Reviews

NFL Weekend: CBS, Fox, NBC’s A teams get As; CBS’ B team, Eagle and Fouts, gets B; Romo or Madden?

Joe Buck's open: "It's cold here in Green Bay." was similar to his dad Jack's CBS open at the 1967 Ice Bowl. Tight football kept viewers glued

 

It couldn’t be bad if by Sunday, CBS and NBC touted their Saturday ratings. (Saturday ratings below)

Before the breakdown of the broadcast teams this weekend, the question arose:

Tony Romo or John Madden?  

Richard Deitsch, the former media columnist of SI who now covers the space for The Athletic tweeted yesterday that Romo is the best NFL analyst ever. When John Madden hit the scene in the late 70s and early 80s, he was met with equal amazement by viewers as Romo is today. Tony has been in the booth for only three years. 

Labeling best ever in my view requires a broader body of work so it’s inconclusive to rush to judgment at this point. Praise and criticism are fired out of a figurative cannon today, through a formidable wrecking ball called social media. For good or for bad, the burly ex-coach didn’t have to cope with fans hiding behind tweets when he busted onto the scene in the early 80s. 

This said, while both Madden and Romo brought style and substance to the telecasts, Romo also brings a crystal ball. Madden introduced the vernacular of the field on the telecasts. Romo’s strength is his easy-going simplicity and accurate play forecasting.

Over time as Tony is further removed from his playing days, will he maintain his seer like vision? 

Notes Game # 1 Minnesota at San Francisco

NBC

Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth:

  • Collinsworth correctly predicted that the Minnesota offensive line will have issues after playing well a week earlier. He was right. In total, the 49ers had six sacks, nine TFLs (tackles for losses) and nine QB hits against a Minnesota offensive line that surrendered just 28 sacks this regular season (tied for fifth best in the NFL).
  • When NBC put up a nice shot of the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge, Cris chimed in saying that he once rode a bike across it. Al asked Cris if it had two wheels. Cris kidded no, saying it was a tricycle.
  • Nice shot by NBC of Minnesota’s offensive coordinator, Kevin Stefanski and San Francisco’s Defensive Coodrinator, Robert Saleh. Al pointed out that they are candidates for the head coach opening in Cleveland. As it turned out, it was announced Sunday that Stefanski got the gig.
  • Rodney Harrison on the post-game show asked 49ers DE Nick Bosa about what difference the bye had, after he had just addressed the question posed by set-mate Mike Tirico .

Notes by Student of the Game, Brian Seitz who took a deep football dive, watching and observing the Michaels-Collinsworth team:

  • Chris Collinsworth showed his expected insight and knowledge. Early on he points out a play that’s rising in popularity among NFL offenses, a QB bootleg where the quarterback runs to one side and sneaks a receiver across the field to the opposite side. It’s been called more often this year than  Collinsworth had seen before. Cris believes that with all the action going to one side of the field the defenders don’t see the receiver slipping across the middle to the opposite side on a drag route allowing him to be open.
  • Collinsworth’s knowledge of players and their habits was a help. He noted how 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is “notorious for owning the middle of the field in the passing game.” As the game unfolded, we continued to see Garoppolo attack the Vikings defense in the middle of the field rather than the outside.
  • Collinsworth projected adjustments. When the 49ers marched down the field for a touchdown, the Vikings defense played a single high, (only one safety over the deep middle of the field). Cris suggested that the Vikings will adjust to a 2-high look, (two safeties splitting the back end of the defensive field). It is typically the defense that the Vikings run. After the switch, Collinsworth went on to say that he expects more outside runs for the 49ers because it is harder for defenders to stop.
  • Al Michaels is the consummate pro. He shared observations and conditions that could be factors later. He described the wind speed, how half the field was in the shadows while the other is encased in sunlight. The wind could affect kickers and field goal attempts, while the sunlight could make it more difficult to see the ball. Al never forced anything on viewers. As usual, he let this game come naturally to viewers and him.
  • Collinsworth doesn’t take the crystal ball approach. Unlike CBS’s Tony Romo, he rarely predicts what to expect on the next play. He does a good job explaining what happened while breaking it down using replay.
  • Al Michaels aptly shared anecdotes, without bombarding viewers with too much info. He told the audience about how in 2017, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan wanted Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins when he was set to become a free agent. But San Francisco traded for Garoppolo ending the debate.
  • Collinsworth nicely mixed his knowledge of today’s players and coaches  of the past. He did so when he compared Kyle Shanahan to his father Mike Shanahan as it relates to exploiting an opponent’s weakness. Collinsworth said that when either of the the Shanahans find a weakness in their opponents they exploit it until the opposing teams make adjustments to stop it. Cris used the example of a 49ers drive in the third quarter where every play was a run and it resulted in an eight-play drive for a touchdown. The Vikings were helpless against the run and Kyle Shanahan did not let up by calling a pass play. Not every coach has this philosophy. Some will switch up their play calling when they’ve exposed an opponent’s weakness. They’ll do so to catch the other team off guard. The Shanahans don’t.

 

Notes Game # 2 Tennessee at Baltimore

CBS

Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts

 

  • When the Titans jump ahead by a couple touchdowns early, Eagle overreacts with a sense of urgency, giving stats on Baltimore’s biggest comeback ever.
  • Eagle violates cardinal rule of television, underscored by Vin Scully. He doesn’t shut up after a big play. When RB Derrick Henry ran for 66 yards in Q3 to set up a first and goal, Eagle kept talking, instead of letting viewers absorb the moment and Titans fans savor it.
  • When Titans safety Kenny Vaccaro picks off Lamar Jackson, Eagle was caught off guard, busy talking about something else. It takes him a few seconds to react and acknowledge the interception.
  • Eagle uses cute play of words on Tennessee’s unexpected romp, “a tidal wave.”
  • Social media was critical of Dan Fouts and wondered why the #A team of Jim Nantz and Tony Romo wasn’t working the broadcast

 

Notes Game # 3  Houston at Kansas City

CBS

Jim Nantz and Tony Romo

  • Some on social media, reference this duo as the best on network football today.
  • Nantz and Romo are reportorially calm, even after Houston erupts to a 21-0 lead. There’s no rush to a conclusion at least on-air. Nantz says that the deficit is the biggest that the third year KC QB Patrick Mahomes is facing in his career.
  • When Darren Fells, the burly Texans’ 6’7″ tight end rumbles into the end zone, Romo uses a basketball equivalent to make a point, it was as though, “he was posting up,” Romo said. Fells played hoops at UC, Irvine and professionally overseas.
  • Nantz, always wonderful at sharing the right anecdote at the right team, took the opportunity to do so when Houston erupted to the early lead. CBS’ lead voice told the audience that when members of the Texans walked into the network’s production meeting, they said, “Hey, we can’t win,” reflecting what many were saying. Kansas City was the favorite.
  • Unlike Eagle and Joe Buck to a degree, Nantz uses numbers sparingly. When Jim does, he adds heft so that viewers will value the importance of the data he is sharing. When the Texans went up 21-0 in the first quarter, Jim said this is the 298th game in the history of the franchise and the 21 points were the most Houston had ever scored in a first quarter. Adding 298, instead of simply saying ever, drove the point home.
  • Romo was spot-on. Houston couldn’t play zone against Kansas City.
  • Nantz profiled Steve Spagnuola after the Kansas City Defensive Coordinator orchestrated the shut down of Houston’s offense. Jim talked about how Spagnuola, 60, recorded every last piece of KC tape, studied them and was hired by his old boss in Philly Andy Reed, the KC head coach. Steve replaced Bob Sutton who was fired at the end of the 2018 season.
  • Biggest boo-boo belonged to Bill Cowher in the CBS studio at halftime. The former Steelers coach who was selected to the Hall of Fame over the weekend said the game could come down to a final possession. It didn’t. KC’s remarkable rally produced a 51-31 Chiefs win. Nantz at one point called the game bizarre. It was. It took unpredictable sharp turns.

 

Game # 4  Seattle at Green Bay

Fox 

Joe Buck and Troy Aikman

  • Joe’s open reminded me of  his dad Jack’s in 1967 when he joined Frank Gifford and Ray Scott calling the Ice Bowl on CBS. (Dallas at Green Bay) The trio were standing on the field for the open. It was 13 below zero. Scott asked Buck for his comments and a shivering Jack dealing with the nasty and inclement conditions said no more than, “I think it’s very cold.” Similarly, albeit the temperatures yesterday in Green Bay were in the benign twenties, Joe stressed the weather in his open a couple times. “It’s cold.” Tribute to his dad? We know the close relationship the two had.
  • Buck is the most economical of the network play-by-players. He gets out with time to spare, setting up Troy Aikman.
  • Buck and Aikman are always dependable. There’s the emphasis on bread and butter, facts and figures, nothing too fancy. They come through regularly.
  • Good exchange when a player took a hit in the groin area. Fox’ Chris Myers who’s equally adept on the field as he is in the booth called it a hit, “to the family jewels.” When Joe took it back upstairs, he referenced Myers’ comment as weird science. Aikman chuckled.
  • Most emotional moment yesterday was the Fox halftime show in the LA studio. Jimmy Johnson was told by Pro Football Hall of Fame head, David Baker, that he had been elected. Johnson’s eyes welled up as expected. Fox took a shot of booth in Green Bay where Aikman was watching the proceedings on his monitor. He too appeared to be a bit teary eyed.

 

RATINGS

NBC

The network said that the 49ers’ 27-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings Saturday in the NFC Divisional Playoffs averaged 29.3 million TV-only viewers – ranking as the most-watched Saturday 4:30p NFL Divisional Playoff in four years (31.5 million for Chiefs-Patriots on CBS, 1/16/16).

In addition, Vikings-49ers averaged a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) average of 30.1 million across television and digital, according to fast national live plus, same day data from Nielsen, and digital data from Adobe Analytics. Coupled with last Sunday’s 35.8 million TAD for Seahawks-Eagles, the 2019 Playoffs mark the second time in the 14-year history of NBC Sunday Night Football that both NBC NFL playoff games topped 30 million viewers.

CBS

Saturday’s Divisional Round coverage of the Ravens-Titans delivered 29.412,000 viewers. The network said that it’s the most watched AFC Divisional round game on any network in three years.

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David J. Halberstam
David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History.

Brian Seitz
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.

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Michael Green
10 months ago

Great roundup. I love Romo but it would be interesting to compare Madden’s reviews. Also, Romo started #1. Madden was an occasional commentator, then on the #5 crew with Gary Bender, before going to #1.

FYI, the crews ahead were Summerall-Brookshier, Scully and Allen, Gowdy and Stram, and Nelson and aborning. Not bad.

daniel anderson
daniel anderson
10 months ago
Reply to  Michael Green

I thought that Bender-Madden were the 3rd crew, as they did a playoff game that year.

Barry Kipnis
10 months ago

I’m impressed with how much Halberstam now knows about football: “single high and 2 high look.” Now, if he can explain the “old Tampa Two” and the “bubble screen” we can consider him to be a true expert.

Michael Green
10 months ago
Reply to  Barry Kipnis

Or, to quote Peyton Manning, Omaha!