ESPN MNF: Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit, a 25 year duo, earn a B+ covering their first NFL game


ESPN traditionally opens its Monday Night NFL schedule of primetime games with a doubleheader. It did so again this year. The first game had the Steelers’ win over the Giants 26-16 at Met Life Stadium. Tennessee won the TV nightcap, 16-14 in Denver over the Broncos.

ESPN's Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit to Call Steelers MNF Opener | Steelers NowNot long before the season, the network appointed Steve Levy, Brian Griese and Louis Riddick as the lead trio replacing Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland. The threesome were in Denver last night.

Earlier, ESPN brought in its lead college team of Chris Fowler (r) and Kirk Herbstreit (l) to do the first game. It was their first crack at doing an NFL game. Levy and Griese worked the NFL once before, last year. McFarland is now assigned to the studio. Tessitore is working college play-by-play. Riddick’s new to the booth.

I had a chance to watch the early opener. Big Ben Roethlisberger was back in uniform after last year’s injury hampered season. For the Giants, it was their first opener where Eli Manning wasn’t behind center since 2004.

Fowler, a smooth studio man for years, has slowly made the transition to play-by-play. Herbstreit, as we know, is talkative.

What did they say?

  • To begin with, the chemistry between the two voices is good. They’re obviously no strangers to one another. They’ve worked together for 25 seasons according to ESPN. This was the first time they ever worked an NFL game together.
  • Herbstreit and Kirk made some good comments, but didn’t say much about the eerie feeling of an empty stadium.
  • Kirk said that the Giants mix plays for their young quarterback Daniel Jones to confuse the Pittsburgh defense.
  • Chris jokes that the Giants quick-tempo of play is what they generally would see on Saturdays covering the college gridiron, a no huddle offense.
  • Herbie attributes a successful 3rd and 11 play for the Giants on their first drive to good protection.
  • Kirk says that instead of being afraid of the Steelers’ highly touted defense, the Giants use the no-huddle to attack the middle, leaving Pittsburgh no time to react.
  • Kirk explains how the miscommunication between tight-end Evan Engram and Jones led to an incompletion on 3rd and goal. Jones was expecting Engram to continue rolling to the right with him, instead Evan sits, and Jones throws the ball too far to the right.
  • After a timeout, not immediately after the play occurred, Fowler mentions how an incompletion from Jones could have been a fumble recovery for a touchdown, but the Giants didn’t challenge the call. I saw this immediately and thought it should be addressed right then and there but it wasn’t. The guys waited.
  • Kirk says early that inexperience in the Giants’ secondary is an issue. It showed in the second half when the Steelers plowed right through it.
  • Chris notes how Jones thrived against man coverage and struggled against zone. Kirk adds that it’s a  usual early development for rookies.
  • Kirk notes how NY Giants’ center Nick Gates moved from tackle this year. Nick did indeed struggle. Tough transition.
  • Kirk does a good job detailing a New York TD, pointing out that Steelers’ safety Minkah Fitzpatrick hesitated when Evan Engram came across the field. It allowed Darius Slayton to get behind him after getting past the corner and he then went in for the score. If Minkah went over to cover Evan Slayton, the Giants wouldn’t have scored. This was one of Herbstreit’s more insightful comments of the night.
  • Sideline reporter Maria Taylor says that Steelers’ running back James Conner is getting his ankle taped. Good set up. Conner was forced out of the game later due to the injury.
  • Kirk notes how the Giants’ new offensive coach Jason Garrett maintains, “that as long as we end every possession with a kick, we’ll be fine.” Kirk then added,  “or a field goal, extra point after or punt, as long as they don’t turn it over and have a negative turnover margin.”
  • The guys note how Ben Roethlisberger is so much older than the other QBs in the AFC North – graph later reinforces the comment.
  • Kirk doesn’t use any arcane football terms that go over the average viewer’s head.
  • Herbie says early that play action by the Giants is a way to get WR Slayton open deep.
  • Chris notes how Giants’ inside linebacker Blake Martinez was the defensive leader during the off-season. He set up zoom meetings with his teammates.
  • Fowler mentions that QB Jones was among the league leaders in tight window throws, (when a defender is within one yard).
  • Kirk says Giants’ coach Joe Judge is very old school. Chris said he couldn’t get Judge to describe the feeling or excitement he had inside of him when he got the coveted gig. Judge would focus only on football. Kirk says that happens when you coach under Nick Saban and Bill Belichick. Typical, like Bill, Judge showed no emotion.
  • Kirk uses the word stalking a lot in this game but never explains its meaning to viewers. (It’s when the linebackers are lined up right behind the defensive linemen.)
  • Big prediction. Kirk thinks if the Steelers are healthy, they are a super bowl contender. (Kirk also predicted emphatically that there will be no college football season.)
  • Herbstreit believes that with Jones’ knowledge of schemes and with the talent around him, the New York offense can be really good.
  • Fowler says that the Steelers’ defense will make many of their opponents’ offense look bad.
  • Kirk says when you try and change the culture you fight to the end and don’t give up, and that’s what the Giants are doing. Well duh. Not much meat to that comment.
  • As for Giants’ new coaching staff, Chris says that their fans will need to be patient and Kirk thinks there was enough time to get the Giants’ players to buy into Judge and his style, meaning they played better than in previous seasons and that the effort made the game closer. If the Giants hadn’t looked good the players might not believe in their head coach.


We have to cut Chris and Kirk slack. They had no pro reps getting ready for this big assignment.

The little I saw on social media about their performance was quite positive.

Kirk does a very good job explaining what happened but too often he misses why it happened. The two were very good and silky smooth for the casual fan but for an avid follower like me, they were just good.

Others might say, give them an A. I want more stuff from under the hood.  I give them a B+




Brian Seitz

Brian Seitz is a student at Arizona State University's Cronkite School of Journalism and hopes to pursue a career as a sportswriter.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments