The Pittsburgh Steelers held on to defeat the Chicago Bears 29-27 in Week 9’s edition of Monday Night Football at Heinz Field Monday night. ESPN did not have the ManningCast for this game, which meant that play-by-play announcer Steve Levy, analysts Louis Riddick and Brian Griese, sideline reporter Lisa Salters, and rules analyst Jon Parry took center stage.
After the 2019 season, ESPN got rid of their broadcast team of play-by-play announcer Joe Tessitore and analyst Booger McFarland. They replaced them with the trio of Levy, Riddick, and Griese. It is fair to say that the 2020 season was a feeling-out process for the new trio. This season, all of them have really started to come into their own, however. There seems to be a comfortability between all three of them. Levy’s delivery is exciting, but not too over the top. Griese and Riddick provide a lot of insightful analysis and make effective use of the production meetings. (Louis Riddick, Brian Griese and Steve Levy, l-r)
Here are my ten observations of the broadcast:
- During the Steelers’ first possession, the audience learned that Ben Roethlisberger had to beg to watch MNF because there was class the next day. Referencing Ben’s plea as a youth led Levy to comment that the kids probably told their parents, “See, I told you so.”
- The CGI graphic this week that paralleled Levy’s talking point focused on Chicago’s Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy showing the Bears’ stats on offense. They’re hardly stellar. impressive. There was a car in the picture, and the engine combusted near the end of the feature. It was yet another humorous CGI sequence from ESPN.
- Levy, Griese, and Riddick all did a nice job using notes from the production meetings they had with both teams. On the Chicago side of things, they used a lot of notes from their talk with Bears offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. It added a lot to the broadcast in the early stretch of the game.
- Late in the first quarter, Chicago quarterback Justin Fields was intercepted by Pittsburgh defensive tackle and fellow Ohio State alum Cameron Heyward. Levy exclaimed that “It’s a Pittsburgh party off the turnover” as Steelers players celebrated in the end zone.
- On Roethlisberger’s touchdown to tight end Pat Freiermuth, Griese talked about the added pressure Chicago’s secondary was facing in the absence of star linebacker Khalil Mack. Griese was insinuating that the Steelers might have had a tougher time passing the football if Mack was in the game.
- Roethlisberger and the Steelers have struggled on offense at times this season. With new offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s system, Roethlisberger utilized his daughter’s penmanship skills to help him learn the offense. Sideliner Lisa Salters showed some of his daughter’s notecards with formations drawn out on them. While Big Ben praised his daughter’s neatness in drawing out the notecards, he said the way she drew out the formations was “underwhelming” as the tight end was drawn out as a wide receiver at times. After the game, Roethlisberger did admit that his daughter’s flashcards did help and thanked her on national television.
- After missing an extra point, Pittsburgh kicker Chris Boswell made three kicks in the fourth quarter along with a fumble recovery on a kickoff by Chicago’s Jakeem Grant Sr. Boswell got hit after he recovered the football, which prompted ESPN to show the highlight of him getting hit on a fake field goal attempt in Pittsburgh’s Week 8 contest against the Cleveland Browns. Salters said she talked to Boswell before the game and told him to “stay out of harm’s way tonight. So much for that,” she said.
- Chicago’s Joel Iyiegbuniwe forced the fumble that DeAndre Houston-Carson returned for a touchdown to cut Pittsburgh’s lead down to 23-20. Griese tried to pronounce Iyiegbuniwe’s name, and he was close if not spot on. The Bears’ official website has his pronunciation listed as “Ee-Yay-Boo-Nee-Way.” Griese joked with Levy that he wasn’t going to try to pronounce it himself. Levy’s quick retort: “I got the first name, you got the last” to his broadcast partner.
- One of the pivotal plays in the game was when Chicago linebacker Cassius Marsh, who got called up from the practice squad, got flagged for taunting with 3:40 remaining in the contest. Marsh sacked Roethlisberger and stared at the Pittsburgh sideline. Of note, Marsh was on the Steelers’ roster in the preseason. The booth agreed that there should not have been a penalty called in that situation. Griese was the most vocal as he said “I understand the respect of the game, but he wasn’t talking to the (Pittsburgh) punter (Pressley Harvin III). He’s too far away to be causing trouble there.” Rules analyst Jon Parry said that the call was consistent with how the NFL has been calling taunting in that situation the whole season. Marsh was beyond the hashes, which prompted the flag in Parry’s opinion. This play will be one of the talking points on the weekly NFL talk shows this week.
- On kicker Cairo Santos’ 65-yard field goal attempt to win the game for the Bears, Levy said the kick hit the crossbar. He must have looked at the main feed, concluding that the football hit the crossbar. Steve left no one on a lurch. He immediately hit the heart of the matter. The field goal attempt failed. But the ball just reached short of the crossbar and hit the turf in the end zone. Watching field goal kicks from midfield is always a weird experience because the angle is off the kilter and the depth perception can throw off the announcer, so it is understandable why Levy was watching the main feed in this situation. A replay clearly demonstrated that the football hit the turf in the end zone without the trajectory altering it. An honest and forgivable mistake.
Steve also shared an anecdote about RB Najee Harris who grew up living in homeless shelters during stints of his upbringing. But the longtime ESPN voice intermingled an anecdote explaining how Harris preferred to sleep on the floor during his first few months at Alabama because he was more comfortable with difficult living situations.
Levy confused this piece of the story with Josh Jacobs, another Alabama Tide running back. Harris commented on the booboo on social media after the game.
While the ManningCast offers a new way to watch the NFL, the main telecast with Levy, Riddick, and Griese is still the best for one stop shopping. The trio provides viewers a turnkey delivery. When the Mannings and their guests veer lanes, away from the field, it can be distracting. The Manning brothers may have cool interviews that fans may want to turn to in the fourth quarter os a blowout. With Chicago-Pittsburgh going down to the wire went to the wire, Levy, Riddick, and Griese did a fine job keeping the stakes simple and fans’ eyes focused on the action.