After calling EA Sports out on the five biggest Jaguars-related mistakes in Madden 11 yesterday, it's time to reconcile by applauding five Jacksonville players whose virtual versions are spot-on.
Most of the game's ratings, of course, are accurate enough that the team in the video game looks like the team we (1) followed in 2009 and (2) expect in 2010. A true list of EA's more-or-less correct Jaguars ratings would be pretty long and pretty uneventful:
"Yes, Rashad Jennings is a promising back who gives Jacksonville good depth at his position, and low awareness does makes him a poor starter."
"Yes, Jordan Black hasn't made any significant strides as a backup offensive tackle. It's fair that his overall score didn't change from last year's 67."
And so on.
In these five cases, though, the brains behind the game have made aggressive moves to reflect players' performance and potential—and, unlike the scores covered yesterday, they've hit the nail on the head.
Having dipped down into the mid-80s in last year's iteration, "Buck" is back on track toward the 92 rating he earned in Madden 09.
Whoever was responsible for bumping Smith back up gets full marks, as he wasn't due an obvious upgrade at first glance. Stuck in the middle of the confused Jaguars defense under new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, Smith managed just 1.5 sacks.
Watching Jacksonville week-in and week-out, though, his skill as a blitzer was obvious. When the Jaguars let him loose, he consistently fought through into the backfield, either by hitting his gap at the right time or fending off a blocker around the end.
As his just desserts, Smith is scored at 93 on block shedding and 92 on play recognition, and his power move (75) and finesse move (70) scores are the highest combined among Jacksonville's linebackers.
For proof that the Madden raters aren't averse to eating crow, look no further than Knighton. After a standout rookie season in which he started all 16 games and wreaked havoc up front for the Jaguars defense, they've scored him a stellar 83.
Pretty impressive, considering he debuted at 51 last year.
Among the attributes that jumped to improve Knighton those 32 points, his strength (from 80 to 90) and awareness (from 31 to 73) are the most crucial— particularly awareness, where EA often makes the strongest distinctions between greenhorn rookies and seasoned vets.
On Jacksonville's young and improving roster, the Madden franchise correctly singled out Knighton as a player whose arrow is pointing straight up.
Considering Knighton's skyrocketing score, it's equally impressive that EA restrained themselves when grading Derek Cox, the Jaguars' other third-round gem from the 2009 draft.
Cox stood out among Jacksonville's rookies from the get-go, making an athletic leap to intercept the Indianapolis Colts' trademark Peyton Manning to Reggie Wayne end zone fade route. As a 16-game starter, he racked up 72 tackles (58 solo) and three more interceptions.
Consequently, his speed (92), acceleration (91), agility (92), and jump (93) ratings are all top-notch in Madden 11, up slightly from his scores last year.
The restraint kicked in—and rightly so—on Cox's awareness, where he received a conservative nudge up to a passable 69. It suggests that EA sees through his sheer number of tackles to the big cushion he gave most receivers, which is pretty shrewd of them.
A 77-rated starter hardly seems like one to trumpet as EA's second-best success, but Alualu's score could have been a disaster.
Evidence still exists on EA's "Madden 11 Draft Experience" site of their initial intention to score the 10th overall pick as a 69—the lowest grade proposed for any first-rounder, including Denver's Tim Tebow.
In the three months since, cooler heads seem to have prevailed. A decent bump up for Alualu's acceleration (from 73 to 85) returned his rating to the high 70s, fit for Jacksonville's draft slot.
Looks like someone read general manager Gene Smith's enthusiastic interviews about how well Alualu projects as a gap-shooting pass rusher.
There is no possible explanation for Jones-Drew's Madden drop-off from a 91 rating in 2009 to an 89 in the initial release of Madden 10. Pocket Hercules has become more of a force with every year he's been in the NFL, even during the Jaguars' disappointing 5-11 campaign in 2008.
As if to apologize, EA's rated him the third-best back in the league this year.
Virtual Jones-Drew's strength (77) matches most fullbacks. He scores higher than Tennessee's Chris Johnson—who, at 99 overall, is Madden 11's best ball-carrier—in awareness, stamina, toughness, injury resistance, and trucking.
Guess EA noticed how strong his legs have gotten from carrying Jacksonville's offense over the past two seasons. Finally, Jaguars fans will be able to run their video game strategy through Jones-Drew the way offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter should each week.
It's at least a year overdue, but we'll take it.