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David Zurawik

Watching the Ravens on CBS is a lot easier to take this year

One of the happier and more unexpected stories of the Ravens' season has been the improvement in the CBS telecasts of the games.

Last week, the network's second string team of Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts and Jenny Dell turned in a perfectly solid performance, and the same goes for this week's effort by Andrew Catalon, Steve Tasker, Steve Beuerlein and Chris Fischer in a 28-13 Ravens win.

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I don't even know what string they are, but it doesn't matter because they did good work. After complaining endlessly last season about Sean McManus dissing Baltimore viewers with what I considered cut-rate staffing of Ravens games, I have to admit he's treating viewers here probably better than we deserve given the economics of the business.

Not many markets outside of Baltimore and Miami carried the Ravens-Dolphins game. Heck, I probably would have been watching the Pittsburgh Steelers-Cincinnati Bengals game if I hadn't been reviewing the Ravens.

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And, yet, we got a crew with three decent professionals in the booth, plus a sideline reporter. Just before the start of the season, McManus told me he was considering a plan that would allow him to add sideline reporters to lower-tier, regional telecasts without breaking the bank. The plan: pick up hometown reporters from CBS-affiliated and owned stations in the regions where the games are played on a week-by-week basis.

That's what it appears CBS Sports did with Fischer, who works for WTSP-TV, a CBS affiliate in Tampa, according to the station's website.
Baltimore social media was the first to report that Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith "looked stiff" in warmups and might not be up to playing the role of go-to receiver Sunday. I'm not sure Fischer ever reported that.

But how could a Florida sports reporter be that plugged into the nuances of Ravens warmups? And he did show hustle in not letting Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin get to the locker room at halftime without first doing a fast interview.

Catalon won me over with 5:36 left in the first quarter right after Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill stepped toward the line of scrimmage and threw a hard arm fake down the middle of the field before dumping off a short pass for seven yards to a receiver on his left.

"OK, Bee Sting, you're a quarterback, let me ask you a question," Tasker said to Beuerlein. "How much does that pump fake help, man? You see it, and it's amazing more quarterbacks don't use it."

"Anything you can do to influence the defense creates more space for where you want to go with the football," Beuerlein replied. "But you gotta be convincing, because it throws your timing off."

Another play was run, but I was totally stuck on "Bee Sting," which I thought I heard as "Beasty" or something.

Immediately after the play, Catalon came to the rescue with, "You did say Bee Sting. We should probably explain that."

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And that's just what Catalon did, telling viewers that Beuerlein was stung by a bee in Buffalo, and they have been calling him Bee Sting since.

Tasker semi-apologized for lapsing into the ex-jock locker room talk and possibly confusing viewers instead of helping them understand the game.

"I guess I should have gotten out of the locker room vernacular there," Tasker said.

It's not a big deal, except that it so perfectly shows one of the greatest areas of improvement this season on CBS: Ex-players no longer acting in the booth like their personal lives matter and their years in the NFL entitled them to a scholarship for life as broadcasters where they sit around and tell old game stories instead of serving the fans. Telling the same stories over and over and over.

Fouts was one of the worst, and somehow even he got the memo this year to turn his brain on and start earning his salary every week in the booth by broadcasting for the fans instead of his cronies.

The minute Tasker lapsed into that old-time CBS mode with the Bee Sting jargon, Catalon gently corrected him and brought the focus back to helping fans understand the game.

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Nice work.


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