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Hands-on: Is Madden 11 taking the coaching out of football?

Madden 11 looks like it's trying to make players feel more like the QB than the head coach, thanks to new tweaks that emphasize quick gameplay over playcalling.

When you play Madden, do you feel more like the coach or the quarterback? EA

Is Madden about being an armchair coach or an armchair quarterback? I admit, when I play Madden as the Jets, I increasingly avoid calling plays. I default to the "Madden picks" because I'm lazy, and I want to dive right into the plays. I'm more interested in how a team matches up against another than how my virtual coaching skills are.

A funny thing happened when I sat down to play a little of EA's upcoming release of Madden 11 at a pre-NFL draft event. While this year's iteration doesn't seem to have changed a whole lot in terms of basic gameplay, the play calling shows a major philosophy shift. A default setting called "Gameflow" aims to eliminate play calling by auto-selecting a play for every down, based on a team's actual playbook and play-calling tendencies.

While this sounds like a dumbing down of Madden, the focus seems to be on recreating the QB's perspective. Plugging in a headset will put the coach's voice in your ear, offering heads-up strategy after the huddle. We tried it, and found it pretty fun. The audibling system is streamlined this year, and EA claims it will be easier to dial up more plays than the default five or so that come up without resorting to Hot Routes. Calling an impromptu deep pass or run play was easier, although we found it hard to customize in our few minutes of play.

Even more interesting was Gameplan, an AI script of sorts showing a team's tendency to call plays based on down and situation. Players can tune their own Gameplans by rating individual plays and dialing up or down their frequency of being called, subbing in new plays, or even limiting a situation to one or two go-tos (for instance, you could program all third-and-shorts to be a play-action bomb). This could make Gameflow a lot more interesting.

An EA rep who demoed Madden for us claimed that most users only call 13 plays in an average game. Gameflow, according to EA, also will shorten online games from 40 minutes plus down to about 20 minutes, giving a quicker-fix feeling and allowing those with a football jones to more easily squeeze in a game rather than having a long session. In our limited time with it, Gameflow felt like a streamlined "Ask Madden," skipping play calling altogether and continually leaving the option open to call up the full playbook if desired. Essentially, you could play a whole game without seeing a single play-selection screen.

First of all: Do you feel like you call more than 13 plays a game? If so, do you think Gameflow is a good direction for Madden? We look forward to playing it again as its August release date, and the NFL preseason, approaches.