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Free HINTS  for
Madden 2003, 2004 and 2005

Football Video Games


Madden Football Game Information

This webpage is devoted to free information about improving play for
madden football video games by EA sports.



note :  these game hints are based on Madden 2003, 2004 and 2005 for the X-box.  However, it is expected that these hints will work for many of the Madden Series EA Sports games.  Note also that this author is not associated with X-Box, Madden nor EA Sports, but is an enthusiast of their products.  Note that play differences for Madden 2005 X-Box are at the end of this info.  Also note that we now also have hints for MVP Baseball by EA Sports

Rookie versus Pro Level

One of the settings to check is the level of play during games.  We find that there is a very large difference between "rookie" and "pro" levels, the first two levels.  Unless you are an experienced player, you might want to verify that the game is set to "rookie" level.  Once you are beating the other teams by 28 points a game, and you are familiar with the controls, then it is time for "pro" level - and beyond.

At "pro" level, we find that the CPU plays much more intelligently, and that your team receives much less help.  We find that at pro level that you are mostly  better off doing your own tackling and at least attempting to defend passes.


Another setting that you might want to change.  You might wish to ensure that your profile is on "auto save" to make sure that you get "tokens" credit for football 101 and mini camp and game practice.  "Tokens" can be traded for "Madden Cards" which in turn can unlock classic teams, cheat codes that can be used during games, and more.  I would also recommend, at least at the start, to save your profile manually after those practice sessions - to ensure that you do not lose points and tokens earned.


Football 101 and Mini-Camp

I strongly recommend Football 101and Mini Camp.  Not only does one get an idea of what they should do to succeed with the various skills, watching the CPU player also gives hints on what to do when you are in that role.  For example.  When doing the tackling mini camp, I found the running back hardest to tackle when they ran on an angle, away from me and yet still at the goal, and also when the running back would spin as I got near them to tackle.  Well, of course, those are excellent clues not only for tackling, but also for what to do as a running back.

The Two Minute Drill

The two minute drill does more than its title says.  It can be used as a great general vehicle to practice offense.  Are you having trouble hitting your receivers?  Do you need practice scanning the field for which receiver is open?  Are you at your best for running plays also?  The two minute drill can help do all of this an more.

Another super advantage of the two minute drill is for practicing offensive audibles.  You can quickly take Madden's suggested play, but then read the defense at the line and try the audibles.  This is a great way to find out what the audibles do and how best to use them.  Yes, and also practice hot routes for your receivers.  Try hot routes on a fly pattern straight forward, or curls backward, or in or out patterns.

The best part of the two minute drill?  If you make a mistake on an interception, or a turnover on downs?  The computer will simply just give you the ball back for another attempt.


Note that tackling another player is often a combination of two things:  tackling the player with your player, and also having that player run into you.  With this in mind, always try to target to be in an area in front of the player, rather than running at the player directly.  If you run at the player directly it is too easy for them to get around you with movement or spin.

Use the sprint control for tackling at the right time and in the right direction.  Use the sprint control if the one you are tackling is far away.  When you do get in front of the player, though, sometimes the sprint control can be your worst enemy and it is time to turn it off.  Again, it can be easy for the other player you are tackling to get past you.  The idea is to block them also and to be ready for their movement when you get close.

Running on Offense with the Ball

Something that became obvious in mini-camp practice - is that the running back is hardest to tackle when the running back has movement right at the time of tackle.  This movement can be "jukes" - which are use of the right and left triggers, or can be even more effectively a spin, which is the B button at the time of tackle.  If using this technique, don't be surprised if you slip tackles.  Be ready to use these buttons again when other defenders approach you.  You should only stop this button-pressing when you are absolutely down.

Madden's voice advice on looking for a hole in the line rather than sprinting too quick in the wrong direction also deserves some heed.  Note that Madden's voice also suggests that you follow your blockers.  Yes, following the blockers, where possible, is also a good idea.  When approaching the line to run through, the right speed is very important.  You need to be slow enough to at least briefly see daylight where to run.  But of course, you also need then to be fast enough to get through that point before that opening closes.

So then, what buttons to use?  The sprint button should be used sparingly until you see the opening to run through, then sprint at it.  As the defenders approach, be sure and use the right and left triggers for jukes and also try using the B button for spin to evade them.  If you get past the defenders, again you would use the sprint button.

If you find yourself in open field with defenders coming after you, think about whether or not an angle run might work.  It seems at times running on an angle - both forward plus away from defenders - buys you more time before you are tackled.  I have been surprised sometimes that running on an angle both forward and towards the sidelines seemed to gain me 10 more yards.  Well, one cannot count on that much help, but running on an angle in the open field can be a help.

Punt Returns

I strongly, strongly recommend that you take over control of the punt return person by using the "A" key before the ball reaches the punt returner.  Note that this does not mean that you then need to control the person catching the ball - if that concerns you.  At least at some levels you can have control of the player and so can the computer - and still help with catching the ball.

But if you have control, and the defenders are right on top of you when you catch it, you need to strongly consider pressing "y" for a fair catch.  At higher levels of play, there is a chance that a quick hit could cause a fumble just as in real life.

But if you have running room, of course, only a weanie would signal for a fair catch!  Then it is time to watch the blockers in front of you, get in back of them, and use the sprint button to run quickly.  Jukes and spins don't seem to work well on special team runs, however, I have found quite by accident that rapid thumbstick movement right before a tackle can also sometimes cause a running player to spin - and therefore make them hard to tackle.

After you have done the above, my next three items of advice would be:  follow your blockers, follow your blockers, and follow your blockers.  Sprinting and passing your blockers may not be a good idea.  If you have a little bit of time, notice where your blockers are in front and use them as a shield.  That only works for a little while, but that might be all that you need to get passed the major defenders break into a run for a big gain.  I have run a few kickoffs back for touchdowns.  It is a nice feeling.

Play Calls

Do you find yourself running out of time when finding a play, and then clicking back to the game and finding the play clock is almost all gone?  Well, I find it best to play as in real life, where play calls come from the sidelines, and the team can modify them if they wish.  I therefore tend to use Madden's suggested play calls - by using the "X" button to ask for that help during play calls.  Then I almost always accept what he gives.  And why not?  If you disagree with the call, you can always call an audible at the line of scrimmage.  Or you can modify the call just a little bit by calling either a change of the play from the right side to the left side (or vice versa) by pressing "X" and then the black key.  If it is a passing play, you can also modify it by calling Hot Routes, by pressing the "Y" key and then the rcvr button and then the direction you wish the receiver to go.  In this last case, the hot route, pressing the direction upwards is for a streak forward play.  Pressing the direction back is for a "curl" where the receiver runs forward shortly and then turns back for the catch.  Pressing left or right direction will cause a pattern in that direction.

Audibles, Offense

Calling Audibles is one of the most powerful aspects of the game - and one that I would highly recommend.  If you use the "X" button to allow Madden to make a suggested call, then at times you may need to audible after looking at the defense.

For example, if Madden had called a running play, and you see the line stacked with defenders - more than normal - you might decide that your running back is going to get killed.  A short passing play just over these huge guys is a good idea.  It is a good idea though, to also find out what is a normal defense for the other team - in order to see if they are stacking the line or not.  A common defense is the 4-3 defense which has 4 line men right on the line and three line backers behind them.

Note that offensive audibles depend on the playbook you select.  Therefore if you are using the playbook for your favorite team, then you need to go into practice mode, if only to call audibles and to see what happens.  Of course, you could also go into settings and see what is set for audibles and not necessarily change them.

I tend to use audibles from the San Diego playbook.  In it, there are two run plays, two passing plays, and a punt play.  To call audibles one first presses the "X" button.  Then in the case of San Diego, if you press "X" again, that will be a run close in and right through the line just to the left of center.  If you press "A", then that also will be a run, but this time to the right and further away from center.  Pressing "B" or pressing the left trigger will give passing plays.  Pressing the right trigger would give a punt play with maximum protection.

When to call an audible?  Well if the defense stacks the line of scrimmage and you have a run play set up, you might want to consider a quick pass just over them. 

On the other hand, if you are concerned about a passing play that Madden called, then consider a run play.  Which run play?  Look at the defensive line.  If the line is pushed close in, then call the run play that goes further out before going through the line - and hence they will see fewer defenders.  For San Diego audibles, this would be an "A" key press.  If the line is spread far out, then perhaps a run straight through the line looks good.  For San Diego aubibles, this would be an "X" key press.

Then look to see if either the right side or left side is weaker or if you wish to simply alternate runs so as not to be too predictable.  You can then use "X" and then the black button to change the direction of the run attack.

Audibles, Defense

Allowing Madden to make the defense calls, but then considering calling defensive audibles is a good strategy.  It gets you to the line quickly, yet allows you to vary things afterwards.  Note that defensive audibles vary on whether you are playing a 4-3 defense or other.  Again, you need to check settings or just go into practice mode to find out what your audibles are, and then mark them down.

How and when to call a defensive audible?  Well, it is best again to look at the other team - the offense in this case.  How are they lined up?  If the quarterback is in a shotgun position, a pass play is likely, but not always definite.  If so, you might want to do a pass defense.

Also, look at the formation.  Sometimes a player might run or pass from an I formation, or an offset I, or split running backs.  If you see a trend there based on formation, you might want to call an audible guessing at either a run or pass defense.

What plays has the other team been calling?  It pays to sometimes look at the stats and see if they have been mainly running or passing.  If they have 200 yards passing and -5 running, then one could guess that they will not see running as a good alternative . . .either.

Also, look at the situation.  Some teams may pass all of the time.  Others may try to run on the first two downs, but then when faced with a third and long tend to pass.  If it is 3rd down and 10 yards or so, you can almost always (but not always) expect a pass.  I sometimes disagree with Madden calls on defense, particularly 3rd down.  If Madden calls a blitz and it is third and long, I am likely to change it to a pass defense.

Also, watch the clock.  If little time is left in the game, a long pass might be coming.  Think about a great pass defense for this.


Watch not only the play clock but also the time left in the game or if close to halftime.  Be ready to press the back button if needed for a time out.

If on defense, make a smart (important word) decision as to whether or not you might stop the other player in time to make a score yourself.  This is a tough call to make, but often real teams will call a time out during the other team's play if they are very sure of getting the ball back.


If you are short of time and are out of time outs, or wish to save your last one, consider spiking the ball.  After the play you would press B for a bit.  Then perhaps A to rush them to the line.  Then when they are at the line, A will spike the ball.  Spiking the ball is not as good as a time out.  It seems to eat up almost 15 seconds.  But of course, if you are running out of time outs, then it is better than losing the time.


As one gets beyond rookie level or turns off easy play, it is important to note that there is no such thing as a sure pass - just as there is not one in real football.  There is not only your execution of the pass, but there is also the issue that the other player may call a different defense which can turn a wonderful passing situation into an interception.

As the game suggests, one should drop back for the pass, so as to not get easily tackled.  Then one looks for an open receiver and then throws it to them at the right time.  This is easier said than done.  If one cannot watch all receivers well, at least watch the one carefully that you intend to pass to.  Sometimes a receiver can even get blocked at the line of scrimmage and not even start their route.  In this case, you really need to consider another receiver or consider throwing the ball away.  It takes some practice to get to the point where you can check at least two different receivers in the event that the first is tied up.  How to practice this?  Try the two-minute drill.  It is great for offensive practice.  And remember if nothing is open, you can have the quarter back run with the ball - by pressing the Y key.

While there is no such thing as an easy pass, it pays to practice passing in practice mode as well as during games.  I find that for some of my favorite passes that a receiver will often (but not always) come open after a certain few seconds.  So I count to 3 in a few  cases, and to 4 or 5 for another pass.  This timing is of course based on practice times in finding the best point.  Again, the two minute drill is good for practicing this.  You can go into the two minute drill and instead of doing the normal drill, call audibles and practice looking for open receivers.

Of course, it is best to look at multiple receivers.  Consider NOT passing to receivers that are either:

  1. Tied up at the line of scrimmage and very late on getting to their route
  2. Have double or more coverage

How to practice throwing to the right receiver?  Try the two minute drill.  Practice on a play using at least three receivers.  Get good at looking at least two of them during a pass situation and picking the best one.


Are the defenders killing you on passing?  Can't find a good safe pass?  Sometimes streaking forward and being covered by defenders is the hardest way.  You might want to consider also using passing hot routes for more safety.  Hot routes are done by pressing "Y" before the snap of the ball, and the button for the right receiver, and then a direction.  Setting a hot route for a curl, by pressing the Y button, then the receiver, and then the direction down for a "curl", may create a safer play - a play for about 6 or 7 yards..  If trying this pass on a curl though be ready to pass when that receiver stops running and turns around to catch.  It is right at that moment that the defender will likely be the most confused.  If you hesitate the throw too long, the defender can figure it out and intercept.  Of course, you should also ensure that the receiver is not covered in front by that same defender or a second defender and can be intercepted.  Yes, this is a bit to look for during the few seconds of decision.

Likewise, another hot route that can confuse a defender is either right or left.  At those times, the receiver will run forward, and then unexpectedly break right or left.  That is a good time to throw since the defender is likely confused.  Again, make sure that your receiver has not just left one defender to run next to a new one who can also interecept.


After the successful pass, recall that the receiver is now a running back.  Sometimes movement can help evade the defenders.  Sometimes an angular run - both forward toward the goal line and yet also away from the defenders.  Sometimes one can pick up much extra yardage that way.


I have noticed that when short of time the game suggests running out of bounds - yet the calls suggested don't always lend themselves easily to running out of bounds.  Again a hot route heading a receiver towards a side line could help, as also calling a play that gets a receiver closer to the side lines will help also.

One would think that what would work are hot routes where you send the receivers to the side lines.  The works a little - but be careful of timing.  I find that a quick count of 3 or so is all the time you get before your receiver runs out of bounds.  Running out of bounds in a run play is also a thought - particularly if you run on an angle while sprinting and are not greedy about going for too many yards.

Can't get out of play with receivers after a catch?  I have a similar problem.  It seems that receivers are often tackled immediately after a catch, allowing no time to run out of bounds.  Well, there is always the other possibility.  If one cant get out of bounds with receivers, at least gain a lot of yards.  One play to practice in the two minute drill of the 2003 game is to put all three wide receivers on hot routes streaking straight forward.  Then practice dropping back and looking for open receivers - trying to ensure that you can at least see two if you need to.

Read the Defense

This has been covered a bit above, but I don't think it can be stressed enough.  Regardless of who called the original next offensive play for your team - you or Madden - the defense may be ready to take it apart.  We also get into bad habits of either liking running plays or passing plays - just as real coaches. 

Well, if you were thinking of a running play and the line is stacked, maybe you need a passing play over their heads.  If you are nervous, try a hot route where you ask for a curl for the receiver back towards you.  Those plays are hard to defend if you are careful to throw it at just the right time - and that seems for me to be a quick 1-2-3 count is all the time you get.

On the other hand, if you were thinking of passing, and no one is on the line in front of you, perhaps they are expecting a pass and may even give you double coverage.  Consider a run.  Run where?  Get used to your audibles.  One run is often straight forward and one is further out down the line.  Pick the one where the defenders aren't.

Also, if the line is stacked on the right, consider running or passing to the left.  For run plays you may need to do a X -black press to change the runner to the other side.  For passing, MOST of the time (there are exceptions) passing to X is often on the left and A and B are on the right, at least for the games I play.  But check the play you called since that could change.


Madden often seems to suggest "take what they are willing to give you".  That is another way of suggesting that you read the defense and revise your strategy based on strength and / or weaknesses in the defense.

Outguess the Offense

Of course any time we guess, we might be wrong.  However, if the other team is at 3rd down and 10 yards to go, they might likely call a pass play.  If they are far behind, they might not only be passing, but have long passes.  If you are beating the other team badly and it is near the end of the game and they have just scored, don't be surprised if they have an on-side kick.  If their team is way behind, they also may be "going for it" on fourth down.

Defensive Backs Mini-Camp

The mini camp that seemed the hardest was the one where you are a defensive back (corner back) trying to defend against passes to three opposition players. That one seemed much harder than the others. 

What seemed to work best was (1) ignore the sprint button - too hard to achieve accurate placement of your back using speed also.  (2)  The advice says to use strafe with the right trigger to face the line of scrimmage.  That works, but the strafe seems to only work when moving, so it seems the strafe is best at the end of a run near the target. (3)  Something that also helps is running back towards the center position after blocking the pass.  That will align you more ready to cover all three targets for the next pass.  This "being in the best spot" is also a good lesson one would think during a game. (4) Try using the directional pad for accuracy rather than the thumbstick.  You might find it more accurate.  If not, of course, you can go back to using the thumbstick.

Madden 2005 Differences

The most important thing is that Madden 2005 for X Box just does not play that differently from the previous Madden games.  It does have better graphics.  After winning my first three games on it (admitingly at the rookie level) it also seemed that the players were more maneuverable.  It seemed to pay to ensure that you played the player closest to the action and to get involved with the play.  Doing so, I seemed to do better at tackles than ever before, and I also had two sacks with my controlled player.  Neat!

My advice on Madden 2005 is the same as the above.  I suggest playing the team on the field and not the coach.  By that, I mean use the "X" key to just allow Madden to give you plays.  If when you look at the lineup on the other team, you do not like Madden's call, it is time to call an audible.  So then, my advice would be learn audibles, practice audibles, and use audibles in that order.  The audibles did seem slightly different for 2005 than for 2004.  I think perhaps all three game versions were slightly different.  How to do an audible at the line for 2005, offense or defense?  Well, you press the X key and ensure that you see the word audible on the screen.  Then press the audible that you want:  which would be the X key again, or A key, or B key, or left or right button.  And pressing X and then pressing the black key reverses the side of the audible play.  Since audibles are so important, I would suggest going into practice and just practice the audibles for your team until you know what they do, and how to pass for the pass plays.  For pass plays again, look for the man, avoid getting sacked, and time the pass.

Which audible to call?  It is similar to the above.  If Madden wishes a running play and the line is stuffed with opposition players and none are in the backfield, then call a passing play.  Or if you wish to run and line is dense but the outer edges have no defenders, pick the run play that goes further out around the defenders.  Use the X and black key to switch sides of the offense if one side is defended weaker than another.  If the sides are defended well and you wish a run play, perhaps try the run play right up the middle.

For defense, one can sometimes guess what the opponent is going to do.  Watch past performance and often look at stats to see if your opponent is doing better at run plays or passing plays.  That may give a hint on which to expect.  But of course, if your opponent is far behind or the quarterback is back in slingshot mode, or if their are a lot of yards to go and it is 3rd down, then one might expect a pass play.  Also, do not be surprised by on-side kicks if you are winning late in the game.

Just Like a Real Football Game

There are some times when playing Madden Football that it seems quite lifelike.  Notice that you might get more holding calls if you hold onto the ball a long time on passing plays.  Well, that is logical.  Your line is trying to protect you.  Release the ball quickly if you want to try and minimize holding calls.  Also fumbles may occur more if you are doing the unusual - such as running with your quarterback, or sometimes perhaps when using a stiff arm.

And yes, just like real life, if you are playing a good team, sometimes right after the play of your life the play may be called back due to a holding call.  So now we know how the coaches feel.  And yes of course, you had little to do with the holding call unless you held the ball too long.  And yes, sometimes you can do everything right and still get penalties.

Beware of playing the Rams in the 2003 game.  They seem highly favored and it seems I get more holding calls and fumbles when playing them.  But then, it seems a team often gets more penalties when playing a better team, so some of that is to be expected.

Notice that if you are "trying to make something happen" or in "catch up" or "two minute drill" mode that you likely will get more interceptions.  Yes, just as in real football.  That seems the biggest danger for me in the two minute drills.  I tend to throw out the conservative plays and favor long passes near the sidelines.  Well, again, that is normal in real football.

Better than Real Football

How can it be better than real football?  Did your favorite team lose today?  Practice and coach your favorite team and replay the same team your real team lost to.  If you beat them, you will likely feel better.  It could ease some tension and bring a smile back to your face.


I find it a great game and enjoy it a lot.  Hope you enjoy it also.  Again, I am  not affiliated with Microsoft, EA sports, nor Madden.  However, I do enjoy their product.

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