NFL Announcer Power Rankings, Analysis: Week 3
SI.com has teamed with partner site FanSided.com to provide commentary on the NFL announcing crews each week. What follows is SI.com's power ranking of the Top Five -- each television outlet's top announcing team -- then analysis by FanSided writers on each of the other crews who called games last week (in no particular order). Feel free to use the comments section below to tell us about the announcers in the game or games you watched.
I've never bothered with any of those pop song intros to the prime-time football telecasts. I'm ready for some football, not vacuous entertainment. So when Hank Williams Jr. used to come on, it was time to turn the sound down. And I've continued that tradition. But on Sunday night I was busy with something else as the show got under way, so the theme song stayed on in the background. And I was surprised when I heard Carrie Underwood sing, "Al and Cris are the best on TV." Really? The broadcasters? The show is about them?
Well, in a way it is. Moments later, when it was time for Michaels and Collinsworth to sing, they were in tune. In setting up a game between teams moving in opposite directions, they deftly laid out the strengths and challenges for both. Michaels paints the big picture without a wasted brush stroke, and Collinsworth zeroes in on a detail about each team -- the same-page relationship between Chicago's new coach and feisty quarterback, Pittsburgh's added reliance on Ben Roethlisberger with no running game -- that will be easy for us to follow over the next three hours. Yeah, focusing on the quarterbacks is obvious. But there's no need to dig for something obscure when what's obvious is what matters.
Before the first quarter was over, Pittsburgh was down 17-0, and even more focus was on Roethlisberger, who'd already turned the ball over once. On a third-and-14, Ben completed a 41-yard pass, leading to a field goal to give the Steelers life. "Ben Roethlisberger," said Collinsworth, "at it again."
On Pittsburgh's next possession, though, Ben threw a pick-6, and it was 24-3. The game appeared to be slipping away, but Michaels and Collinworth kept us engaged until, near the end of the third, the Steelers pulled to within a touchdown. From there, the booth guys mostly let the rejuvenated game do the talking, although Collinsworth was cooing after Chicago's Jay Cutler lowered his shoulder to get past the stick on a third-down scramble midway through the fourth quarter in a four-point game. "Quarterbacks walk back in the room after that film session," he said. "Whole different level of respect."
Cutler was a bear on third down for the rest of the drive, completing a 41-yarder on third-and-12, then hitting Earl Bennett with a 27-yard TD pass to essentially put the game away with under six minutes left. The catch by Bennett -- dragging a toe in the back of the end zone, on a play initially ruled incomplete but overturned on replay -- really got Collinsworth jazzed. The former NFL wide receiver sounded genuinely entertained by the plays he'd seen all night in the passing game, saying, "It was a joy to watch."
A more competitive, dramatic game would have been far more of a joy. But Michaels and Collinsworth did their part in making this one watchable.
It's prime-time TV, just like NBC's and ESPN's NFL offerings, but the NFL Network's weekly game telecast aims at a narrower audience, with far less catering to casual viewers who might be interested in pomp and circumstance. Consider what Mayock had to say after Philadelphia's Michael Vick threw an interception on his second pass of the game. "I don't care how many years you've played in this league," said the analyst. "If you stare down your receiver like that, a veteran linebacker's going to jump it every time."
Stare down. Jump it. Not the most obscure jargon in football idiom, but Mayock felt no need to explain himself, and seldom does. That's OK by me. We're big boys and girls. We understand the game, and if something you say goes over our heads, Mike, we'll figure it out.
Also admirable was Mayock's response to the graphic that appeared on the screen after the Eagles had turned the ball over for a third time before the first quarter was over. The graphic was pretty simple: Philly had had two turnovers through its first two games, and three already on this night. "Brad, I'm not a huge stats guy," Mayock told his partner. "It's all about scoring points. But turnovers is what wins and loses games ultimately in this league."
Well, yeah. That's not MENSA-level insight, but it does boil down the game to its essence. This team always seems to take that as its mission more than the other night-shift crews, who are also about entertainment. Of course, over the span of a three-hour telecast, it can be nice to get more than just X-and-O lectures when a game gets out of hand. But this game needed no window dressing. Nessler told the story, Mayock offered perspective on sexy topics like offensive line and safety play, and we were into it until the end.
Oh, the story lines. Trent Richardson making his debut in the horseshoe helmet following Indianapolis' blockbuster trade. Aldon Smith in the San Francisco lineup despite a DUI arrest two days earlier. And, of course, the reunion of 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh with the quarterback he recruited to Stanford, Colts second-year man Andrew Luck. Nantz and Simms had something to say about all of that.
The Richardson angle came into play almost immediately, as the former Brown scored from short yardage on his first touch. Harbaugh vs. Luck was revisited throughout, though not so much from the strategic perspective that I'd have like to have heard Simms explore. I mean, Harbaugh should be well versed in Luck's strengths and weaknesses, no? But where Phil fell short was in talking about Smith's presence in the game. "The 49ers are going to be behind this," he said. "They're not going to sit back and hope it works out. They're going to be proactive." By allowing him to play, like on any other Sunday? Simms sounded like an apologist.
The booth guys also did some excuse-making for the San Francisco quarterback. While it was legitimate for them to remind us, again and again, that Colin Kaepernick was playing with a depleted receiving corps, they glossed over his own failings in missing open receivers. To this untrained eye, it appeared that Kaepernick was accurate in the pocket, but inaccurate practically every time he was on the run. Doesn't that lessen the threat presented by a mobile quarterback? What say you, analyst Simms?
To the credit of Nantz and Simms, though, they didn't allow prepackaged storytelling or preconceived notions get in the way of a game that unfolded in a surprising way. They acknowledged Ahmad Bradshaw, not Richardson, as the ball carrier of the day, and talked about how the 1-2 punch of the Colts running attack was beating the San Francisco defense. In the end, Nantz and Simms spoke of speed and physical play, things they probably were prepared to speak of with regard to the 49ers. But it was Indianapolis, on offense and defense, that carried the day. Said Simms, "So many things about the Colts impressed me today."
"I was here in 1998 as the head coach of the Raiders," Gruden gushed during the opening of the telecast, sounding all fired up by the "Oakland has no chance" we'd just heard on the pregame show (all nine on the ESPN panel picked the Broncos). And in an on-field interview with the Raiders' Charles Woodson, Lisa Salters began with, "Charles, not a whole lot of people outside of your own locker room are giving you guys a chance ..."
Now Gruden was here to tell us why we should bother to spend our Monday night watching this mismatch, and to do so he was digging into his bottomless bag of anecdotes from the old days. "We had a young quarterback by the name of Donald Hollas, going up against [John] Elway," he recalled. "And I gave our team several reasons why we should win this game."
Tirico: "What happened?"
Gruden: "We lost, 40-14."
Was this high comedy aimed at enticing us to watch? Now, I do respect that the broadcasters weren't trying to build the matchup into a playoff showdown. But the Raiders are an NFL team (now that Lane Kiffin isn't involved, anyway) and there are upsets every single week. So it seemed to me that this telecast was selling Oakland shorter than necessary when, less than five minutes into the game, Tirico somberly referred to the Raiders as "not an offense made to come from very far behind." The score at the time: 7-0.
Last time we were together, I characterized this duo as basically The Joe Show With Occasional Troy Cameos. Well, that hasn't changed, and I don't suspect it will. So we're left to judge Aikman's slim contribution on its merit. And this week he flipped his less-is-more modus operandi in an admirable moment of stream of consciousness.
It was early in the third quarter of a tight game, and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers had just thrown a third-down incompletion. But there was a flag. As the referee announced a roughing-the-passer call, a replay was showing and Aikman said, in an indignant tone, "That's an easy call to make. I mean, Reggie Nelson comes off the edge, he lowers his helmet ..."
By now, a second angle was being shown, and Aikman started to sound less sure of himself. Then we got a third glimpse, and Troy did an abrupt about-face. "You know, after you look at it ..." he started. "When I saw it live, I thought I saw what the referee saw: the lowering of the helmet, the crown of the helmet coming in on Rodgers. But you take a closer look at that in slow motion, you see that there really wasn't a lot there."
I liked this on so many levels. First, Aikman stayed with the analysis until he got it right. Second, he gave us a glimpse of the perspective of a game official. Third, and perhaps most refreshing for our enjoyment of the commentary, Troy acknowledged that what he thought he'd seen wasn't what actually happened. Too often a TV analyst digs in his heels and insists on perpetuating his narrative. Even if it's fiction.
How the other announcing crews performed
• Sam Rosen, Heath Evans, Molly McGrath, FOX
New Orleans 31, Arizona 7
Best moment: In the second quarter, the New Orleans Saints had just scored a touchdown on a pass to tight end Jimmy Graham and Heath Evans had the great observation of blaming the defensive coordinator for the overmatched Cards defense, rather than putting the onus on the players. Although Graham is a big guy, it is still the Arizona coordinator's job to ensure he has the best personnel covering him. Overall his second-quarter observations were spot on in a tight game. It was all downhill from there though.
If I had to give them a grade: C+
I thought Rosen did a fine job, although sometimes he does sound like he's yelling when he doesn't need to. Evans became quite the Saints fan during the second half. He rarely said anything positive about the Cards and although it really wasn't deserved most of the day, he spent the entire second half drooling over the Saints. Fans hate it when the broadcast team gushes too much over one team.
Molly McGrath, well, I'm trying to figure out why she was necessary? I understand the need to have a sideline reporter but what is the point if they don't actually, you know, report?
She didn't mispronounce anything or provide incorrect information, but she spent more time telling us stories than just reporting anything that was happening on the sidelines. When she did have something to report, she was 15 minutes late. Granted, if you didn't have access to the internet, Twitter, etc, sure maybe you didn't have the news she already had, but if you did, like so many of us do, then her news was old news by a lot. -- Scott Allen, Raising Zona
• Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, CBS
Tennessee 20, San Diego 17
Best moment: Philip Rivers was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct and Eagle asked Fouts if he had ever received a penalty like that. Fouts explained a time when his teammate fumbled the football and while players were fighting for the ball, Fouts saw an Oakland Raiders player and decided to spear him. He ran back to the bench after the penalty and was high-fived by all his teammates. Love stories like that.
Eagle is solid with the play-by-play and it is obvious he does his homework. He rarely flubs a player's name and always has handy and relevant stats at the ready for relevant situations.
Where they fell short: About the halfway point into the Chargers' desperation lateral attempts, Ian Eagle comments, "This would be a 'Reverse Music City Miracle.'" This makes no sense. Every Titans fan knows that a Reverse Music City Miracle would require a forward lateral. The Music City Miracle only includes backward laterals.
If I had to give them a grade: B+
Eagle and Fouts are the type of announcers that make you forget that they're calling the game. They're knowledgeable, use a little wit and rarely overreact to situations. They're the anti-Gus Johnsons. If you want announcers who go insane during every touchdown, find another duo. Eagle and Fouts were infinitely better than the duo who called the Week 3 Titans game (Kevin Harlan and Solomon Wilcots). -- Josh Huffman, Titan Sized and Ernie Padaon, Bolt Beat
• Thom Brennaman and Brian Billick, FOX
Carolina 38, New York Giants 0
Best moment: Billick's story about Eli Manning's first start in 2004, during his head coaching stint in Baltimore. Apparently, Billick went to then Ravens defensive coordinator, Rex Ryan, and asked him to ease off on Eli. His reasoning was he didn't want to have to call Archie Manning and tell him he was responsible for putting his son in the hospital.
Where they fell short: Early in the broadcast Billick explained that the protection for Eli began with rookie left tackle Justin Pugh, who would guard Eli's backside. Pugh plays right tackle for the Giants. The graphic shown on Fox was correct, but somehow Billick managed to get it wrong.
If I had to give them a grade: A-
I personally think it has become tough to be a play-by-play announcer for the NFL. With all the in-game commercials and promotions, it must be difficult to keep a good flow at times. In what became a completely unwatchable game by the middle of the third quarter, the crew did a nice job keeping the broadcast interesting when the game was anything but. For that reason alone I give them an A-. -- Joe Tufaro at G-MenHQ
• Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf, CBS
Baltimore 30, Houston 9
Best moment: "I don't think there is a lot of satisfaction over there on the Houston sideline. When you put together a drive like that, run that many plays and get that deep, and have to settle for a field goal ... that's a bittersweet experience." - Dan Dierdorf
That quote by Dierdorf, following the Texans' first drive of the game (16 plays, 69 yards and three points), perfectly summed up the entire day for Houston.
When Dierdorf described the field goal as a "bittersweet experience," he wasn't joking. That drive would be as good as it would get for Shaub and company. Houston's offense would never reach the end zone.
Where they fell short: There were times when Dierdorf went into "Captain Obvious mode." For instance, he spoke about how the Texans wanted to establish a running game to set up the passing game. It was as if he were doing his best John Madden impression. I kept waiting for him to exclaim that the team that scored the most points would win the game.
If I had to give them a grade: B+
I've never really sat and listened to Gumbel and Dierdorf before, but I felt this duo did an outstanding job. Gumbel was always updating the audience on statistics of players, whether a player was returning, and also gave good, informative injury reports.
Gumbel was a pure, professional announcer. He never seemed to be forcing it and avoided going the Gus Johnson route, raising his vocal quality just slightly in a crucial situations. There were no gimmicks with Gumbel, just pure professionalism, which I enjoy in a play-by-play man.
There were times when Dierdorf was a bit confusing or circled the wrong player, but overall he was informative in how he explained the technical parts of a play, or why a player did what he did.
Overall, I really enjoyed this duo. They aren't the flashiest team, but they did their job well and kept the game understandable for any level of football fan. -- Stephen Forsha at Toro Times
• Kevin Harlan, Solomon Wilcots, CBS
Cleveland 31, Minnesota 27
Best Moment: Aside from a few moments, this duo did not stand out, and there is something to be said for commentators who do not get in the way of the game. Harlan has gotten pretty good in that respect.
Where they fell short: Taiwan Gibson? Wilcots, who one would have to assume has been called Wilcox a handful of time, butchered Tashaun Gipson's name to the tune of Taiwan Gibson. Isn't name pronunciation the first thing they teach you in broadcasting school?
If I had to give them a grade: A-
I think arlan and Wilcots do a solid job. It helped that this game was competitive all the way through, with plenty of storylines to discuss. They were working a battle between two 0-2 teams, so tip of the hat to this team for not acting as if watching the game was a waste of the viewer's time.
Remarkably, Harlan has managed to become one of the better NFL commentators out there while simultaneously remaining utterly forgettable. Wilcots, in connection with his work at the NFL Network, is engaged enough to have some decent insight, while not being overly obnoxious or boring. -- Pete Smith at Dawg Pound Daily.
Best moment: Sometimes the best moments are when the broadcast team isn't talking football. In this case, both Albert and Johnston took a little time late into the Cowboys' blow-out win to poke fun at Siragusa's colorful apparel. The "Goose" was wearing a 1970's style black and grey patterned button up shirt with hot pink accents. After a good laugh was had by all, Johnston sarcastically praised Siragusa for "pushing the fashion envelope" and asked to switch shirts with him after the game.
Where they fell short: One of my pet peeves is when announcers get the name of a player wrong. Early into the game, Ram's punter Johnny Hekker threw an incomplete pass on a fake punt attempt. Johnston mistakenly thought Rams' kicker Greg Zuerlein had thrown the pass and referred to him as "The Leg." The Moose corrected his mistake later in the broadcast, but for me, it was the one black mark on what was essentially a flawless commentary by the trio.
If I had to give them a grade: A
Overall, this might just be the best trio in professional broadcasting. Kenny Albert, son of famed NBA broadcaster Marv Albert, proves the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. The younger Albert brings a certain class and professionalism as the perfect straight man alongside his two Super Bowl-winning cohorts. Johnston has a great overall knowledge of the game and fills the role of color commentator effortlessly. And Siragusa is more of an additional color commentator than a traditional sideline reporter. Together, this trio has learned how to seamlessly interact with one another to provide their audience with an in-depth and fun commentary you'd be hard pressed to find elsewhere. Their chemistry alone gets them an A in my book. -- Steven Mullenax, Landry Hat
• Kevin Burkhardt, John Lynch, Erin Andrews, FOX
New England 23, Tampa Bay 3
Best moment: There really weren't many great moments, so Burkhardt's use of the word "finagle" to describe a Doug Martin run would have to be the best.
Where they fell short: In the introduction to the game, John Lynch said that the game would be "A tale of two teams." Yeah, it usually is, John.
If I had to give them a grade: C
This crew took a step back after an excellent job calling last week's game. John Lynch was heavier on the cliches and didn't provide as many truly insightful comments. Burkhardt was solid, but that wasn't enough to make the broadcast as a whole better than average. There were no painful moments with this crew, but there just weren't many great moments, either. -- Leo Howll, The Pewter Plank
• Dick Stockton, Ronde Barber, Kris Budden, FOX
Detroit 27, Washington 20
Best moment: There was a moment just before halftime that Nick Fairley was called for a personal foul, but Ndamukong Suh was in the area. Neither Dick Stockton nor Ronde Barber was sure about the call, but with No. 90 in the area, it would have been very easy to shift preemptive blame on Suh and go into a tirade about his penalty issues, but they didn't (and even credited Suh with playing a clean game afterwards). It was fair treatment when Suh is an easy player to take the benefit of the doubt away from.
Where they fell short: There was perhaps no call worse than the first play of the game. London Fletcher came in with a sack on Matthew Stafford, and Stockton referred to Fletcher as "the old man from the sea." It was a puzzling call, and Barber tried to follow up on the "old man" theme, but it came off as awkward, because why is London Fletcher from the sea? Aside from that, Stockton had a bit of trouble with names and facts, referring to Lions' special teamer John Wendling as "Josh," and saying Wayne State alum Joique Bell was from Western Michigan (though he corrected himself on that one). Barber was generally fine in the facts department, but he clearly doesn't believe any penalty on the defense is legitimate.
If I had to give them a grade: B+
They have better chemistry in the booth than one would expect, considering Barber is a rookie as a color commentator. Predictably, Barber is particularly good at breaking down defensive alignments and coverages, and his analysis, at least on one side of the ball, added some value to the broadcast. Stockton gave a nice tribute to the victims of the D.C. Navy Yard shooting that came off as classy and appropriate.
There are moments I find myself yelling about broadcasters misunderstanding the rules or showing bias, and I didn't see much of that today. They even recognized relatively quickly that an apparent recovered onside kick by Washington had not traveled 10 yards. It was a decent call all around by the veteran Stockton and the rookie Barber. -- Dean Holden at SideLion Report.
• Chris Myers, Tim Ryan, Jennifer Hale, FOX
Miami 27, Atlanta 23
Best moment: It would be the fumble recovered by Dolphins long snapper John Denney. Tim Ryan was quick to point out that while it clearly looked like the Falcons had recovered, that a lot of things happen under a pile of players. He used his personal experience to relay what was going on.
Where they fell short: As announcers are prone to do, Myers and Ryan began to talk about the 16 games that had passed since Matt Bryant of Atlanta had missed a field goal, this as he lined up for a 35-yard attempt. With the old "announcer jinx" in place, Bryant missed the field goal.
If I had to give them a grade: A
This crew worked very well together. Ryan was a perfect compliment to the much seasoned Meyers. Ryan was extremely knowledgeable about what not only was going on on the field but also highlighted what each team needed to fix in order to win. Later in the game Meyers set Ryan up nicely to go back to his early statements when each team began displaying what Ryan had earlier said should be done.
Jennifer Hale wasn't much of an addition as she was only on screen a few times and her responses from the booths questions didn't really lead to much. However, she was quick to point out Dolphins' DE Cameron Wake's injury and that he would likely not return. Overall this was an easy to listen to game and unlike Week2 I found myself enjoying the commentary so much so that last weeks crew's should have been downgraded. -- Brian Miller at Phin Phanatic.
• Bill Macatee, Steve Tasker, CBS
Seattle 45, Jacksonville 17
Best moment: The CBS production crew wins the best moment of this game for pumping up the crowd noise factor in Seattle and the 12th Man. It didn't get NBC's "holographic offensive line" treatment, but the slideshow of different decibel levels compared to the noise at field level was well done.
Where they fell short: Bill Macatee is a hardworking play-by-play guy, but his voice automatically screams "worst game of the week" and it is very hard to get past that when listening to a game. He does a good job in a tough spot and has had a storied career in broadcasting, but at this point in time he is not one of the premier announcers for CBS at the NFL level.
If I had to give them a grade: B+
The atmosphere that comes with a Seahawks home game was the saving grace of this broadcast. With the crowd noise drowning out the announcer team it was hard to notice Macatee and Tasker at points and the pure energy of the Seattle fans distracted from a game that was over before it started. I would be a hard-pressed to give a low grade to an announcer team saddled with such a difficult assignment. -- Chase Ruttig at Just Blog Baby
Best moment: Marv Albert and Rich Gannon are a great tandem. It is rare these days to catch a broadcast where the announcers aren't homicidally butchering the names of various players so the the fact that this crew was competent in that regard was refreshing.
Where they fell short: This game provided a great scenario for any announcer; two rookie quarterbacks. I was looking forward to the breakdown of the QB play and insight from an 18-year veteran with two Pro Bowl MVPs under his belt. Unfortunately, Gannon and Albert seemed to be focusing too much on Smith, while mostly ignoring Manuel.
If I had to give them a grade: B-
The announcing of the game was pretty good. There were some small things here and there but nothing that really took away from the game until maybe at the end with Gannon harped on the Jets' penalties a bit too much. So far, this is one of the better called games that I have watched this year. -- Dennis Amo at Buffalo Low Down.