#28: Steelers @ 49ers in Madden NFL 12 Online Team Play

To mix things up a little bit with this week’s entry of STAT BOX STORIES for Madden NFL 12, I decided to invite some of my fellow EA SPORTS Game Changers as well as one of the NCAA Football 12 Community Event attendees to join me in the game’s Online Team Play (OTP) mode using one of this week’s marquee games on the NFL schedule.  For the uninitiated, OTP allows for up to six Madden NFL gamers to play against one another online on teams of up to three users apiece.  Our initial goal was to get a full six-player match going on, but due to schedule issues we ended up with a 3-on-2 game.

The game that we decided to stage was the Pittsburgh Steelers going on the road against the San Francisco 49ers.  On the Steelers side were steelerfan, a member of the forums at The Gaming Tailgate, as well as Strongarm_playa from Madden Players of America. The 49ers were played by cdj and Kwizzy from The Gaming Tailgate and myself.  The stage was set for an epic showdown on the virtual west coast.

In OTP games, players can decide to play any position on the field or they can choose to play QB, RB, or WR on offense and DL, LB, or DB on defense.  With uneven teams, steelerfan took control of QB on offense and ANY on defense while Strongarm_playa played ANY on both sides of the ball so that they could exert a greater degree of control on the field.  Since the 49ers had the maximum number of players, I played QB on offense and DL on defense, while cdj played WR/DB and Kwizzy played RB/LB; this slotted us into fixed positions on each side of the ball, forcing us to work together as a team if we wanted to take a win.

The 49ers won the opening toss and I decided to switch things up and receive the opening kickoff to see if we could establish our offensive play in OTP early on.  Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to get into scoring position before we had to punt it away.  We didn’t have to wait very long to get the ball back, however, as Pittsburgh went three-and-out and had to punt the ball back to us.  With possession back in our hands, we went on a decent scoring drive ending with a 1-yard touchdown run by Frank Gore to take a 7-0 lead 33 seconds into the second quarter.

The next three drives were all three-and-outs—not a very good game for offense, as everyone was getting used to playing OTP with one another—and then a San Francisco drive was halted by an interception by Troy Polamalu.  The Steelers offense started their drive at their own 15-yard-line and ended up scoring on a 25-yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Jerricho Cotchery with just over a minute left in the first half.

San Francisco went three-and-out quickly and punted the ball to the Pittsburgh 1-yard-line; on the first play of the Steelers drive, Rashard Mendenhall rumbled 96 yards to put Pittsburgh in prime scoring position.  Two plays later, however, Big Ben threw a pick to Donte Whitner in the end zone.  The 49ers got one last chance at a Hail Mary before the half, which was intercepted by Will Allen to close the first half at 7-7.

The Steelers got the ball to begin the third quarter and it ended on another Donte Whitner interception.  San Francisco’s ensuing possession didn’t go far and ended in a punt, but then Whitner picked off Roethlisberger for the third time in the game to halt the Steelers.  The strong defensive play was erased just a few plays later when Alex Smith threw his third interception of the game to William Gay in Pittsburgh territory.  Two plays later, Rashard Mendenhall scored on a huge 61-yard touchdown run to put the Steelers ahead 14-7 with just over a minute remaining in the third quarter.

San Francisco’s next offensive drive stalled and the 49ers were forced to punt to begin the fourth quarter.  Pittsburgh didn’t have much more success on offense, but they pinned San Francisco at their own 1-yard-line with a punt, which led to the 49ers having to punt the ball right back.  The Steelers suffered another three-and-out, and with 3:28 left in the game the 49ers began a drive on their own 20-yard-line which would end with a 5-yard pass from Alex Smith to Vernon Davis with 1:08 left in the game to tie it up at 14-all.  With under a minute to play, Pittsburgh drove all the way down to the San Francisco 37-yard-line and had one final play with 9 seconds remaining on the game clock.

Instead of attempting the long field goal with Shaun Suisham, Pittsburgh aimed for the end zone and a game-winning pass.  Thankfully for the 49ers, Donte Whitner was there for his fourth interception of the game, forcing overtime.

With the NFL’s new playoff overtime rules in place for all online games of Madden NFL 12, I knew that the coin toss would be important; I was excited when the toss went in our favor and we were able to receive the opening kickoff of the overtime period.  On the seventh play of overtime, Frank Gore found a hole at the line of scrimmage and burst through for a 49-yard touchdown run and a walk-off victory for the home team, 20-14.

In spite of the fact that none of the five participants had ever played OTP together in Madden NFL 12, the final team statistics actually looked pretty solid.  Both teams racked up over 100 yards on the ground, though Pittsburgh ended up with nearly 200 thanks to long runs by Mendenhall.  Through the air, the 49ers gained nearly 100 more yards than the Steelers, however.  First Downs were fairly even, as were Turnovers with the Steelers giving the ball away 4 times to San Francisco’s 3.  Third Down Conversions was an important statistic, as Pittsburgh was only 1-for-8 while San Francisco went 8 for 15.  Perhaps the most intriguing statistic, however, was the Possession; the 49ers held the ball on offense for 21:47 to Pittsburgh’s 9:37, allowing them to dictate play despite the need for OT.

In terms of player statistics, neither quarterback had a day to remember.  Big Ben threw 4 interceptions while Alex Smith threw 3, though each also had a touchdown pass.  The running backs had a much better day, with Mendenhall gaining 182 yards and a 16.5 yard-per-carry average with a touchdown, while Frank Gore gained 117 yards and two touchdowns including the game-winner.  The Player of the Game was still fairly easy to select, with Donte Whitner’s unreal four-interception performance giving him the honor for this overtime win.  The punters, Jeremy Kapinos and Andy Lee, also deserve kudos for getting punts downed on the opposing team’s 1-yard-line over the course of the game.

Speaking from a personal perspective, I’ve always shied away from head-to-head online play in sports video games because it doesn’t appeal to me; with these team sports, playing head-to-head feels disingenuous to the games because football, hockey, and soccer are not individual sports.  This is what is so appealing about Madden NFL’s OTP; it feels like a team effort is needed in order to be successful, and it takes some rethinking—even for the most skilled gamers—to have the mindset needed to be successful.  Early in the game, it was difficult to get into a rhythm with cdj and Kwizzy because we had never teamed up in OTP before.  As the game went on, however, we continued to communicate over our headsets to try and plan playcalls and do what was needed in order to win.  When we scored our second touchdown of the game near the end of the fourth quarter, Kwizzy suggested going for a 2-point conversion to try and win the game in regulation versus facing the uncertainty of overtime.  We were able to briefly consider the playcall before deciding to kick the extra point and take our chances on defense.  And then, on the winning play of overtime, all three of us came together to complete the long touchdown run; it was my playcall to keep running the ball between the tackles, it was cdj’s wide receiver setting blocks to open the hole, and it was Kwizzy’s running back who broke through the line and navigated the defensive backfield on his way to the end zone.  By the time the celebration was over, we felt like a team; just four quarters earlier, we were still trying to figure out our individual roles.  This is the success of OTP; making a team game feel like a team effort.

I hope that you enjoyed this week’s entries for STAT BOX STORIES; if you haven’t already done so, look into signing up for a Bowl Game in NCAA Football 12’s BOWL BLITZ INVITATIONAL here, and be sure to come back tomorrow for the preview of next week’s STAT BOX STORIES action!

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