By David Zurawik
The Baltimore Sun
At least they brought some energy to the Ravens telecast. Give Bill Macatee and Steve Tasker that Sunday.
It could have been worse – much worse. CBS Sports could have used Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf to cover Sunday's game in the rain in Cleveland against the Browns. And I would have been asleep five minutes into the first quarter.
Some intensity from a CBS broadcast team in the booth was nice for a change.
But let's not get carried away. It was still another sloppy, lazy telecast with little co-ordination between the team in the broadcast booth and the crew in the production truck.
And the more I watch the Ravens on CBS Sports, the more I wonder why no one in management is kicking these NFL producers and broadcast teams in the butt and telling them mediocre is not good enough. It's a privilege to cover the NFL – especially in a media environment in which jobs are disappearing every day – so why aren't the folks at CBS Sports motivated enough to try and be as good as NBC on Sunday nights or the NFL Network on Thursdays? Really, come on.
I grew up in Wisconsin in the 1960s watching Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers on CBS. As I type these words, I can still hear Ray Scott's voice in my ear. Because of that history and the mystic chords of Sunday-afternoon NFL-football memory still inside my head, I come to the tube pre-disposed to love CBS Sports coverage. All the crew has to do is show a little competence, energy and commitment.
Instead, what I see before the game even starts is play-by-play announcer Macatee talking about "coach John Harbaugh over on the Ravens sideline," as the camera shows us Cleveland Browns coach Pat Schurmur standing on the opposite sideline looking on. And while you would think the producer or director (or someone in the bloody truck) would notice and instantly cut to the correct sideline and shot of Harbaugh, no, no, no, no, no -- the camera just sits there.
Earth to production truck, is anyone awake in there?
It happened again in the third quarter. Tasker, the analyst, was explaining that the Browns were playing without Scott Fujita on defense. As he explained that "number 56," Maiaiva Kaluka, was "starting in his place," the camera showed viewers Titus Brown, number 59.
Keeping the cameras, and thus, what viewers see, in synch with the words of the play-by-play announcer and analyst is TV Sports Production 101. It is as basic as it gets, and CBS Sports gets it wrong way too often.
And there is no excuse for Tasker telling viewers that Billy Cundiff kicked a "field goal" that "nicked off" the upright and went "through" for three points – when it was actually an extra point that hit the right upright and went through. All he had to do was look at the score at the time, which showed the Ravens with seven points in the game that they would ultimately win in a walk 24-10.
And again, I heard no correction. Usually, someone in the truck corrects the announcer instantly – who then corrects himself or herself on air.
What is really maddening is the lack of enterprise and original research from these broadcasters. Just like Gumbel and Dierdorf, the only kind of backstage or inside information that Macatee and Tasker shared with viewers Sunday came from the coaches or the players. Is it in the contract between CBS and the league that announcers can only get and use information from the teams?
I hear announcers on other networks and cable channels talking about pieces they read in newspapers or online. The best announcers constantly cite articles, items, blogs, tweets and Facebook postings from a variety of player and pundit print, video and online venues.
But never on Sunday on CBS. It's always, "Coach Harbaugh told us last night that he thought …" Or, "Coach Schurmur said to watch for…."
Really guys, there is no need to let the NFL own your brains and voices. Honest. The network won't lose broadcast rights just because you did some honest-to-god homework and found some information that wasn't offered and vetted through the league, a coach or a team spokesperson.
In honor of the CBS Sports that I grew up with, I am going to try and find something nice to say before I end this review.
The best thing Macatee did all day was keep viewers up to date on the mounting yardage total for Ray Rice. That is the kind of thing that is appreciated by viewers, especially when it seems as if the runner might be approaching a personal best. I appreciated it.
The best thing Tasker did? Well, there was the energy in the opening when he seemed like he was really interested in the game that was about to start – unlike Dierdorf who just can't seem to get it up for any game with the Ravens this year.
Yeah, maybe I should end it right there – and just be grateful that it wasn't Gumbel and Dierdorf.