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'Madden NFL 11' refines receiving

Miles Austin works to get both feet in bounds in "Madden NFL 11." EA Sports

One of the biggest frustrations I've had with "Madden" over the past couple of years is the disgusting amount of times receivers catch the ball without making any attempt to get both feet in bounds.

In a blog on EASports.com, "Madden NFL 11's" lead designer, Ian Cummings addresses that issue, along with a couple of other welcome fixes to the receiving game.

"As developers, catching has always been one of the hardest and most frustrating areas of our game to tune because of the sheer amount of possibilities," explains Cummings. "When you start to try to account for all the different angles a pass could be coming in to a receiver along with the difference in his body position, it is always a difficult problem to solve."

To address these issues plaguing the game, EA Sports created a debugging tool to figure out why certain catch animations were being triggered more than others (think jump catch). Where last year, a receiver would actually slow down on the route simply to make a jump catch in the game, in "Madden NFL 11" receivers in open space will now catch the ball in stride. "These types of catches will only trigger, however, if there is not a defender in the path of the route or in a position to make a play on the ball," writes Cummings. "We want the Larry Fitzgerald/Calvin Johnson type receivers to really go up and fight for the ball and come down with spectacular catches if there is a crowd of defenders around them.

"Another area of focus we have been working on is tuning the frequency for when "aggressive" types of catches can trigger. In previous years there have been situations where you could sometimes see a receiver playing a catch where he runs back towards the ball. These could sometimes be seen on Curl/Hitch/Smash type routes as well as Screen routes behind the line of scrimmage. There is nothing more frustrating than calling a 5-yard route on 3rd and 4 and having the receiver catch it moving towards the QB and get tackled for a 2-yard gain. Well, this year, the receiver won't play those types of catches (unless of course there is a defender between him and the ball). If you are running a 10-Yard Curl and the defender is behind you, the receiver will always be forced to match a 'standing' catch so he can try to backpedal into the defender for extra yardage. Also, we eliminated the likelihood that a receiver that is behind the line of scrimmage (e.g. WR or HB Screen play) would play a running, aggressive style catch if he is in open space."

Last but not least, Cummings addresses those dreaded sideline catches.

"For 'Madden NFL 11,' with the help of the Catch Debugging Tool, we have corrected all of our sideline/back of the end zone catches. You no longer have to be afraid of trying to squeeze that Deep Out or Goalline fade inbounds, as now the receivers have much more advanced AI to get both feet in."

But that's not all, as Cummings adds that EA Sports has done extensive motion-capture work this year when it comes to these virtual receivers in order to get more authentic animations into the game.

Will the new animations and debugging pay off? ESPN will find out when EA Sports reveals "Madden NFL 11" to the press for the first time the week of the NFL Draft.