defensive legs tired late in the game, I was also finally able to put together successful rushing attempts to make the field goal attempt more manageable once my luck finally ran out past the two-minute warning. With the lead at 8 points, and over a minute and a half for Roethlisberger to lead his team for the attempt to tie the game, the defense was going to be tested more so than at any other time in the game.
And with a poor attempt to defend a deep pass, the Steelers got themselves to my 3-Yard-Line with 30 seconds to go in the game and no timeouts remaining. One rushing attempt got Pittsburgh to the goal line, and with 10 seconds left after hurrying back to the line of scrimmage it was down to the final play of the game. Rashard Mendenhall again got the ball up the middle and my defensive front held strong to keep the ball from crossing into the end zone and preserving a hard-earned road victory.
Looking back at the game stats for each team, the most surprising numbers to me were definitely the Time of Possession. With how tense the game had been at times, I had no idea that I’d actually held onto the ball for twice the amount of time that Pittsburgh had it. Considering the 3rd Down Conversion statistics, I was also stunned to see that Pittsburgh did not convert a single 3rd Down against me. With the details of their scoring plays, of course, a long rushing touchdown and a long passing touchdown did not require first downs or significant time to come off the clock. If my defense had been able to keep big plays in check, the win surely would have come more easily and not required the drama of a goal line stand as time expired.
Considering the player stats for the game, the most important player on my team was clearly Joe Flacco, who ended up taking Player of the Game honors. Even though I’d thought that the passing game would be a weak link coming into the game due to Flacco’s inconsistency and lack of big-threat receivers, his nearly 75% completion rate was invaluable in keeping my offense on the field as Ray Rice stumbled to a 2.3 yard-per-carry average. Ray Lewis was also a monster on the defensive side of the ball, making nine tackles on the game including five tackles for loss and one sack.
Even though it ended up being more dramatic than I would’ve liked considering that I had my back against the wall with time expiring, I came away from this game encouraged by my ability to turn to the passing game when the running game wasn’t clicking the way I needed it to. Going forward, the key to improving my Madden NFL 12 play is definitely going to be eliminating mistakes which lead to long touchdowns; wipe those two broken defensive efforts off the board, and this would have been so much easier.
Be sure to tune in to Sunday Night Football this weekend as the real-life Ravens and Steelers meet at Heinz Field with AFC North supremacy on the line! And, as always, feel free to comment about how STAT BOX STORIES can improve going forward.