Fox’ A team of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman came through with an A performance yesterday, covering the overtime thriller in New Orleans. There was little they left unreported, other than the controversial game winning catch by receiver Kyle Rudolph. To their credit, they did aptly share what they knew before having to turn the telecast over to the post game studio.
The league’s decision not to review the touchdown catch for a possible offensive interference call was more post game fodder for pundits and fans. Fox’ rules interpretation expert, Mike Pereira sounded surprised himself that New York didn’t look at it before declaring the game over.
Here’s a breakdown of their work:
- Praise for versatile Taysom Hill. Aikman says, “He does more than anyone.” As the game progressed, Hill performed as Aikman suggested. Buck chimed in, saying, “Hill probably drives the team bus and delivers room service to his teammates”. On three consecutive plays, Hill ran for a first down, threw a 50-yard pass and made a crucial block on a touchdown run.
- Aikman tells the audience early in the game to look for the outside running game of the Vikings. As the game progressed, we saw many pitches and outside zones to Dalvin Cook and a handful to Alexander Mattison. Aikman says if the New Orleans linebackers don’t get touched by the offensive line they will be free to roam sideline to sideline and make plays. It didn’t work out that way. Cook ran for 94 yards.
- Aikman nails the strategy of Minnesota’s defensive line. On the first drive for New Orleans, Aikman points out that Vikings defensive ends Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter are key to the pass rush and to stopping Drew Brees. Aikman was spot on. Griffen and Hunter dominated the game with multiple sacks and pressures, including a huge strip sack in the 4th quarter by Hunter. Aikman loved how the Vikings moved their ends to the interior because not only is it a look Aikman hasn’t seen from the Vikings this year, but also because Brees struggles with interior pressure due to his 6’ even height.
- Enough heft for the football aficionado? Buck and Aikman provided a pertinent overview of how the Vikings defensive effectively stopped WR Michael Thomas in the first half when he only had two catches. Aikman says he was double covered but never elaborated on what type of double coverage. Was it a type of bracket coverage, man with a safety over the top or a zone coverage method? It clearly worked because even though there is no shutting down a receiver who set the single season reception record and led the league in receiving yards, the Vikings were able to contain him to seven catches for seventy yards. (I might be a bit picky. Most general viewers might not have had an interest in great technical elaboration.)
- The Saints key trio. Buck and Aikman didn’t detail how the Vikings shut down an elite running back, Alvin Kamara. Yet the voices did let the audience know that the trio of Thomas, Kamara, and tight end Jared Cook are what make the Saints offense go. These three didn’t have big games which is why the Saints only scored 20 points.
- Buck and Aikman summarize nicely. Joe let the audience know that the Saints offense has been on a tear. He did so as a graphic reinforced the point, showing that the Saints averaged 40 points per game in December, tied for fourth most in NFL history. Aikman believes the Vikings defense prevailed because their coverage bottled up Kamara. He added that not allowing big plays other than the Taysom Hill pass was another key.
- Underscoring coaching. The strength of the Vikings offense is their running game led by Dalvin Cook. Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer credits former Broncos head coach, Gary Kubiak, now on the Vikes staff. The broadcasters elaborate. Buck lays out Kubiak’s resume and Aikman explains why Gary’s work with the Vikings offense has paid off tremendously on the ground.
- Aikman on Diggs’ behavior. Fox shows a frustrated WR Stefon Diggs slamming his helmet on the sideline in frustration for not being targeted. Aikman says such behavior adds pressure on a QB. It is “the last thing a QB needs in a game like this.” Until Diggs caught his first pass, he was wildly emotional on the field and Aikman believed someone needed to reel him in.
- Immediate praise for Kirk Cousins. Troy Aikman emotes rarely and doesn’t often rush to judgment. When Cousins connected with WR, Adam Thielen on a huge reception late, setting up first and goal for the winning score, Aikman immediately deemed it the “best throw of his career.” He added that it could expunge all the criticism of him as not being a big time player.
- Buck and Aikman disagree amicably. The voices, Aikman and Buck, disagreed on how the Saints managed the clock late. With 21 seconds remaining, the Saints could have taken a ten second run off or a timeout. They took the run off. Aikman agreed with the Saints decision. Buck did not. I liked the fact that two shared differing opinions.
- Awkward moment Troy Aikman and Rules expert Mike Pereira suggested that the game winning catch by Kyle Rudolph should have been reviewed. The replay confirmed a push of sorts that created separation from defender P. J. Williams. Just as they were speculating, Joe Buck had to jump in and end the dialogue of the other two, telling viewers that it won’t be reviewed. Game over.
- Post-Game inanity: Howie Long. In the studio, Howie Long was first and added nothing, essentially repeating what Aikman said about Cousins.
Editor: Columnist Richard Podolsky added a note about the wildcard weekend:
Best line of the weekend: When a woman reporter in the post-game asked Bill Belichick what he has to say to Patriot Nation, “after they stood behind the team through thick and thin.” Said Belichick: “There hasn’t been a lot of thin.”