Rob’s Complete Guide to Retro Bowl: Winning Football Games

At long last, it’s time to talk about some freaking football in this guide to a football game! If you’ve read this guide up to this point, you may be forgiven for assuming that Retro Bowl is not so much a mobile football game as it is a mobile middle management simulator. But that’s not true at all! While the front office and roster management components of the game are important to understand in order to optimize your team, and plenty of fun for weird goobers like me who enjoy that sort of thing, success in Retro Bowl is ultimately determined on the football field.

This installment of the Complete Guide to Retro Bowl is going to cover how to translate all that behind the scenes work into wins. I’m going to take you into the film room, where I’ll be looking at and dissecting screenshots of plays. Each play in Retro Bowl combines a designed run play with a designed pass play, and the player decides whether to attempt the run or the pass. Plays are also assigned; you do not select them from a playbook, the game picks one for you.

While you are allowed to change the play by using an audible, you have a limited amount of audibles per game, and using an audible will only change the assigned play; you still won’t be able to pick the exact play you want. Therefore, it’s important to be able to know how to make each succeed, regardless of what specific play you’re given.

The goal of this film study is showing you, the player, what to look for in deciding what to do on a given play, based on both the play design itself and how the defense is lined up before the snap. First, I’ll discuss the chances of success for each route the receivers are running on a play; then, I’ll turn my attention to the chances of success for the play’s run option. Once I’ve analyzed all the options on a play, I’ll determine whether it is best to run or pass, and if it’s a pass, I’ll determine which route is most likely to beat the defense.

After I’ve finished with film study, I’ll talk about other strategic considerations. Should you go for it on fourth down? (Spoiler alert: probably!) Should you go for a two point conversion? Should you try an onside kick? When should you use audibles and timeouts? What should you do when you’re behind late in a game? I’ll answer these questions, and more.

If you are unfamiliar with American football, please read this primer on rules and this primer on strategy before reading further! Everything that follows in this installment of the guide will assume you have, at minimum, a pretty decent grasp the the sport’s basic concepts.

In addition, make sure you have completed the Retro Bowl tutorial! There is simply too much to discuss in this installment for me to also explain how to actually play the game. I can only guide you through the mental aspects of Retro Bowl. I simply cannot stand over your shoulder, literally or figuratively, and tell you how to aim any pass, time a juke, or perform any other skill. Developing these skills requires practice and experience, and the only person who can give you practice and experience is you!

That said, I can give you a few skill pointers. The first is more of a reminder; star receivers with good Catching are better at catching the ball when your throw is inaccurate. The higher a receiver’s Catching, the better they will be at getting to where the ball is going, even if that spot isn’t directly along their route. When targeting a star receiver, an experienced Retro Bowl passer can ‘throw the receiver open’; that is, throw the ball along or near the receiver’s route to a specific spot away from their nearest defender. This will give the receiver more open space to work with once they’ve made the catch, and a better chance to make a big play. Replacement level receivers aren’t going to catch any pass that isn’t placed directly in their path; they are especially terrible at catching the ball when it’s thrown short of their position.

The second is that there are no penalties in Retro Bowl, which means there is no such thing as intentional grounding. If you’re trying to pass but can’t find anyone open, and you’re not sure scrambling is a good idea, throw the ball away! Aim your pass out of bounds and let it rip. An incompletion is always better than a sack or interception.

When you decide to call a run, note that you’re give full control off the RB as soon as they get the ball. While some plays basically force you to take the ball where the play dictates (this is especially true of tosses to the outside), many others are essentially suggestions. This means that, if you see an possible opening in the defense away from the direction of the run, you’ll often be able to cut back to exploit it. I encourage you to experiment with this on your own, but I’ll also point out any plays that have this kind of potential.

The Film Room

All screenshots courtesy of Rob’s phone.

As much as I would like to share and discuss screenshots of every possible play against every possible defense in Retro Bowl, I cannot. There are too many plays and too many defensive alignments, so naturally there are entirely too many combinations of plays and defensive alignments. Therefore, I’ve selected eight useful plays to look at. My hope is that, once you’ve read my analysis of these plays, you’ll be able to identify potential holes in defenses on your own, even with unfamiliar plays, and against unfamiliar defensive looks.

To that end, here is a list of (I think) every route in the game, so that you can understand what routes you’re looking at when they show up in unfamiliar combinations.

  • Corner: The receiver runs 10-12 yards straight downfield before turning outside (towards the sideline) at a 30-degree angle. This is probably the single hardest pass to complete in the game; even if the WR gets separation from their CB, you only have a small window to aim the pass without giving the CB a chance to defend or intercept it. As such, this route requires both a star WR and a QB with good arm strength, but when it succeeds it always results in a huge play.
  • Curl: The receiver runs 10-12 yards straight downfield before coming 3-4 yards back towards the line of scrimmage at an angle. The angle the receiver takes may be either inside (towards the middle of the field) or outside (towards the sideline).
  • Fade: The receiver runs a short distance to the outside (towards the sideline) before cutting to run straight downfield.
  • Flat: The receiver runs towards the sideline at a shallow angle, turning to run straight downfield once near the sideline.
  • Go: The receiver runs straight downfield.
  • In: The receiver runs downfield before making a 90-degree angle cut inside (towards the middle of the field). In routes come in two basic varieties, based on the distance at which the receiver makes the cut inside.
    • Quick In: The cut occurs 5-7 yards downfield.
    • Deep In: The cut occurs 10-12 yards downfield.
  • Out: The inverse of an In route. The receiver runs downfield before making a 90-degree angle cut outside (towards the sideline). Out routes come in two basic varieties, based on the distance at which the receiver makes the cut inside.
    • Quick Out: The cut occurs 5-7 yards downfield.
    • Deep Out: The cut occurs 10-12 yards downfield.
  • Post: The inverse of a Corner route.The receiver runs 10-12 yards straight downfield before turning inside (towards the middle of the field) at a 30-degree angle. This is an easier throw to complete than the Corner; since it’s going over the middle rather than toward the sideline, you have more space to work with when aiming your throw. However, it still requires both a star WR and a QB with good arm strength.
  • Slant: The receiver runs a short distance downfield, typically 3-5 yards, before turning at a sharp angle and continuing across the width of the field. Slants are super easy to aim and complete, but require good placement away from any defenders to have any chance of becoming more than a short, quick completion.

Retro Bowl does not distinguish among any position groups, but for the purposes of film study it is necessary to make some distinctions. Most importantly, I’ll be referring to opposing DBs as either cornerbacks or safeties, depending on their position before the snap. I’ll also refer to WRs and cornerbacks by number, with WR1/CB1 being the one lined up at the top of the screen, and WR2/CB2 lined up at bottom. Here is a picture, for reference (apologies for my sub-amateur MS paint skills):

I will also distinguish between the middle linebacker and the outside linebackers; alas, I could not find a way to cram that info into the picture without making the image messier than it already is.

I will also give each play a name; Retro Bowl does not name its plays, and that the play names I’m giving are essentially made up. Hopefully, these names are somewhat helpful framing devices, but feel free to ignore them.

Quick In Slant RB Dive

This is an extremely simple play, and therefore, a great starting point. Both TEs stay in to block, so there are only two routes to look at. The designed run is also extremely simple.

Pass: If you pass on this play, the decision of where to throw is going to be dictated by what the linebackers do. All three are lined up back from the line of scrimmage, suggesting they will all drop into coverage. But that’s only a suggestion; it’s still possible that any of them could blitz the QB, in any combination. If either outside linebacker blitzes, target the receiver on that side of the field. If only the middle linebacker blitzes, go with WR1 on the Quick In, throwing them the ball once they’re past the OLB in coverage.

If all three LBs drop into coverage, your job is much harder; you’ll need to make the throw past them and in front of the DBs, which means you now need to pay attention to the DBs. Here, we see the safeties are in a “2-high” look; that is, both are lined up deep, and will almost certainly be helping in coverage. Either both will move to one half of the field, leaving one of the CBs by themselves, or each will split up so that each CB has a safety behind them. If both safeties move the same side of the field, throw to the receiver one the opposite side once they have separation from both their CB and the nearest LB. If the safeties move to help both CB s, target WR2 on the slant once they’ve reached the middle of the field. This will let you throw over the MLB, and at a point where WR2 will have run past both DBs on that side.

Run: When you’re thinking about calling an inside run, you’re always going to be looking at the RB’s path and its relationship to the LBs alignment. Here, there is a potentially large gap between the MLB and the bottom OLB. Move the RB into this gap before they get to the line, and the RB should get a solid gain of 4-6 yards. Any gains beyond that will require getting past the safeties with either a juke (which will require excellent timing on your part) or a broken tackle (which will require good RB strength). But, as long as you hit that gap in the LBs, you should get decent yardage.

Best Bet: Run. Both passes are short and have minimal big play potential, especially if all three LBs drop into coverage. If you’re only likely to pick up a few yards, better to do it the easy way, on the ground.

Slant Post TE Quick Out RB Flat

This play builds off of the previous play in two ways. First, the TE is now running a route. Second, we now have a deep route to look at, in the form of WR2’s Post. Note that the defensive alignment is essentially the same as the previous play, with all three LBs lined up off the line, and the safeties in a 2 high look.

Pass: There’s no point in mincing words, here: The TE Quick Out is money. If you have any star TE and they’re assigned a Quick Out, always look to it. Even if the OLB is in coverage, they won’t follow the TE all the way to the sideline. The TE will also get away from CB1, who will be busy trying to cover WR1. Once the TE has made their cut outside, and decent separation from both the OLB and CB1, make the throw. You should get at least a first down, and possibly a good deal more.

That said, you should never refuse a big play, so it’s worth looking at WR2’s Post route. Because of the 2 high look, you can be certain that either one or both safeties will be moving towards WR2. Therefore, WR2 won’t get open until they turn inside, and possibly not until they get to the middle of the field. But, assuming they’re a star with good speed, WR2 will get open eventually, so if you’re willing to be patient and/or need a huge play, the Post is worth a shot.

Compared to the other two routes, the slant is a waste of time, here. Even if your QB doesn’t have the arm strength to try the Post, the TE Quick Out is the superior short option, by far.

Run: The RB flat path is designed to exploit the gap between the OLB and the CB on that side. The RB must then either stiff arm or blow past the nearest safety. Here, that gap is pretty narrow; while it’s possible to fit inside it, it’s unlikely. Even if you’re squatting on a late game lead, or want to milk the clock for other reasons, you may be better off getting the RB the ball with a pass. By the time the RB has leaked out to the flat, CB2 will be much further downfield trying to cover WR2.

Best Bet: Again, the TE Quick Out is money. Go to it unless you really need a big play, in which case you should look to WR2’s Post.

Double Inside Curl TE Fade RB Off Tackle

Curls are one of the simplest and easiest routes in Retro Bowl, and once mastered, they’re a great way to get good chunks of yardage. There’s also a new coverage type to discuss, here, as the safeties are lined up in a “single high” look. The Free Safety is lined up deep, while the Strong Safety is directly underneath, nearer the LBs. From this look, the safeties could do any number of things. While the Free Safety will often move to either sideline to help out a CB, just like they do out of a 2 high look, they may also patrol the middle of the field, or even blitz! The Strong Safety will often help the LBs in coverage underneath, but may still cover either deep sideline, or blitz.

Pass: If you’re passing on this play against this coverage, you’re gonna look to one of the Curls. The question is, which one? What the safeties actually do when the play starts will determine the answer. Yes, a single high look means they might do just about anything, but ultimately, they will cover both WRs equally, or provide additional coverage against one WR, leaving the other alone against their CB. If you see fewer defenders covering one WR, that’s who you’re going to target. If both WRs are covered equally, target the faster of the two; getting the most out of curls requires getting yards after the catch.

Timing and ball placement are also important on Curls. You want to release the ball as the WR is making their cut back towards you, and it’s best to aim the pass a bit short of the WR’s stopping point. (Note this requires a star WR, as a replacement level WR will always brick a ball thrown short.) This will lead the WR further away from their defenders, giving them more space to work with to get more yards after the catch.

Ignore the TE Fade. While a great TE may get open deep eventually, it will take forever and may not happen at all if one or both safeties moves to that side of the field.

Run: Because the Strong Safety is lined up underneath, they are in a perfect position to help the LBs against any inside run. You’ll have to take this run outside. If you have a strong RB, you can try running over the OLB, but there’s no guarantee you’ll succeed. It’s better to try and bounce outside. The CB may move a good distance away from the sideline, close to the OLB; if so, cut further outside and try to run past both. If the CB stays near the sideline, try to run them over; it’s always easier to stiff arm a CB than any LB. That said, even if you get past the OLB and CB, the Strong Safety will meet you soon, making this run unlikely to get more than 3-5 yards.

Best Bet: Either Curl, depending on coverage. Throw to whichever WR is more open if they’re covered unequally, and throw to the fastest if they are covered equally.

Slant Post TE Fade RB Dive

Let’s talk about blitzes. At least once per game, and probably more than that, the defense is going to throw an all-out blitz at you. An all-out blitz is easily identified, and looks like alignment in the above picture. All three linebackers and one safety are lined up close to the line of scrimmage. There is no deep safety, rather, the free safety comes down to occupy the MLB’s area. When you see this look, the blitz is coming. None of the eight defenders at the line are going to drop back. Because these blitzes are so common, it’s imperative that you understand how to beat them.

Pass: While the looming blitz is cause for concern, this is actually a very similar play to Slant Post TE Quick Out RB Flat. The TE Fade is one of the best blitz-beating routes in the game. Since the TE’s route blows past two blitzing defenders, the TE will be open in short order, as soon as they move past those defenders. Note that the TE might get ‘bumped’ as they move past the blitzers, so don’t release the throw until the TE is fully clear of both, and be sure to ‘lead’ the TE by aiming the throw a bit past their location. You have plenty of time to do both, I promise. If you underthrow this pass, or release it too early, one of the blitzers off the edge might grab an easy interception! Don’t let that scare you off, though. This is an easy throw to make, and will get you a first down and more.

But, just like Slant Post TE Quick Out RB Flat, the Post is worth looking at if you have a strong QB and WR2 has good speed. Simply wait for WR2 to blow past CB2 and make the cut inside, then let it rip! Ignore the slant; not only does it have the lowest ceiling of all three routes, WR1 will have to get past both CB1 and the Free Safety before getting open.

Also, a word of caution on the TE Fade: It is guaranteed to work here, but if the TE were lined up on top, nearer the Free Safety, the window to get the ball to the TE between CB1 and the Free Safety would become dangerously narrow. In that case, the Post would be your best option. Pay attention to how close the TE is to the Free Safety before throwing TE Fade to beat a blitz!

Run: You have to go inside here; all outside runs are non-starters against the all-out blitz, whether they’re handed off or thrown. As shown, this inside run will either work, or it won’t, and there isn’t too much you can do to change that. Try to get the RB into either gap between the Free Safety and LB as you approach the line. You might get past both and get good yards; you might also get stuffed at the line.

Best Bet: Take the TE Fade unless you’re willing to gamble on the Post.

Deep In and Out Curl RB Off Tackle

I’m not going to provide a full breakdown of this play, rather, I am including this to give another example of how the TE can beat a blitz. This time, the TE running straight ahead to start, giving you the same chunk gain as the Fade on the previous play with an even easier throw. Wait just long enough to ensure the TE is clear of the two blitzing defenders, then throw. Note that you’ll be throwing well before the TE is cutting outside, so aim directly ahead of the TE, not towards the sideline. This is a one-read play; don’t bother with either WR or the run.

Go Post Slant RB Sweep

While I’ve been gradually dialing up the complexity, the plays I’ve examined so have been pretty straightforward, with only one or two clearly superior options. Now, it’s time to look at a play where all of the options presented are potentially viable. With this play, you have two deep routes and one short route going up against a single high safety look. The problem with single high looks is that they betray the least amount of information about what the safeties are going to do; this play uses that versatility against the defense by providing a diverse array of routes, each of which is perfectly suited to defeat specific kinds of coverage. But, in order to exploit the proper weak point, you’ll have to read the entire defense quickly and accurately.

Pass: First, let’s look at the Go route. The Go route will only get taken off the table if the Free Safety slides over to that side of the field, and even if this happens, it won’t be taken away entirely if WR1 is fast and the QB is strong. It will just make the other two routes safer options. If the Free Safety goes elsewhere, you’ll have WR1 in a one-on-one matchup with CB1, and that means there are two possible outcomes. Either WR1 will blow past CB1, or CB1 will stay ahead of WR1 the whole way. If WR1 gets ahead, you’ll have an easy big play provided your QB is strong enough to throw that far; make sure you’re throwing well past CB1! If CB1 stays ahead, you can still attempt this throw provided WR1 has good catching. Aim the pass shorter, so that WR1 can make a play on it but CB1 is too far ahead to come back to the ball. If you aim this accurately, WR1 should be able to make a leaping catch. This is difficult and may require practice, but it can be mastered.

The TE Post is the safer deep option, even granting that the Strong Safety will almost always move to cover the TE in this situation. A deep sideline throw always provides a tight window, but here you have the whole middle of the field to work with when aiming the pass. The TE will get past the safety and any LB trying to cover them around the time they make their cut. Make sure the Free Safety is elsewhere, then lead the throw inside to give the TE more separation. If both safeties cover the deep sideline, this throw is even easier, since the TE will only have to beat an LB. The downside to this route compared to the Go route is that a perfectly thrown Go route to a fast WR can turn into a touchdown quickly. The TE Post will get you a first down for sure, but is unlikely to go much further.

Finally, there’s the slant. It’s not as enticing, but it’s easy to aim and it’s effective, and WR2 may get more open than anyone else with it. If the both safeties drops into deep coverage, WR2 will get wide open as they approach dead center of the field, regardless of what the LBs are doing. If the bottom OLB blitzes, WR2 will be open even sooner, but if that OLB is in coverage, you’ll still have to wait. If the Strong Safety covers the middle of the field underneath, this route becomes much more dangerous, and you should check to see if WR1 is going to get open.

Run: To top it all off, this run is plenty viable, too! Like the Flat path, the Sweep is meant to get the RB between the OLB and CB so they can run past both. Here, this gap is big enough to make that viable, and since you’ll be a good distance towards the sideline, the Strong Safety will be in a terrible position to stop you once you’re through the gap! This means you’ll only have to beat the Free Safety, and you’ll have your choice of using speed or strength to do so. As long as you hit the OLB/CB gap correctly, you should have a big play on the ground.

Best Bet: If you’re in a good situation to be conservative, run the ball. You can turn this into a big running play with minimal effort. If you’d prefer to throw, you’ll have to make the correct read. Read the field from top to bottom, starting with the Go, then moving to the Post, and checking the Slant last.

Double Post Deep In RB Gut

Once again, I’m using the previous play as a springboard to discuss a different but very similar one. Here, both WR1 and the TE are running deep routes, but this time, both are running Posts. While WR2’s Deep In is a deeper route than the Slant, this route is still being used to get past the underneath coverage, and therefore serves the same function as the slant. Also, note that we’re back to a 2 high look, so we can be pretty sure that the safeties will be covering the deep sideline.

Pass: If you’ve been paying attention, you already know that you’re going to be deciding where to throw based on what the safeties do. Both are going to be covering the deep sideline; the only question is whether they each cover their nearest sideline, or both move to cover one sideline. The good news is that it’s possible for both WRs to get open, regardless of what the safeties do!

Let’s look at WR1’s Post first. If both safeties rotate away towards WR2, this Post is money. All you have to do is wait for WR1 to get past CB1 as they make their cut towards the middle. If the Strong Safety comes over to help CB1, WR1 will still get open eventually, but not until they’re closer to the middle of the field. This may also limit the big play potential of this route, since both safeties are likely be in decent position to make the tackle.

WR2’s Deep In is somehow both a bit trickier, but also a bit safer. It’s safer because the throw is always going to go to the same place; regardless of whether the Free Safety moves to help CB2 or not, WR2 will come open as they start crossing the middle of the field. It’s trickier because you have to aim the throw in such a way that neither the DBs nor the LBs have any chance of making a play on the ball. Therefore, the throw has to target the middle third of the field, but not dead center, since the MLB is likely to be at or near that location. But, once you’ve completed the throw, any LBs will be too slow to catch WR2, who will also be between both safeties and thus have a lot of space to work with to get more yards.

The TE Post is the safest; since both safeties are headed to the sideline, the TE will be wide open as soon as they’re past the LBs. Even in the unlikely event that the Strong Safety covers the middle of the field, the TE will be open eventually. But again, the TE Post has the least big play potential, since even superstar TEs are slower than WRs.

Run: Since all three downfield routes are likely to get open eventually, only run if you’re trying to milk the clock. There is a decent gap between the MLB and bottom OLB, and your best chance of getting a positive play is going to be trying to get through there.

Best Bet: Again, the TE Post is guaranteed to get the TE wide open for a safe first down. I’d look there first and to the WR1 Post second, moving to the Deep In if the safeties are each going to their nearest sideline. When this happens, WR2 will get open before WR1 and be in good position to get yards after the catch, making it the better option.

Deep In and Out TE Flat RB Dive

As much as I would love to look at Retro Bowl plays for the rest of eternity, I simply cannot. Therefore, this will be the last play examined in this film study. On this play, the defense is back to showing an all-out blitz, and since defenses never use this look as a decoy, that means they’re sending one, too. While this play can beat the blitz, it’s tricky not only to find the right weakness to exploit, it’s tricky to execute the play and successfully exploit that weakness.

Pass: Since quick throws to the TE are generally effective against the blitz, that’s always where you want to look when you see a blitz incoming. And, while the TE route is still where you want to go here, you must exercise greater caution in doing so, and you must throw accurately. On the other two blitzes I’ve examined, the TE routes have been pretty forgiving, since the TE gets past all nearby defenders in short order. Here, you don’t have that luxury. Instead of blowing past both blitzing defenders, this time, the TE is running through them. Not only must you wait longer for the TE to get open, you must also lead them forward by throwing ahead of them. Aim this throw too short, and I guarantee you’ll have thrown an interception. But, since CB2 is also close by, if you lead the TE too far ahead or put too much oomph into the throw, CB2 will have a shot at the ball. This means that the window on this throw is very narrow; it’s doable, but it is narrow. You must throw ahead of the TE’s position, past the blitzers, but also make sure you’re not giving CB2 a shot at it. It takes practice!

If this seems like too much risk for too little a reward, you do have a shot with WR1 provided you’re OK waiting until the last possible millisecond before the QB gets crushed. Sometimes, you can lead a WR straight downfield if you make the throw before they make their cut, especially on curls. On a Deep In, however, WRs aren’t likely to go for the ball if you do this. They’ll cut inside, so when you huck the ball straight downfield, it’ll land in the turf. You have to wait until WR1 is cutting across the field. Once they’ve made their cut, they’ll be open, but not as open as they would be if this were a Post route. They’ll likely get tackled as soon as they make the catch. Therefore, the Deep In is less effective against the blitz than the Post; it doesn’t create as much separation.

WR2 is running a Deep Out, which has no chance against the blitz. It’s a tough throw against normal looks, since it’s both deep and towards the sideline. When I target a WR on a Deep Out, I often treat it a bit like a Curl, leading the WR ever so slightly back towards the line and away from their defender. Here, not only do you not have enough time for this route to develop, CB2 is also playing outside WR2, meaning that even if you did have enough time, CB2 would be in position to make a play on the ball. If WR2 gets past CB2 quickly, you may be able to lead WR2 open straight downfield by throwing that direction, but I cannot guarantee this will work.

Run: This run is straight up the middle by design, but again, you’ll have full control of the RB before they start moving downwards. The gap between the Free Safety and the upper LB may not look like much, but it’s ripe for exploitation. If you can successfully hit that gap, you can get the RB past both the blitz and the safety! It’s not automatic, but if you do it right you’ll get a big play out of it.

Best Bet: Go with the run, unless you’re in a situation where you need a big play and/or need to save time on the clock. If you must pass, throw to either the TE or WR1.

Got any other plays you want me to break down? Hit me up on Twitter @RobMackie10 or email me at!

Film Room Summary

When you’re deciding where to go on a given play, here’s what you need to keep in mind:

  • Reading the Safeties: Safeties will either line up in a 2 high look, a single high look, or show blitz. Here’s what each signifies:
    • 2 High: Both safeties are almost certainly going to defend a sideline. They will either each defend their nearest sideline, or both will cover a single sideline. If they do the former, look to the better WR, or the TE. If they do the latter, look to the WR who ends up alone with just a CB covering them.
    • Single High: Either safety could do just about anything, however, the Free Safety will probably defend one of the sidelines, and the Strong Safety will often cover underneath. In any event, it’s likely that one of the WRs will be alone with their opposing CB, so try to find them!
    • Show Blitz: The defense is sending the blitz. Find the TE and dump it off to them as soon as they’re past the blitz, or try throwing to a WR deep on a Post, Go, or Deep In.
  • Running the Ball: If you decide to run, you still have to read the defense! If the run is going outside, you need to hit the gap between the nearest OLB and CB; if this gap is too narrow, you’ll have to try and bounce further outside and attempt to go around the CB. If you’re running inside, determine which OLB is further away from the MLB, then try to be in that gap when you reach the line of scrimmage.
  • Throwing Short vs. Throwing Deep: Short throws are easier, but you need to make sure there isn’t a LB in the path of the pass! They’ll intercept it and won’t even apologize afterwards. Short throws can only become big plays if the receiver can get yards after the catch; this requires both a fast WR, and a throw that leads the WR away from their nearest defenders. Deep throws are harder, take longer to develop, and may be all but impossible if your QB has lesser arm strength. Deep throws are a bit easier to complete if the route is going over the middle, since this gives you more space to place the ball. They are harder to throw to the sidelines, since that extra space isn’t there.

Other Strategic Considerations

Now it’s time to look at the less exciting stuff. These are the aspects of football that are less fun to think about, but leave you feeling woefully silly after they’ve been mismanaged. I’m going to discuss these parts of the game briefly, and offer general, broad advice.

  • Attempting 4th Down Conversions: Generally speaking, Retro Bowl rewards 4th down aggression. Any time you give the ball back to the other team, assume they will score a touchdown; this assumption will often hold true, even if you have a 5.0 defense. It obviously follows that you should only give the ball back to the opponent when you can afford to give up a TD. If you’re on your side of the field on 4th down, the game will ask if you want to punt; if you’re even the slightest bit past the 50 yard line, it will as if you want to attempt the field goal. I punt if and only if two of the following statements are true: it’s before the fourth quarter, I need more than 5 yards to get a first down, and I’m behind my own 45 yard line. Otherwise, I often go for it, unless I’m relatively deep in my own territory. That doesn’t happen often, and if you paid attention during film study, it won’t happen to you often, either.
  • Attempting Field Goals: Do not attempt field goals! Field goals are shockingly difficult, even with a star kicker, and even at close distances. What’s worse is, well, they’re field goals. Three points simply isn’t worth it. Field goals are a high risk, low reward strategy, and are to be avoided. If you’ve crossed into the opponent’s territory, always go for the 4th down conversion, no exceptions!
  • Attempting 2-Point Conversions: As with 4th downs, Retro Bowl is often kind to those who aggressively attempt 2-point conversions. You should always think about it, but if you’re not in dire straits kicking for the extra point is fine. Always attempt the 2-point conversion in these circumstances:
    • You were down by 14 (or more) before scoring the TD.
    • You have scored a TD at the end of the game, and an extra point would tie the game. In overtime, you might not get the ball to start, in which case it’s highly possible you’ll lose before you get a chance with the ball. Don’t let this happen! Play to win!
    • You missed your last extra point attempt in this game. A new game gives your kicker a clean slate, for this purpose.
    • An extra point would only increase your lead to 5 or 12. Any lead that can be taken away because your opponent scored a TD of their own is no lead at all! A two score lead can be just as precarious. Go for 2, and force them to convert the PAT of their choosing. Your opponents will miss extra points more than you’d think!
  • Managing Timeouts: Managing timeouts properly is essential if you’re behind. You only have two timeouts per half in Retro Bowl, and you may only use them when you have the ball, and after a play from scrimmage ends. Don’t use any timeouts until it’s the final 30 seconds of the half, and, if possible, don’t use any timeouts before crossing the 50. When possible, get out of bounds rather than using a timeout. The importance of saving timeouts for high leverage moments is obvious when you’re behind late in the 4th quarter. At the end of the first half, maximizing your timeouts will enable you to cut into your opponents lead, or extend your own. Therefore, it’s still important, even in the first half!
  • Managing Audibles: While it’s still important to use audibles judiciously, especially when you only have one or two per half, it is not imperative you save them for the end of the half in all cases. If you’re short on audibles, feel free to use them any time you’re going for it on 4th down and you don’t like the assigned play, especially when you’re deep in enemy territory. If you have 4 or 5 audibles per half, feel free to use them any time you don’t like the assigned play, but do try and hang on to one or two of them. As you gain practice in the game, the amount of plays you’re comfortable with will increase, which will naturally reduce your use of audibles.
  • Making Late Game Comebacks: You must win whenever possible, but you will lose from time to time. Maybe you had turnover problems, maybe your defense couldn’t get a stop, or maybe the forces of fate were working against you. If you’re going into the 4th quarter down 9 points or more, you’re probably toast. But you can, should, and will still try your damndest to win! Here’s how:
    • Throw the ball. Obviously, you can’t run much, if at all. You must score a touchdown and you must do so quickly, and that means throwing to your WRs. They are your fastest players, and give you the best chance to score quickly. A deep pass to a WR with maximum speed can score instantly. Here again we see the importance of both a strong armed QB and a fast WR!
    • Always look to throw deep. Slants and quick outs aren’t going to cut it. If the play only has short options, use an audible, and if you still don’t have any deep options, throw to the most open receiver and try to make something happen.
    • Get out of bounds any time you’re not going to make it to the end zone. Every second of clock is precious. The mere fact that you’re down late in a game doesn’t mean you can use your timeouts freely; in fact, it makes them even more valuable. If your WR is about to get tackled before getting a touchdown, get out of bounds and stop the clock.
    • Always go for it on 4th down!
    • Onside kicks: The last resort. You’ve scored, but you’re still behind and it’s the 4th quarter. The game will give you the option to try the onside kick, and display the percentage chance of success. You have a 5% chance of success without a star kicker. If you have a star kicker, first off, why, second, your chances of onside kick success increase a bit based on the kicker’s rating, to a maximum of 15%. Those aren’t good odds at all; if you’re attempting an onside kick, it means you need a miracle. The following advice leans into that; the best way to succeed on an onside kick is to never need to attempt one in the first place. Only attempt onside kicks if one (but preferably all) of the following are true:
      • There is less than a minute left on the clock. Kicking to the opponent right now sounds terrible, I know, but since the onside kick is likely to fail, attempting it would likely gift them great field position. Wait until you’re truly desperate. If there’s less than a minute left, you can safely assume you wont’ have time to do anything, even if you do get the ball back.
      • You need a touchdown (or more) to win or tie. If you’re only down three, kick off anyway. The opponent might only get a field goal out of it, in which case you’re no worse off than you were previously.

This concludes this installment of the Complete Guide to Retro Bowl. The next installment will cover how to manage your roster and front office once you’ve successfully turned the team around. Remember, always win!

Links to Rob’s Complete Guide to Retro Bowl


The Front Office

Roster Basics and Player Evaluation

Drafting and Managing Players

Maintaining a Winning Team

Changing Teams

18 thoughts on “Rob’s Complete Guide to Retro Bowl: Winning Football Games

  1. Disagree on a couple of points here, although some of that may be because I usually play a 12-man roster. I have just started a new game to put these suggestions into practice, however, and finished 16-0 with a 10-man team and a RB victory in the first season. Difficulty was dynamic.

    1. I always have a kicker. I hate giving up extra points and even a two or three star kicker can boot a field goal from 35-45 yards. There are times, particularly at the end of the half, when I can’t quite get the bomb I want and just kick it. I’d draft for potential distance then accuracy, but you want accuracy of at least 5. I’d draft a kicker with better accuracy than distance to start — those extra points are an easy way to level up. If you play with a $200-250MM salary cap, kickers are easy to keep on for their whole careers. If not, a two star kicker every 2-4 years is easy.

    2. I never run. My highest run total for a season might be 60 yards. I use a full package of 2 WR, 1 TE, and 1RB. Generally average 100-140 ypg per WR, 30-50 for TE, and 50-80 for the RB. On Dynamic or Hard, even with a 4 or 5 star opponent, I can get the ball downfield most of the time. Maybe 1 or 2 sacks per game. For the first season with a rookie QB (4.5 potential, 3.5 current) and rookie receivers, TE, and RB, I had 6468 yds passing (340 ypg) and 15 yds running in 19 games.

    3. I think having at least one star player at each defensive position makes a difference. Hard to say for sure, but it generated a lot of turnovers, even from 4 and 5 star opponents.

    Learned a ton from this series and agree with much of it, but the pass v run and decent kickers are where my experience leads me in a different direction.


    1. Good stuff, I appreciate your thoughts! I’m especially glad you have opinions on how to scout kickers, since obviously I haven’t really bothered to figure that out. That said, there’s nothing a missed PAT can screw up that a successful 2-point conversion can’t fix 🙂

      Unsurprisingly, my insistence that running can be worth it from time to time proved to be the most controversial part of the guide. I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s infinitely more important to be able to pass effectively, but I still enjoy running when I can get away with it. It’s less mentally taxing, and you can still get massive plays out of the run game if you know what to look for pre-snap and can time your jukes effectively, and I wanted to share my accrued running wisdom. Also, running over 2-3 defenders en route to busting out a 50+ yard run is crazy satisfying!

      I also try to have defenders at every position whenever possible, but yeah, it’s hard to say what defense-building strategy is best. I’m still hoping that some day there’s a version of the game that lets you control the team on defense (if you want, that is; I know lots of players wouldn’t want that at all).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I wish that they added a simple control to defense, like a type of field goal meter to bat down a pass or make a tackle, a few times per defensive drive.


      2. Man, I’ve wanted defense in this game for a long time now. New Star also has a soccer game called Retro Goal in which you control players by swiping in the direction you want them to move; I think that mechanic has legs as a way to control defenders, at least in theory. That said, I’m not optimistic we’ll ever get defense in Retro Bowl, unfortunately.


  2. I’m studying your guides and will definitely learn a lot. One very simple way to crush games with passing though is to just look roughly at where the play pattern is headed, wait for receivers to congregate in the area and throw into the clump. The game regularly clumps 2-3 players together and with the amount of stretching that receivers do to grab passes it’s about a 90 percent or better completion rate. Since the game is also quite late on sacks, you can wait a long time to throw most times.
    If a play doesn’t have at least two players or more heading for the same area, just call an audible and get a better play. Have easily fielded two championship teams in the first season with this technique (games are regularly 50-70 points, lol), but I’ll be learning from your guides to play a more dynamic and realistic type of play.


    1. Ah yes, I tend to refer to these areas as “mesh points” after the Mesh play concept (note that none of the Retro Bowl plays actually use this concept as such). While they are useful to know about and understand, and throwing to them can be an effective way to move the ball as you’ve noted, I didn’t discuss them in the guide because I think the big play potential of mesh points is too small (and I was worried this part of the guide was too dang long already).

      Ultimately, my goal for this part of the guide was to explain how to read defenses before the snap, since I believe the best way to make big plays consistently is through identifying the most likely weak points in each defensive alignment. Note that I said ‘big plays’ just there; I assure you that was on purpose. The best way to get big plays through the air is by throwing to the most open receiver, and in many cases that receiver is going to be working the sideline or deep middle, whereas most mesh points are in the middle of the field at intermediate range.

      This means that while throwing to the mesh point can get you a first down, the big play potential of doing so is extremely limited. The receiver will never be past the secondary and said secondary will converge quickly, giving the receiver limited space to work with and therefore limiting their chances of getting significant yards after the catch. There’s also a chance the ball will end up in the hands of a slower receiver near the mesh point, which further limits your opportunities for YAC and is just kind of annoying.

      All of that said, I’m strongly considering updating and revising the guide. If and when I do so, I’ll probably talk about mesh points at least somewhat. It’s a good mechanic to understand and it can be effective in certain situations.


  3. Lowkey, throwing to the running back out of the backfield might be the best way to move the ball in retro bowl. Guaranteed 5 yards+


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