On Sunday, the capable Mike Tirico filled in for network icon Al Michaels on NBC’s coverage of Packers-Saints. Green Bay won in New Orleans 37-30. Al gets three more off-nights this season. Michaels will be back next Sunday and for the next eight until Thanksgiving. Tirico was joined by SNF staple Cris Colinsworth.
- Tirico did a fine job filling in for Michaels which is tough to do. Al has been the Voice of NFL primetime football since 1986. The two, Cris and Mike, had good chemistry. Tirico didn’t overuse useless numbers or heavy data. The only stats Tirico focused on was how Brees struggled with the deep ball, how Saints safety Malcom Jenkins plays almost every snap, and how the Saints are the worst team in the league in penalty yards. All the numbers were supported by graphics.
- Tirico stayed within the flow of the game and kept Collinsworth from veering off course and becoming too giddy, which he can sometimes do. Collinsworth explained plays well for the casual fan, yet the avid football follower like me would have liked to see more in-depth explanations on plays. It’s a tough balance for any analyst because not all fans study Xs and Os.
What I expected to hear
- Coming into the game there was a massive topic that I anticipated the crew discussing, no crowd. The Superdome is one of the loudest buildings in the NFL and Rodgers is the best quarterback when it comes to the hard count, so no fans in the house present a huge advantage for Rodgers. Gladly, Collinsworth noted many times how the Packers would usually be using a silent count in this game but without a crowd they were able to go to a normal cadence. Rodgers drew a few offsides from the Saints with his outstanding hard count, including a key free play in the 4th on the Packers put-away drive.
- I was also hoping to hear how no crowd would affect Drew Brees, who is usually unstoppable playing at home. Do the announcers believe Brees will suffer at home this year because of a quiet environment? Now that the defense can hear Brees, are his audibles less effective? The crew didn’t get around to it in detail.
Prediction and analysis
- Chris starts off the game by predicting that with both teams’ top receivers out, Saints’ Michael Thomas and Packers’ Davante Adams, he believes that running backs’ Alvin Kamara of New Orleans and Aaron Jones of Green Bay will be the top receivers in this game. Kamara was and Jones wasn’t.
- Collinsworth suggests early that he thinks the Saints are using Latavius Murray on first downs to save Kamara for the passing downs like second or third down because Thomas is out.
- Collinsworth explains how Kamara is a relaxed runner and isn’t trying to force plays. The back lets the game come to him, adding that defenders are rarely able to tackle Kamara in the open field when he gets his shoulders square to the defender and sizes him up. This was evident on Kamara’s 52-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter where he made multiple defenders miss in the open field.
Collinsworth holds the hand of the casual viewer
- Collinsworth explains how Aaron Rodgers 3rd down run that moved the chains to keep the Packers’ drive alive was possible: “When you are in man coverage you (defender) end up turning your back and chasing the receiver. Leaving no one to cover the QB run.” This is insightful for the casual viewer, but the experienced fan knows man-to-man coverage leaves the defense exposed if the quarterback decides to run.
- The announcers spent a lot of time on Drew Brees’ lack of a deep ball this year and how everybody has been wondering whether the 41-year-old’s arm is suspect. Referencing his terrible display on deep passes a week earlier, Collinsworth blames it on a lack of communication, not a deteriorating arm. It is very possible that the lack of an offseason has attributed to poor communication, but for a veteran and Super Bowl champion like Brees who has many of the same weapons as he had last year, it shouldn’t affect his deep passes in such a significant way.
Insightful game strategy
- Collinsworth likes how New Orleans is running the ball directly at Packers’ star defensive lineman, Za’Darius Smith because it takes him out of the game. By pounding directly at Smith, Cris says, it stops him from being able to chase a play down from behind. Also, Smith usually has precious time to wait and see what the back does before he makes his decision on how to attack the play, but when the ball is run right at him, he must react immediately.
Insightful Play Review
- Collinsworth explained many plays well. His best was the touchdown by Emmanuel Sanders of New Orleans. Cris, a former standout wide receiver with Cincinnati: “With (Green Bay) playing quarters coverage, the inside receiver goes across the field clearing out the safety. This leaves Sanders in a free spot behind the linebacker.” Now all Brees has to do is throw the ball above the defender’s head and it’s an easy touchdown.
Learning point for budding quarterbacks and avid viewers
- Collinsworth did an excellent job explaining to potentially young quarterbacks what type of pass is needed when throwing the ball downfield. He used Rodgers’ long pass to Allen Lazard in the third quarter as an example to demonstrate the need to throw a high arching pass, so the receiver is able to adjust and come down with the ball. If it is a line drive, it can’t be less than perfect if it’s to be completed.
- Overall, the guys had a strong showing on Sunday night and deserve an A grade for their efforts.
From broadcast critic N. Donald Hale on Tirico and Collinsworth:
From our side of the curtain, Tirico shows an instant rapport to his broadcast partner. Good chemistry with Collinsworth, still among my favorite analysts for his unbending willingness to tell it like it is.
I’d like to hear him (Mike) tone down the excitability level just a little, but then again, I’m still living in the Way Back Machine: Ray Scott, Pat Summerall, even Curt Gowdy. They were able to convey game drama without being dramatic themselves. Economy of words, a lost art. Gowdy was the gabbiest of that trio, but today he’d be considered understated. Joe Buck is closest to the WayBacks.
Tirico boasts an ability to host from a studio and work in a play-by-play booth. Still lacks a definitive style, but that fits today’s homogenized lineup of sports announcers (except perhaps Kevin Harlan).
His voice also pierces through the din.