By David Zurawik
The Baltimore Sun
6:56 PM EST, January 15, 2012
Once you got past the pre-game show and the outrageous attempt by CBS Sports to use the telecast to try to rehabilitate the reputation of Detroit Lions stomper Ndamukong Suh, TV coverage of the Baltimore Ravens 20-13 victory over the Houston Texans wasn’t too bad at all Sunday.
More in a minute on the maddening decision by CBS to bring Suh into the studio. But first the game – a happier topic.
Just as some players and teams do, the CBS Sports crew covering the Ravens clearly raised its game to a new level for the playoffs. Thank goodness for that.
I’m not talking so much about the guys in the booth, play-by-play man Greg Gumbel and analyst Dan Dierdorf. Though I will say that both started, at least, at a higher energy level than usual. And for the most part, Gumbel maintained it. (Hey, it’s a long game.)
My praise is for the production and direction of the coverage from producer Mark Wolff and director Bob Fishman. I did not see one missed shot during the entire game. The cameras gave me every big play – and they usually did it from more than one angle, so that when the play was challenged, or there was a questionable call, I had extra angles in replay from which to judge. I cannot remember the last time that happened this year on CBS.
And the replays usually had a larger point to make. For example, in the 2nd quarter, Texans quarterback T.J. Yates scrambled out of the pocket on a key third down play. For a moment, it looked as if he might be able to run for the first down, but middle linebacker Ray Lewis who had been back in middle-of-the-field pass coverage closed so quickly on Yates that the rookie quarterback had to run out of bounds before getting the first down.
The replay gave viewers the perfect wide angle so that you could see the large amount of ground that Lewis covered – and the burst he used at the end to close on a guy at least 12 years younger. After seeing some of the Cincinnati Bengals receivers run past Lewis in the season finale, I honestly didn’t think he still had it in him. It was one of several impressive physical plays by Lewis that the CBS cameras captured and the producers gave us in replay.
Even Dierdorf couldn’t miss this one.
“The old man can still cover some ground,” he said as the replay was shown.
Personally, I think it warranted more in-depth and thoughtful commentary, but at least it was not overlooked by the CBS analyst. Though that’s kind of hard to do when the producer is running a replay that makes the very point visually.
I don’t want to pound on Dierdorf, but I have to say if it had been NBC’s Cris Collinsworth or Phil Simms, the first-string CBS analyst, in the booth, I can’t help but think they would have been going nuts DURING the play about the effort and execution by Lewis.
To his credit, Gumbel had already raised the issue of all the talk in Baltimore last week about whether or not Lewis and Ed Reed, who sealed the deal with an interception Sunday, were over the hill.
As Gumbel somewhat delicately put it, “The opinion was raised in Baltimore that Ray Lewis and Ed Reed might be past their prime.”
The outstanding performances of the two aging Ravens superstars certainly made it an important topic for the CBS announcers to discuss in some depth, since viewers elsewhere in the country might be unaware of the controversy.
The booth’s best moment came with 11:04 left in the third quarter, when Texans defensive end J.J. Watt stuffed a run, and CBS showed it in replay. Dierdorf offered an excellent explanation that was in perfect synch with the video of the way Watt “kept his shoulders squared” with the line of scrimmage as he fought off a block.
And just as the Dierdorf and Gumbel were singing Watt’s praises, he broke through on the very next play for yet another sack of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.
“He just whiffed Marshall Yanda on an inside move,” Dieredorf explained on the replay.
Personally, I think Yanda is the one who “whiffed,” but let’s not get picky.
Gumbel gave some context to Watt’s effort by describing Yanda as an “all pro.”
So, yes, better effort in the booth, but I have to say this: At the end of the game when it was still up for grabs, Dierdorf sounded like the Sominex had started to kick in. And it was maddening, especially if you were rooting for the team that won like I was – and wanted the telecast you were watching to somehow reflect or speak to that excitement.
My recollection is that when Dierdorf was in the NFL, he didn’t stop playing in the fourth quarter and start to drift. I wish someone would tell him viewers deserve the same kind of full-game effort from the guys in the booth. The NFL announcing job isn’t a scholarship for life – a reward for your performance on the field. You are supposed to earn it in the booth, too, if you have any respect for the fans who are watching.
Which brings me to CBS and its decision to bring on Mr. Suh, a guy who was suspended two games for viciously kicking a prone opponent after the whistle blew.
What did they bring him on for in Sunday's pre-game show? So that he could deliver self-serving, public-relations-coached spin-talk about his “growth” as a “young man," I guess.
I am going to write at length on this at my blog, Z on TV, this week. But let me just say here that it made me want to gag to hear Shannon Sharpe say to Suh, “It’s honorable for you to come here.”
“Honorable” to come on a TV show and sit next to show host James Brown so he could walk you through a charade of character rehabilitation and NFL PR hype? This is, by the way, the same thing Brown did a few years ago on the CBS airwaves for Michael Vick, the convicted dog killing quarterback.
Next week should be better. Despite being a relatively small market, Baltimore will get the first team from CBS of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms calling the game.
Here’s a plea to CBS Sports not to mess with Baltimore’s enjoyment of its telecast by bringing on characters like Suh and insulting our intelligence with talk of honor.
Honorable is going to a place like Afghanistan and defending your country – not coming on a pre-game show and talking image-consultant PR babble.
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