Ravens TV: CBS fails to raise its game to playoffs level

From the Z on TV blog:

Watching NBC's coverage of two terrific Wild Card games Saturday, I was deeply impressed by the way the network raised its coverage game to match the on-field intensity of the playoffs.

Not so with CBS Sports and its coverage of the Baltimore Ravens blowout win over the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday.

The pre-game show was so flat I switched to the NFL Network, and its warm-up show was fantastic, particularly the performance of Warren Sapp. It was high energy, fun and absolutely on the money in terms of focusing my attention as a viewer on something to watch for in the game: the psychological intimidation factor of Ray Lewis on the young Chiefs offense.

The NFL Network's pre-game show featured Lewis in its "Sound FX" segment with the 15-year veteran screaming at some of his opponents that "this is a man's game," and they should "get off the field" because they are not "man enough" to be on the same field with the Ravens.

That kind of intimidation clearly took its toll on the Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel, but that is exactly the story line that CBS announcers Phil Simms and Jim Nantz never articulated Sunday. They never focused on how poorly Cassel played and how literally frightened he seemed of the Ravens ferocious defense. Cassel clearly had Lewis in his ear -- and in his head -- by the end of the first quarter. And that was the ballgame as far as the Chiefs wretched offensive performance after the home team's first and only touchdown.

Simms, Nantz and CBS Sports, in general, never call anyone out on the field during the games. But in avoiding the negative that way, they give lie to what viewers are seeing with their own eyes. If you are going to provide analysis, don't pull punches. Give honest analysis. I am old enough to have reviewed the work of Howard Cosell on ABC's old "Monday Night Football," and say what you will about him, he did tell it "like it is" most of the time, and in so doing brought an integrity to the booth missing in the work of Nantz amd Simms.

I wasn't going to go off on the duo this way. And I have said nice things about them in the past. But in the third quarter after throwing an interception in his own territory, Cassel walked off the field looking like a scared college kid.

The folks in the CBS truck clearly knew what was going on, because they went to a couple of shots of him on the sideline with his helmet off looking alternately bewildered or about to cry. But I heard Simms and Nantz say nothing about the way the Ravens defense took Cassel psychologically out of the game.

Can I say something good about Sunday's coverage? Yes, the cameras work for most of the game was terrific.

I loved the shot viewers were given of the first fumble by Joe Flacco when he mishandled a snap in the first quarter. The close-up showed his fingers closing as the center lifted the ball into them. You could not get closer to the action than that.

And I adored the overhead replay shot of the first quarter goal line stand by Kansas City. The overhead absolutely showed where the line buckled and how the stop was made.

On the other hand, there was a play in the second half involving Michael Oher sustaining a block for a long time as Flacco scrambled. The Chiefs wanted a holding call, but Simms said it was simply a great bit of blocking by Oher. The producers did give us a replay, but Oher was out of the camera's range for most of it, and we could never tell if it was a hold or a great bit of tenacity on the part of Oher.

Probably the best moment of coverage came at the end of the entire production when the CBS cameras took us into the Ravens locker room after the game. Viewers got to share some of the emotion involved in the awarding of the game ball to Ed Reed and Reed's family. The All-Pro safety's brother went missing Friday.

Taking us inside that locker room to witness that moment almost made up for what was missing during the game in terms of analysis by Simms in the booth. But being there was mainly a matter of access, not enterprise, imagination or initiative. And CBS could have used more of all three during the game.