This is what Fox Sports pays Brian Billick to do -- and he does it as well as anyone in any TV booth on the NFL.
Near the end of the third quarter with momentum back on their side, the Ravens were driving down the field, and they were doing it by throwing to Anquan Boldin down the sideline at will.
As the Ravens quickly lined up in their no-huddle offense after another completion to Boldin, Billick said what the Cardinals needed to do immediately was switch rookie cornerback Patrick Peterson into man-on-man coverage on Boldin -- no matter where the Ravens receiver lined up on the field.
No sooner were the words out of Billick's mouth, when you saw Peterson pointing to Boldin as he shifted over into just that kind of man coverage.
And it worked for the next play with the talented rookie breaking up an end zone pass to Boldin -- even though he would be called for interference on Boldin two plays later in the end zone.
Anticipation, that's what separates Billick from most of the other analysts. He sawv the shift in coverage that needed to be made at they same time as the Arizona sideline did, and he let viewers know. That is just the kind of thing that makes for a richer and more engaged viewing experience for fans.
Heck, I'm just happy with most analysts for paying attention and bringing a little insight by way explanation after a play unfolds or a recurring patterm of action is established. But Billick, as he explains what's happening, also anticipates what the coaches will do and shares that with viewers.
Yes, there are other coaches in other booths who do it, but none does it quite as well as Billick now that he has settled down and quit trying to prove he is the smartest guy in the NFL -- or on TV.
Is he wrong sometimes? Absolutely.
As the Ravens came out for the last game-winning drive, Billick predicted that they would abandon the shotgun and the spread-out offense that they had ridden to such great success in the second half and go "conventional." The idea was that the Ravens were on the Cardinals side of the field and they would play only to get into field-goal range for a game-ending kick.
But Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and coach John Harbaugh had a better idea, which is maybe why they are coaching and Billick is working for Fox Sports: They stayed in the shotgun with the receivers spread, and quarterback Joe Flacco hit Torrey Smith inside the 10 to make the game-winning kick in a 30-27 victory a chip shot of a field goal.
To his credit, as soon as the Ravens were set, Billick said, "Oh, I'm wrong. They're still in the gun. I thought they'd go conventional."
I say "to his credit," because while he had to say something about them being in the offense he just said they wouldn't be in, he didn't have to say, "I'm wrong." Billick is one of those guys to whom those words don't come easy. Up until last year, I think, he was still defending the choice of Elvis Grbac as the Ravens quarterback. (OK, I admit bring up Elvis wasn't the nicest thing I did today.)
But that really was a revealing moment with Billick, because that is exactly the way he would have played it as coach: going "conventional," protecting the ball and just trying to get into field goal range.
Hey, he brought home a Super Bowl to Baltimore, so who's complaining? But, I think, almost everyone in town wants the Ravens to take the kind of shot down the field they took in that last drive -- and not play it safe.
Billick still has some smaller failings as an analyst like the use of quasi-military, coach's talk with phrases like "maintaining gap integrity." But there is a lot less of it than there used to be with him. And he needs to vary his pet phrases a little; I counted him saying one team or the other "dodged a bullet" five times.
But that's minor baggage compared to the way at his best that he takes you not just inside the action on the field, but inside the coach's mind -- ahead of the action on the field.
As to the rest of the Fox broadcast, let's just say it was mixed.
I loved that the director had the Fox cameras follow Terrell Suggs to the sidelines after he forced an interception by hitting quarterback Kevin Kolb's arm. It was a big moment, and the hand-held cameras ran alongside an andrenaline-juiced Suggs as he raced right past the Ravens bench and up to the stands and slapped hands with fan after fan in the first row. It was a savvy director's call to leave the field, the benches and Kolb to follow Suggs.
On the other hand, Sam Rosen wasn't having one of his best days.
For example, with 4:44 left in the third quarter, he told us after a failed third down try by the Ravens that it was "the first three-and-out of the game for either team."
But it wasn't. The Ravens, at least, had one early in the game, and Billick had commented on it.
"That was the issue last Sunday against Jacksonville," he said. "They [the Ravens] had nine three-and-outs. It's disappointing not to get that first one here."
Not only is it disappointing that Rosen wasn't listening to Billick, apparently no one on the production team was neither, because Rosen never corrected his mistake.
It is the kind of error that makes you wonder how many of the statistics Rosen peppers his play-by-play with are incorrect.
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