Ravens on CBS: Even mediocre NFL TV is OK

Baltimore Sun reporter

From the Z on TV blog:

Let's start from a fact on which we can all agree: Don Criqui and Steve Beuerlein are not going to be mistaken for any network or cable channel's A-Team when it comes to NFL broadcasts.

And yet, their performance in CBS's coverage of the Baltimore Ravens victory over the Cleveland Browns Sunday proves a new truth: Pro football on TV has so matured in recent years that almost every telecast is pretty good unless an announcer or analyst is really having a bad day and becomes an all-out distraction.

That didn't happen Sunday. The only thing about the entire telecast, in fact, that warranted a viewer getting rightfully upset involved CBS being greedy with its network prime-time promos and showing yet another one for "Undercover Boss" instead of providing viewers a first down play by the Ravens.

Clipping game coverage for promos is a big-time no-no, and it tells you how fat the networks and cable channels are getting with ads this season as TV ratings soar.

The biggest problem with the broadcasting team through the first three quarters is that they were so locked in on their big story line that they all but ignored other developing and unexpected narratives.

Their big story line about whether or not Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco would bounce back after last week's wretched performance proved to be the most important one, so all was right in the end.

But because of their overly intense focus on that, the two were late in appreciating the surprise rushing performance by Browns running back Peyton Hillis -- and his outstanding effort looked like it might spell defeat for the Ravens until late in the game. He delivered the kind of performance they expected from the Ravens Ray Rice.

But give Beuerlein credit, he was prepared. He clearly did his howework, and was, for example, all over that wildcat offense the Browns used on one key play. He called it out before the Browns had even clearly set up in it, and he knew when they had used it before.

Things I liked about the broadcast all involved the whole CBS team doing its home work. The producers consistently had statistics skillfully packaged to make clear points on passing, rushing and receiving comparisons between the two teams. When Michael Oher threw an open-handed punch and was penalized, the producers had a package ready to roll that showed the history of "bad blood" between the two teams.

The producers did try different things to make the broadcast team more appealing. At one point, they turned the cameras on Criqui and Beuerlein to let the former quarterback showing his play-by-play partner what it meant to be "open" in the NFL, versus in high school and college.

In each case, Beuerlein stood closer and closer to Criqui until he was right on top of him, and said, "In the NFL, this is open." The point: You rarely see your wide receivers with a lot of space between them and the defenders. The same point could have been made without the cameras on the guys in the booth.

In fact, at the level of broadcast teams that we had Sunday, the guys in the booth are really becoming less and less important as production values and camera work geared to HD take over. The graphics told me all I needed to know about factually who was doing what -- yards, rushing, passing and receiving. And the cameras generally showed me all the angles.

More visuals -- less emphasis on anchor booth talk. TV football for the Internet era.

I think I'm liking the NFL on CBS better this way. Maybe next week, I will go all the way without sound as some readers have suggested and see how it plays.

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