Poor judgment on McGahee replays aside, CBS delivers quality telecast

ON MEDIA

January 19, 2009|By RAY FRAGER | RAY FRAGER,ray.frager@baltsun.com

With about 3 1/2 minutes left in the Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers game last night, we saw the dark side of all the rollicking buildup about how these two teams were just going to flail away at each other.

Ravens running back Willis McGahee lay motionless on the field, having been nailed on a brutal hit by Steelers safety Ryan Clark. As McGahee was surrounded by medical personnel, the pictures went from player to player, many with heads bowed in prayer.

And we saw, again and again, Clark's hit on McGahee. Too many times. With the Raven still down on the field, the extent of his injury unclear, it was not the time to show us his head snapping back in "Super Vision."

It's all a matter of context, because technically those were compelling pictures. But sometimes you have to pull back. One more look would have been plenty.

Before that lapse in judgment, however, CBS had produced a terrific telecast.

Unlike the previous Ravens game, when the network's production of the divisional-round contest in Tennessee was curiously subpar, last night's AFC title showdown, from a technical standpoint, was up to championship standards.

The network had lots of terrific looks from multiple angles and every relevant replay. (How often do you see replays showing a running back picking up as many blitzers as McGahee did?)

However, several key points were raised but not explained fully - or not even raised - by the announcing team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms.

When the Ravens uncharacteristically kept trying to pass in the first half instead of running, Simms offered a few variations of what he said in the first quarter: "The Steelers are daring the Ravens to run the football."

Fine, but how exactly? We didn't hear a further explanation. And if the Ravens were being dared, why weren't they taking the dare?

And speaking of running, it was McGahee, not Ravens mainstay Le'Ron McClain, who was in the backfield most of the game. For the most part, we didn't hear the switch remarked upon, much less get possible reasons.

Also, until Terrell Suggs picked up a couple of sacks in the second half, his name didn't come up. Suggs was coming off an injury in the game before, and his health was a major issue. We should have heard how much he was playing and how he was performing.

Early on, Simms said both teams had offensive "wrinkles" they were going to bring out for the game. Except for a Washington Redskins-esque counter trey by the Steelers that didn't work, we heard nothing more about wrinkles.

That's not to say Simms didn't make other salient points - because he always does. In particular, he talked about how both offenses were trying to keep away from the stellar safeties - the Ravens' Ed Reed and the Steelers' Troy Polamalu. Simms' commentary meshed well with a replay in the first half, showing how Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco looked off Polamalu to one side of the field before delivering a long pass - though incomplete - to the other.

A few other notes from CBS' coverage:

* Nice line by Nantz in the pre-game, even if he might have come up with it long before going on the air: "The temperature is in the 20s, the wind chill is in the teens, the intensity is in the 100s."

* Did you read the keys to the game as listed on Bill Cowher's chalkboard during the pre-game show? "Handling ebb and flow," "turnovers and big plays," "being physical." And in what football game are those things not important?

* One of my favorite things about CBS' coverage of the NFL is what the network doesn't do: use sideline reporters, who generally contribute little but to interrupt the flow between the men in the booth. Except yesterday. For whatever reason, CBS put Steve Tasker on the sideline. We should be thankful, however, that he didn't make many appearances.

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