By David Zurawik
The Baltimore Sun
5:56 PM EST, December 11, 2011
I intended to be nice to CBS sportscasters Bill Macatee and Steve Tasker. I really did.
And I held that resolve through the first half and most of the third quarter of the Ravens' 24-10 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.
But then with about 20 seconds left in the third quarter and the Ravens facing a 3rd-and-11, Tasker offered this bit of splendid analysis as Baltimore huddled: “It looks like the Ravens are taking their foot off the gas a little bit.”
Wrong. So, so wrong.
The next play was a 26-yard pass to Anquan Boldin over the middle. The play after that was an end-around with Torrey Smith that was good for another first down. The drive ended with quarterback Joe Flacco getting intercepted in the end zone when he tried to hit Boldin on another long pass.
There was nothing about any of those plays that said the Ravens were “taking their foot off the gas a little bit.” In fact, each said the very opposite.
This was our second week in a row with Macatee on play-by-play and Tasker as analyst. Again, to their credit, they didn't totally lie down and go to sleep in a game that was never in doubt. Give them credit for that.
And give the folks in the production truck credit for generally matching up the images they showed with the words that Tasker and Macatee were saying — something that didn't always happen last week when the Ravens beat the Browns in another dominating performance.
But the wrongheaded remark about the Ravens letting up indicates what a generally poor feel Tasker has for the rhythm of a game and the mental chess matches going on among the coaches and co-coordinators on opposite sides of the field. And that's why he rarely, if ever, makes an on-the-money prediction alerting viewers to look for something that is about to happen.
Think Brian Billick and the kind of predictive analysis he offered during Fox Sports' coverage of the Ravens and the Arizona Cardinals earlier this year.
I remember a sequence of plays in which Boldin was tearing up the Cardinals secondary. Billick explained that there was only one defensive back on the team that had the physical skills to match up with Boldin — rookie cornerback Patrick Peterson.
As the Ravens came up over the ball in the midst of a blitzkrieg-like drive down the field, Billick said that the Cardinals coaches needed to put Peterson man-on-man with Boldin “no matter where Boldin lined up on the field.”
The words were hardly out of mouth of the former Ravens coach, and the switch was made. And Peterson promptly broke up a pass to Boldin on the very next play.
It's not impossible to offer that kind of play-by-play analysis. It's just that almost no one on CBS Sports does. Billick was feeling the rhythm of the give and take between the Cardinals defense and the Ravens offense, and he made his prediction just as he sensed the Cardinals sideline was feeling the same.
Maybe Tasker felt the CBS Sports crew letting up in its intensity when he made that remark about the “gas,” because that sure wasn't happening among the Ravens coaches or players — until the final defensive series of the game when the Ravens put some of their younger players on the field and the Colts managed to score a touchdown as time expired.
Overall, the production was slightly better than last week. But it continues to astound me that CBS Sports, which is supposed to be playing at the highest level of TV sports coverage, misses as many plays and images as it does.
With 11 minutes and 16 seconds left in the first half, for example, Flacco was almost intercepted by Antoine Bethea on a pass over the middle. Macatee said the ball went in and out of the Bethea's hands.
But all I saw was a shot of Flacco as he threw. The camera never allowed me to see beyond the line of scrimmage.
I did later see Bethea break up the pass on replay. But what kind of network coverage doesn't have the camera shot that viewers are seeing in real time focused on the flight of the ball out of the quarterback's hand? A network that is providing second-rate TV coverage.
And what about those commercials? I have never seen so many commercial breaks in my life. We were getting commercials after extra points and field goals, followed by a kickoff, and then more commercials before a new series of plays would start.
The most amazing thing is that we would be shown three or four commercials, and then come back to the game. But as we looked down on players standing around on the field, a voiceover would tell us the game is being brought to us by the same three or four sponsors whose ads we just saw. And then, Macatee would throw in another promotional message for a CBS show!
Maybe the network was trying to slow down the game so as not to get too far ahead of the 4 p.m. game schedule. Maybe its contract with the NFL dictates that.
But man, it was a new record for commercials and promotional messages for CBS shows. And watching that was certainly no fun.
Be of good cheer, TV Ravens fans. Next week, the Ravens are back on NBC. I can hardly wait.
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