By David Zurawik
The Baltimore Sun
9:35 PM EST, November 3, 2013
Watching the Ravens lose to mediocre teams is hard enough to bear. But watching it happen with a third-string broadcast team from CBS calling the game is cruel and unusual punishment.
That was the story again Sunday in the Ravens' 24-18 loss to the Cleveland Browns with Kevin Harlan (play-by-play announcer) and Solomon Wilcots (analyst) calling the game.
There’s no point in beating up on Harlan and Wilcots for the same sins I have regularly catalogued by other CBS announcing teams. Harlan communicated absolutely no sense of the rhythm of the game or the feel in the stadium as momentum shifted. Wilcots took me not one inch inside the success or failure of either team. He was "act-like-you-know" bluster from beginning to end.
But the problems with CBS go deeper than just second-rate announcing and analysis. CBS does not give folks like Wilcots and Harlan the resources they need to excel. If CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus were a coach, we’d say he’s not putting his players in a position to succeed.
I should not have to go to social media during a game to get an in-stadium sense of what’s happening on the field and sidelines when a network is broadcasting the game with more than a dozen cameras.
But that’s what happened Sunday.
For example, CBS told me nothing in the first half about the mounting frustration on the Ravens sideline. The only indication I got of that came on Twitter from the Jeff Zrebiec, one of The Baltimore Sun’s reporters in Cleveland.
“Frustration is mounting on #Ravens sideline,” he tweeted. “Guys coming to sideline yelling. Not a good look.”
That’s big in-game news after a bye week of planning and promises of the team having successfully regrouped. That’s also the stuff of drama in the NFL: guys coming off the field yelling and screaming.
Why couldn’t CBS have one of their cameras show us that? Why couldn’t Harlan or Wilcots report that as Zrebiec did?
Could it be because CBS has no sideline reporter down there to see it? But how crazy is that with all the people on a crew telecasting an NFL game -- and all the money the network makes with its overload of ads and promotional spots?
I would love to see who’s yelling as they come off the field and at whom they are yelling. And if anyone is yelling back or hanging their heads like whipped dogs.
Honest to God, I got more important information and better sense of the momentum swings in the game from the tweets of Zrebiec and his Sun colleague Matt Vensel on my iPhone on Sunday than I did anything CBS gave me on the TV screen. And that’s an outrageous failure on the part of CBS, which has turned its NFL coverage into an obnoxious hype machine for its prime-time series and ancillary products like Fantasy Football apps.
Zrebiec also told me late in the second half that the Ravens were hurting in the secondary during a key Browns drive.
“Ravens banged up in secondary,” he tweeted. “No sign of Jimmy Smith, and Matt Elam just went out hurt. Elam coming back in however.”
“Not sure what’s up with Jimmy Smith. Chykie Brown in at right corner,” Vensel tweeted.
Real time tweets from Sun reporters, but nothing about the injury-related substitutions in the secondary from the guys in the booth, who instead told me multiple times during the game about the blah-blah-blah John Harbaugh told them in their NFL-CBS-contracted interview Saturday night.
I don’t want to hear Harbaugh’s PR spin during the game unless you are willing to compare and contrast his words with how his team is actually doing on the field -- and it’s mostly contrast this year.
Zrebiec and Vensel offered a steady corrective to the misinformation from Wilcots.
In the fourth quarter when Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith went down hard, Wilcots told viewers he landed on the ball and had the wind knocked out of him. He made it sound like a relatively minor matter.
But Zrebiec reported, “Torrey Smith went down hard on his shoulder. Went to sideline and went right to ground.”
Again, a 140-character word picture that the CBS cameras and the director should have given us.
My favorite Wilcots "act-like-you-know" moment came with 2:23 left in the third quarter when the Ravens were faced with a fourth-and-1.
Harlan asked his analyst, “what do you do here?”
Wilcots said confidently: “I think you’ve got go for it. You’ve got to put some points on the board. You’ve got to believe your offense is good enough to convert the fourth-and-1 opportunity. They talked about the two days in which they had a tough practice ... It looks like they’re going to punt it.”
Yes, as Wilcots was saying you have to go for it and starting into another bit of “inside” information about practice sessions that Harbaugh shared with the CBS crew, Ravens punter Sam Koch was already standing on the field. The analyst stopped talking just as the ball was being snapped.
No thanks, Solomon. I’ll take the two guys with laptops who kicked network butt all day on Twitter.
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