There is only one football video game, and that is EA Sports, Madden.
Madden is more than simply a videogame, it is a right of passage in today's society.
It is something that friends do with each other, but it goes beyond that. It is a bonding tool, used by fathers all over the country.
When asking me what I wanted to do for fathers day, my 20-year-old son stated that we had to make time to have our Madden Challenge.
Every year, we buy one of the championship belts from WWE, find a spot on it to write "Madden" and the year.
The winner gets to keep the belt until he loses a game, and at the end of the year, we have a tournament between all of our friends that play the game, and the winner gets to keep the prized possession forever.
(I currently have three of them in the closet, and my wife keeps asking when she can throw them away—BLASPHEMY!)
Because Madden comes out in August, the build-up always starts around April, when Madden reveals who is going to be on the cover.
When July rolls around, EA Sports releases the player rankings for each team, on a day by day basis.
You will notice that I only have 10 players on the Steelers' offense. This is because there is no fullback on the Steelers' roster, so depending on the formation, the starters will change, but the 10 I list are the normal starters, regardless of the formation.
Here is the Pittsburgh Steelers' starting line-up, courtesy of EA Sports, Madden 2011.
EA Sports has given Ben Roethlisberger an overall rating of 88. The vital statistics for Big Ben are as follows.
93: Throw Power
83: Throw Accuracy
Though I am surprised with the 83 throwing accuracy statistic, the overall ratings of Roethlisberger is about what I expected. Roethlisberger is an elite quarterback in the NFL, so I would think his overall would be higher, however, if you play the game, his ratings will go up quickly.
Roethlisberger is great with whom to start your franchise. He is fast and mobile enough that you can scramble and get yourself out of trouble. And he is accurate and strong enough to hit the receivers short and deep.
Entering his first year as a starter, I was expecting Mendenhall to be rated somewhere in the mid-80s in overall. I was pleasantly surprised.
I have to say I was pleased with the 87 overall rating, and the 89 speed. The strength is somewhat of a surprise because Mendenhall can carry a defender. I also think they were off with his carry, because Mendenhall had some stupid fumbles last year, and as critical as Madden is, I expected a rating in the mid to upper-70s.
Madden is not how it used to be, where if you were a 95+ speed, you could just out run everyone. Mendenhall is great because he can get you short yardage, but can still break the long runs.
Hines Ward has never been one of my favorite Madden players. See, in the leagues that I play in, speed is one of the most important aspects of the game.
Many times, I would take him simply as a fourth receiver, simply because he caught everything that was thrown his way.
Ward will be 34 this season though, and it is obvious, based on his ratings that EA Sports believes he is on the downside of his career.
I was actually shocked to see Ward rated an 89 overall. Madden is not gracious to ratings, and I thought he would be rated about an 85.
His speed and acceleration are higher than I thought they would be, but I think his catching should be in the upper-90s.
All in all though, I think it is pretty fair.
Mike Wallace, entering his second season in the NFL, has two different sets of shoes to fill. Not only is he replacing Santonio Holmes, but he is going to have to push Hines Ward to earn the top receiver position.
According to EA Sports, Wallace has a long way to go before he is ready to take over the top receiver spot, due to his lower than expected rankings.
I think EA Sports did a pretty good job at the ratings, other than the catching. Wallace made many spectacular catches in his rookie season, and I thought that area would be in the mid-to-upper-80s.
Prior to the 2010 Steelers draft, Director of Football Operations, Kevin Colbert, stated that the only position on the Steelers more set than QB, would be TE. This is because Heath Miller is one of the best in the NFL.
Madden's ratings show that they believe Miller is a quality tight end, but in my opinion, they do not give him the credit he deserves.
I believe that Miller should be rated in at least the mid-90s overall and that his speed, strength, and acceleration ratings are all too low.
Due to the injury of Willie Colon, no one is sure exactly how the Steelers' offensive line is going to look on the opening day of the 2010 season.
Instead of simply putting down the order that EA Sports has it, I am going to project who I think will be where.
Max Starks is the best LT on the Steelers' roster. How do I know? Simply: protecting the blind side of the starting QB is the most important job on the offensive line.
If anyone could have done it better than Starks, he would have been playing there.
94: Run Blocking
87: Pass Blocking
The only real shock to me is that Starks is rated higher at run blocking than pass blocking. I would think that he is better at pass blocking, but it is EA Sports, and I guess they know better than me.
Two years ago, Chris Kemoeatu took less money to stay with the Steelers than he would have made with the New York Jets as a free agent.
Though many people compare Kemoeatu to the departed Alan Faneca, that is really not a fair comparison, because in his prime, Faneca was one of the best linemen of all-time.
Kemoeatu does do a very good job playing on the blind side of Ben Roethlisberger, and, slowly, the Steelers are starting to add the various traits that made Faneca such a great linemen, like having Kemoeatu pull on off tackle running plays.
88: Run Blocking
78: Pass Blocking
I don't think that Kemoeatu gets the credit that he deserves in Madden. I think he should at least be rated in the low 80s overall, and that his pass blocking should be slightly higher.
The Pittsburgh Steelers view the center position very similar to the way they view a head coach. It is a very important position on the offensive line, because, with the exception of the quarterback, they are the only offensive player to touch the ball on every play.
The Steelers have had some of the best centers in the history of the NFL in Mike Webster, Dermonti Dawson, and Jeff Hartings, but since Hartings retired three years ago, the team has unsuccessfully experimented with the position.
That is the reason the Steelers drafted Maurkice Pouncey in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft, so they can get back to the stability they once had.
However, for now, Pouncey is not ready to become a starter in the NFL at the center position, so Justin Hartwig is going to have his job, for at least, part of the season.
86: Run Blocking
88: Pass Blocking
To be honest, I believe that EA Sports was VERY gracious with the ratings of Hartwig. I do not believe that he is as good as his ratings, and when I get Madden 2011, he is probably going to be the first position I replace.
Maurkice Pouncey is going to start the season as the starting right guard. With last year's right guard moving to right tackle because of the injury to Willie Colon, all it did was eliminate the competition between Pouncey and Trai Essex.
Pouncey will be able to contribute as the right guard simply because he has the talent to play the position.
He is the Steelers long term solution at center, but the organization wants him to learn the position, and what better way to learn how to call the plays than to play next to the man that is doing it?
85: Run Blocking
84: Pass Blocking
There are two different things you have to look at when looking at the ratings of someone like Maurkice Pouncey.
First is to his overall, and every Madden player knows that when you move someone's position, their ratings change. Pouncey, when moved to guard, will probably stay around his 76 overall rating, or might go down a point or two.
However, the important thing to notice is his 50 awareness rating.
When Madden does their first player ratings of the season, during week six, Pouncey's awareness rating, because he is a starter, will go up by about probably 15-20 points, which will make his overall rating go up probably two-to-four points.
For the last two years, Trai Essex has pushed both Willie Colon and Max Starks for their starting positions. Essex has good size to play tackle, 6'5" and 324 lbs. He has the size to take on the outside pass rushers.
Essex was not moved to guard because he was unable to play tackle, rather because Colon and Starks always did a little better at it in spring training.
Essex was moved to guard because he was better than anyone else that could have played the position. Now, Essex can move to his normal position, because Pouncey has taken over at guard.
79: Run Blocking
89: Pass Blocking
As with Maurkice Pouncey, Essex is not going to have the same overall ratings he has here simply because he is going to be moved to tackle. His rating will probably go down a point or two.
Aaron Smith is one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL. Twice in the past five years, Smith has been lost with injury, and both times, the Steelers failed to make the playoffs.
As a 3-4 defensive end, your job is not to get the glory, or the stats; your job is to take the double teams, so that the linebackers can get the glory and stats.
Smith does that better than almost anyone, and is a core player in the Steelers defense.
Coming off injury, Aaron Smith has about the stats that I expected. The tackle stat is a little less important when playing Madden, because if you are using someone like Smith, you are not going to make a lot of tackles with him, anyway.
If you are someone who likes to run the 4-3, you can get Smith, move him to DT, and he plays that position very well; his ratings usually go up about four-to-five points.
Casey Hampton is the key to the 3-4 defense that the Steelers run. To be a NT in the NFL, you have to be big, strong, and have the ability to tie up AT LEAST two offensive linemen on every single play.
"Big Snack", as he is known, was awarded a three-year, $21 million dollar contract this offseason.
Hampton has shown the Steelers that he is not letting the money go to his head, as he has been at the Steelers facility most of the offseason, working at getting ready for training camp, which is an area of weakness he has had the last few years.
Hampton has stats that I would look at and say that EA Sports did a great job at rating him.
No one in the NFL will say that his speed is not right, but he is big and strong enough to move the line into the back field.
The Steelers draft philosophy is that, players are not expected to contribute much in their first year, but in their second year, they better be ready to start.
Evander "Ziggy" Hood is entering his second year with the Steelers, after being their first round pick in 2009. Some people will argue with me that Hood is not going to be ready to start, but I disagree.
Hood showed a lot of promise at the end of the 2009 season, and will push Brett Keisel into the second team.
Like many of the young players with the Steelers, their ratings are lower than they normally would be. Hood is going to increase in awareness, strength and tackle at the first update. Watch Hood's overall rating jump probably five-to-10 points as the season goes on.
As I said in other articles, I believe Hood will get good numbers this year, especially for a 3-4 end, and he may even get Pro Bowl consideration.
James Harrison has become one of the Steelers historically amazing defenders. He has speed, power, and the ability to make plays either rushing the passer, in coverage, or against the run.
Harrison became even better with the addition of LaMarr Woodley, because the opposing team cannot simply put the tight end on his side every play.
Madden has shown serious love and respect to James Harrison. He is an animal in real life and in the game as well.
Harrison is solid, regardless of the defense you play in Madden.
One key, to those of you that don't know, if you move an OLB in Madden to DE in the 4-3, they normally jump 10-15 points (or to 99 if close already). Just make sure that their strength, tackle, and speed are all already in the 80s and they go up quickly.
Lawrence Timmons will take over as the top ILB on the Steelers' roster this year. He has a knack for making big hits and shutting down the run.
If there was anything negative that could be said about Timmons, it's that he does not shed offensive linemen as easy as fans would like, but that also has a lot to do with the defensive line not tying them up good enough.
Timmons will need to have his best season, to be able to make up for James Farrior not being an every down player anymore.
I do not think that EA Sports is giving Timmons anywhere near the credit that he deserves. He should be rated overall no less than 88, maybe even 90.
He is stronger than a 75, and his toughness has to be at least mid-to-upper-80s.
I think EA missed with this one, but hopefully, the roster updates will have him rated higher than this.
In one of my surprise moves, I am picking Keyaron Fox to be the starter over James Farrior.
Farrior has slowed down considerably, and has become a liability in pass coverage. Steeler fans may hate me for this, but it is time for Keyaron Fox to start next to Lawrence Timmons.
Because Fox is not slated to be the starter, I am imagining that his ratings reflect those of a back up. Fox will have his ratings go up, after he shows that he is capable of being a quality starter in the NFL.
LaMarr Woodley is on pace to become the next legendary Steelers linebacker. He has had at least two sacks in every playoff game he has been in, including the Super Bowl.
Because of his ability to rush the passer, teams have to account for him on every pass play, and often the tight end has to stay in to block, instead of running their route.
Woodley also excels in pass coverage, and when he gets the ball in his hands, there's always the possibility of him taking it back to the house.
Woodley has the best stats he has ever had in Madden, and deservedly so. After playing in the Pro Bowl after the 2009 season, he is poised to go up even higher in ratings during the season.
Moving Woodley to DE in Madden takes him to a 99, and he will be as dominant in the game as he is in real life.
Entering his contract year, Ike Taylor is going to have to play out of his mind to get the type of contract I am sure he is looking for. The Steelers have loaded up on corners in the last two drafts, and Ike is not getting any younger.
What Ike has going for him is that Dick LeBeau believes that Taylor is the best corner in the NFL when it comes to run support. If he could only learn to catch, he would be one of THE best in the NFL.
These are typical ratings for Taylor. He gets credit for his speed, which is fantastic, but I don't think that he gets enough credit for his toughness. He is willing to hit even the strongest fullbacks.
The key in Madden is that Taylor is not going to increase in ratings, even if you have good coaches. I will take him as a dime back, but you cannot count on him enough to be a productive starter in Madden.
Ryan Clark is one of the hardest hitting safeties in the NFL. He has no problem injuring himself to separate the ball from the ball carrier.
He hits like a truck and is the perfect complement to Troy Polamalu, who plays next to him.
It was important for the Steelers to bring back Clark, who almost signed with the Miami Dolphins, because Clark is the perfect player for the Steelers hard-hitting defense.
Ryan Clark has low ratings for Madden, and I don't believe that he gets the credit he deserves.
His tackling should be in the 80s, but his toughness is about where I expected.
The other thing that I believe is off is his speed and acceleration. Clark is faster than an 81, and he gets to his speed faster than an 85.
Clark is not a good player for your Madden franchise simply because of these stats. If he were a little bigger, then you could move him to linebacker, but he just does not have the upside you need while building a franchise.
Troy Polamalu graced the cover of Madden 2009 and suffered the Madden Curse by missing most of the season with an injured knee.
Polamalu is one of the most important players on the Steelers defense, simply because he is one of the best players in the NFL. An argument can even be made that Polamalu is one of the best players in the history of the Steelers, and that is saying something.
When healthy, Troy Polamalu has to be considered by every offensive coach as someone that has to be accounted for on every play.
He can blitz, stop the run, cover the best receivers in the game. With Troy Polamalu on the field, that makes the Steelers instantly better.
If you want Polamalu on your franchise, it is going to cost you a lot to get him. If you are doing a fantasy draft, you better take him in the first round, because odds are, he won't be there in the second.
You can build your defense around Polamalu, and when he eventually starts to slow down, he has the skills to move to linebacker, and he will be amazing there as well.
My only gripe is that his tackle is only a 70, as I feel he should be at least an 80, maybe more.
When the Steelers traded Santonio Holmes for a fifth round pick, everyone thought it was a mistake. To bring back someone like Bryant McFadden for that pick, was something that will benefit the Steelers defense.
McFadden is the perfect combination with Ike Taylor as the starters. The Steelers secondary is now the same unit that was ranked number one in the NFL in 2008.
I think part of the reason that Bryant McFadden is rated so low is because of playing last year in Arizona. McFadden was not in a system that played to his strength like the Steelers did.
As a starter on the Steelers, McFadden will probably have his ratings go up during the year, though his speed probably won't, which means that having him on your roster will be a liability.
Moving him to safety may help, and he can play there, but he is someone that you are going to have to get rid of if you are going to dominate in Madden.
One of the hardest things for a kicker to do in the NFL is to make field goals in Heinz Field. Jeff Reed has mastered making the kicks at Heinz, so he was the Steelers' top offseason priority.
They showed it by making Reed their franchise player, meaning that any team wanting to sign Reed, would have to give up two first-round picks.
The Steelers are working on a long-term deal with Reed, and hopefully will get it worked out before training camp.
The only knock on Reed is that he does not put the ball very deep on kickoffs, which is not an easy thing to do at Heinz Field. That, and he needs to learn how to tackle, especially the way the Steelers special teams played last season.
87: Kick Power
89: Kick Accuracy
I am actually amazed at these statistics. Reed is one of the most accurate kickers in the history of the franchise, making 27 of 31 last season.
On Madden, Reed is not the type of kicker you should look for, as his power and accuracy are not where they need to be in the game for you to be successful.
Dan Sepulveda was valued enough by the Steelers for them to tender him with a fourth-round designation.
He does a better than average job punting, especially in Heinz Field.
Sepulveda is also left-footed, which means when he punts the ball, a backwards rotation is on the ball, which makes it harder for the punt returner to field.
88: Kick Power
95: Kick Accuracy
I think that the overall of Sepulveda is lower than it should be, because of his accuracy, he should at least be in the 80s.
Madden trick: Sepulveda was a former walk-on linebacker in college. He has an 85 speed with a 78 acceleration and a toughness of 80. If you move him to kicker and do the drills with him, he is excellent as your kickoff specialist, because he can actually get down the field and make the tackle.
If you do the drills with him, he goes up even more.