Patrick Willis can’t flip the switch off – competition is competition.
So when he picks up the sticks and turns on Madden NFL 11 he only knows one way to play it.
“I’m in it to win,” the All-Pro linebacker said.
And that’s exactly what he did during last week’s Madden Bowl, an annual Madden tournament held Super Bowl weekend in which NFL players go head-to-head on the virtual gridiron. Teamed with Cincinnati Bengals’ wide receiver Chad Ochocinco and Access Hollywood correspondent Maria Menounos, Willis brought home the trophy.
When you and I play Madden, not a whole lot of thought goes into the play calling and strategy. We know we need to balance the run game and pass game on offense, and we try to blitz at the most opportune moments defensively, but honestly, there’s no real formula that we follow. I know I blitz more than I should and I know I need to run the ball more, but I’m just playing to have fun (and win).
However, when I asked Willis about the Madden Bowl, I was surprised at what he told me. He approaches every play as if it were a real-life situation. “I think like a coordinator,” he said.
Every play on offense has a purpose. He might spend an entire quarter setting you up for one big play. And on defense, he calls plays as intricate as the ones he runs on Sundays.
Oh, and he audibles and substitutes like it’s a real game too. As the 49ers defensive captain, Willis is in charge of making reads as the opposing offense comes to the line, so why not do the same in Madden? And since he’s so used to making defensive calls, he can read defenses too and change his offensive plays based on what the opponent is running.
For example, when he plays with the 49ers, Willis will put the speedy Ted Ginn Jr. in the slot most of the time so that he’s matched up against slower linebackers and safeties. But when Willis spreads the field out with four or five wide receivers, he moves Ginn to the X or Y position and finds plays where he can get him going in motion before the snap.
Basically, Willis doesn’t see any differences between virtual football and real football. Football is football whether it’s on XBOX, PlayStation or field turf.
Making Willis’ Madden Bowl win even more impressive was the fact that he played with a cast on his right hand (he broke the hand in late in the season and is recovering from surgery). But Willis’ cast leaves his middle finger, index finger and thumb open, so it doesn’t hinder his game too much.
In the championship game, Willis and Ochocinco were matched up with New Orleans Saints’ quarterbacks Drew Brees and Chase Daniel, and they replayed Super Bowl XLIV in which Brees’ Saints beat the Indianapolis Colts for the Lombardi Trophy.
But with Willis and Ochocinco in charge of Peyton Manning & Co., they won the game 14-13 when the Saints failed on a late 2-point conversion.
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