ESPN has had turnover galore among its Monday Night Football teams. The crew of Steve Levy, Brian Griese and Louis Riddick (right to left) is the network’s fourth since 2015.
There was talk in the off-season that ESPN was trying to land Al Michaels in a buyout from NBC and recruit free agent Tony Romo, a current day dream team. ESPN and parent Disney are shooting for a bigger piece of the NFL’s network TV rights by looping in its owned and operated ABC. Disney wants to be included in the network Super Bowl rotation. ESPN’s current deal with the NFL ends after next season. The deal involving the over-the-air networks concludes after the 2022-23 season.
When Michaels and Romo didn’t pan out, ESPN considered shifting Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit from their college broadcasts to Monday Nights. When all was said and done though, the network assigned Levy and Griese, who’ve worked together well on college broadcasts of their own. Additionally, the network asked studio commentator Riddick to join the other two in a threesome.
So now Levy is tasked with doing some mental bookkeeping, letting both talk. Riddick is well prepared but has a tendency to overtalk. Griese, the son of Hall of Famer, Bob Griese, brings good instincts to the microphone and isn’t shy himself. You get the point. There’s lots of conversation and back and forth. Of the four networks with NFL rights, only ESPN goes three deep in the booth.
Levy, one of the most versatile ESPN voices on ESPN, bonds nicely with viewers and is well liked. He brings a nonchalant, easy-going approach. He doesn’t necessarily lead the other two but Griese and Riddick have enough to say for all three.
Some notes I made listening to them broadcast the Minnesota-Chicago game this past Monday, won by the Vikings, 19-13:
- Levy did a good job of bringing a little humor to the broadcast. He’s got a breezy style. Early in the game he says this Bears offense is more of the cute and cuddly type than the wild ferocious type. He also pointed out the past misery of Chicago in the 3rd quarter, how they have been outscored 56-7. “They hate the third.” Immediately after the comment, Bears’ return specialist Cordelle Patterson ran back a kickoff for a touchdown and Levy quickly quipped, “Chicago loves the 3rd quarter!”
- After the Patterson kickoff return. Levy didn’t miss a beat, telling the audience this touchdown tied a record for most kickoff return touchdowns in NFL history, eight. He should have also mentioned that it tied Leon Washington and Josh Cribbs. Sill, a nice quick reference and appropriately timed. I’m sure the stats people were right on top of it, presenting the info to Steve.
- Griese points out early in the game during the Vikings first touchdown drive how receiver Adam Thielen is the team’s red zone threat and how Chicago will need to maintain extra attention on him in this area of the field. Thielen proved Griese right with two red zone touchdowns in the game.
- Late in the game the Bears were running a bunch formation with two receivers on both sides about 2-3 yards away from the tackle. In this formation it is hard to tell what coverage the defense is running, is it zone or man? Griese pointed this out and implored the Bears to spread out the formation to help Foles dissect the coverage.
- Even though the receivers were open, the Bears’ offense was not moving the ball, and that was because of Nick Foles. For the first time all year he was given decent protection by his offensive line yet didn’t do anything with it. He constantly missed throws and reads. Griese, a former quarterback, did a real good job explaining to the audience how Foles missed throws and where they needed to be located to have a successful play.
- Griese was excellent at breaking down the QB play in terms that fans could follow. He explained what we saw and also gave us a little insight into why the quarterback made a certain decision or missed a specific throw. Brian presented things viewers couldn’t see.
- During the Vikings’ long touchdown drive in the 4th, the Bears best interior defender Akiem Hicks was on the sideline with an injury. Minnesota was running it right down the middle and for the first time all game were gaining significant yards. I was waiting for the crew to mention Hicks being on the sideline and how it had changed the Vikings game plan. Eventually when the Vikings were in the red zone Griese made this point and asked his fellow commentators whether they thought it was a coincidence, “now that Hicks is out of the game the Vikings can finally run the ball.”
- Riddick lacked a bit. He told the audience what they had just seen and didn’t often offer explanations of why or how it happened. Louis did better later in the game but didn’t really teach viewers anything new. With three in the booth, each voice has to demonstrate that he’s indispensable, especially the two analysts.
- Late in the game with the Bears down six needing a touchdown, Riddick says, “Somebody on the outside needs to do something and make a play for Chicago.” I disagree with this take because the receivers had done a great job all night in getting open, it was Nick Foles who had been playing poorly. I believed it needed to be Foles to step up and make an accurate throw if Chicago was going to come back.
- Louis Riddick notes how much the Bears offense has struggled all year and noted that the defense will need to force turnovers and give their offense great field position. He was frank, pretty much saying that the Bears offense sucks and needs tremendous help to win.
- The crew points out early in the game how Bears coach Matt Nagy gave up the play calling to his offensive coordinator Bill Lazor to help spark the offense. Early in the game Griese loved the play calling by Lazor saying he has done a great job dialing up plays to get receivers open.
Two analysts in the booth often don’t give viewers or themselves a breather. This is the first year Levy, Griese and Riddick are together. Chemistry comes in time. I’ll give the three a B+ as a collective team for their work this past Monday night.