Controlling the Dial
There were 19 hours of pregame NFL programming on Sunday, an auditory orgy of analysis on everything from RG3 to AD to EJ3. No (sane) person can track everything, but we’re here to provide 10 media items of note on the weekend that was and the week coming up:
1. Here is a sentence that might surprise you: Bill Cowher last coached in an NFL game on Dec. 31, 2006.
Remarkably, he has worked as a studio analyst for CBS Sports since Feb. 2007 and even as coaching openings have come and gone, Cowher has stayed at The NFL Today. Each year I’m more impressed with his work on a show that has long been a mixed bag, equal parts thoughtful commentary and a tendency to chortle at the drop of a lame one-liner. Cowher did a nice job this week diagramming how to defend the Pistol formation and explained in lay terms why the read-option provides a level of comfort for young quarterbacks who are used to playing in open space, such as the Bills’ E.J. Manuel and the Jets’ Geno Smith. In addition, each time I interview Cowher, I become more convinced he’s never going back into coaching.
“I want to get better, I really want to work at this job, and most of all, I am enjoying it,” Cowher told The MMQB. “I’m challenging myself to be better at it. At the same time, broadcasting has given me more flexibility in my lifestyle that I never had before. I am in New York most of the time and I also have a place in North Carolina. My daughter is down there [North Carolina] and is married to an NHL player who plays for the Carolina Hurricanes [Kevin Westgarth]. My youngest daughter just got engaged to Ryan Kelly who was drafted [in the second round] by the Lakers this year. Broadcasting has really afforded me things I have never been able to do before like travel and to get a little bit of normalcy. I’ve really embraced that.”
2. Ray Lewis made his ESPN pregame show debut on Sunday, and beyond the former Ravens linebacker opening his tenure with his trademark "squirrel dance," the show’s producers were smart to let him blend into the scene rather than make it all about Lewis. What’s immediately obvious is that Lewis is not a game-changing television hire at this point, but he was more than adequate for his first time out. He's got a charismatic manner and had moments when he drew you closer to the screen to hear what he had to say. He was particularly interesting when explaining how to stop the read-option and the importance of New Orleans coach Sean Payton. "When that guy walks back in, that's the brain of that operation," Lewis said. "He is to New Orleans what Bill Belichick is to the Patriots. Without that, without him, you saw last year they had a great imbalance of what leadership looked like." One thing ESPN producers must do immediately is re-emphasize to Lewis to stop referring to the Ravens as "us" or "we" or "our." He works for ESPN now, not the Ravens.
3. How did ESPN management view Lewis’ work? I emailed ESPN senior coordinator producer Seth Markman on Monday night—he hired Lewis—to get his take. Lewis will appear on Sunday NFL Countdown again next Sunday as well as his usual Monday Night Countdown assignment.
The MMQB: How would you evaluate Lewis's debut on Countdown?
Markman: I think he got off to a very strong start. He fit in right away with the rest of the guys and showed that he had a great understanding of the league. His passion immediately started to show and his comments cut through.
The MMQB: What segment of the show did Ray tell you he felt the most comfortable and why?
Markman: Actually, I felt he was comfortable the entire time but he really shined during the discussion of Aaron Hernandez with Cris [Carter], Keyshawn [Johnson] and TJ [Tom Jackson]. It was obviously a topic that a lot of people were interested to see how we would handle. Ray immediately made a difference here talking about how he changed who he hung out with in the aftermath of his own situation. He then went on to talk about how he felt that the Patriots had to share some responsibility based on their prior knowledge of Hernandez.
4. Asked to evaluate her debut Sunday on That Other Pregame Show, the new four-hour pregame show on CBS Sports Network, Amy Trask said she would grade herself as a C-minus.
“I gave myself an F in some regards, and in a few instances, an A,” Trask wrote in an email. “There was not enough A and B work to offset the D and F work, so that’s why there is a minus sign next to the C.”
Trask, the former CEO of the Raiders, said one of the things she needs to work on is not pausing before answering questions. She considers herself a thoughtful and reflective speaker and said, “I am learning that this approach is not well suited for television—it creates a void, which can be awkward.”
Trask said she enjoyed her onscreen interaction with her analysts as well as working with the behind-the-scenes staff. “I valued and I relied upon their support and encouragement as I undertook something about which I had (and have) great trepidations,” Trask said. “They held my hand—both figuratively and literally—and were true teammates, in every sense of the word. I believe many people might be surprised about the sensitivity and compassion shown by a fierce linebacker, in particular.”
We assume she's talking about Bart Scott and not host Adam Schein.
People think that you get money and you are going to change," Cris Carter said of Aaron Hernandez. "No, getting money makes you a bigger whatever you already are.
5. Too often NFL viewers are inundated with screamers on pregame shows, a group of (mostly) ex-athletes signifying little beyond noise. (The NFL Network’s Michael Irvin is the president and CEO of this club.) ESPN’s Cris Carter has long struck me as a broadcaster who walks the line between informative and annoying, the latter when he drums up the personality-driven commentary to a frustrating level. But I was really impressed with Carter’s work as a moderator last Sunday when he led colleagues Johnson, Lewis, and Jackson in a thoughtful discussion about the risks of drafting players with red flags coming out of college (the lead-in to the discussion was the feature on Hernandez). In a calm but forceful manner, Carter asked smart questions of his panel, including whether Baltimore did a background check on Lewis coming out of Miami (“They did not have to do a background check on me coming out of college; I was clean,” Lewis said.) Carter also did what good hosts do—he stayed out of the way as Johnson told an interesting anecdote about being a rookie with the Jets and Jackson echoed what most believe about the New England organization. I thought this was an interesting exchange during the conversation:
Jackson: “When I look at this Hernandez situation, whether it is high school or at the University of Florida, New England Patriots, I know you would like to disavow any of what was going on with Aaron Hernandez, but in fact at least some people on that team had to know that this kid was headed toward incarceration. I think the mistake that they made was the thought that if we give him the money, it will help to straighten him out. But when they gave him the money, he only spiraled further out of control because he had the money.”
Carter: “Typically, that's what happens with young people. People think that you get money and you are going to change. No, getting money makes you a bigger whatever you already are.”
6. Fox Sports broadcasters Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch will call the Saints at Bucs (4:05 p.m. ET) this Sunday and I’ll be curious to hear what fans in those cities thought of the pair after a successful debut broadcasting the Jets win over the Bucs. Burkhardt did something late in that game that I rarely see a play-by-play announcer do these days: He called the final minute of an NFL game in understated tones. There was no over-the-top-screaming on New York’s game-winning field goal or when Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David took a brutal penalty to set up the game-winning field goal. Of course, there are some who weren’t happy with Burkhardt and Lynch, as we see on this Jets Insider message board.
7. The NFL Network lucked into a much more compelling matchup this Thursday (8:20 p.m. ET) thanks to last-minute wins by the Jets and Patriots. The game is the debut for the NFL Network’s 13-game Thursday Night Football package, and also the first of eight division games aired by NFLN. The network has some interesting elements to its game coverage, which you can find here.
8. The Giants and Cowboys have met seven times on NBC’s Sunday Night Football, including last weekend’s game, which drew the second-best overnight rating (16.6 rating) for the Cowboys-Giants series on SNF. (The highest-rated Dallas-New York game came on Jan. 1, 2012.) The reach of the Cowboys fandom is always interesting when you examine which local television market had the highest viewership. The Top 5 markets for Sunday Night Football: 1) Dallas; 2) San Antonio; 3) Richmond; 4) Albuquerque; and 5) Norfolk. The New York market was tied for 13th.
9. Good news for sports broadcast executives: You can feel free to buy that third beach house. The ratings for the opening week of the NFL were extraordinarily high across the clicker: Fox's late-afternoon window, which featured 94 percent of the country getting the Niners over the Packers, averaged 28.5 million viewers—the NFL on Fox's best-ever Week 1 national game rating, topping last year's 26.4 million viewers. Fox said the window was the most-watched telecast of any kind since the Academy Awards in February. NBC's two games—Denver’s win over Baltimore last Thursday and Dallas’ victory over the New York Giants on Sunday night—each averaged more than 25 million viewers. (The Giants-Cowboys drew 25.4 million viewers while the Broncos-Ravens drew 25.1 million.) CBS said its regional NFL coverage (Cincinnati-Chicago, Tennessee-Pittsburgh, Oakland-Indianapolis, New England-Buffalo, Miami-Cleveland and Kansas City-Jacksonville) drew an 11.2 overnight rating, the highest singleheader game debut for CBS in 14 years. ESPN earned an 11.6 overnight rating for its Monday Night Football Eagles-Redskins telecast, the best MNF opener since the 2006 season.
10. We profiled Fox Sports 1 NFL analyst Randy Moss in this space three weeks ago and whatever skepticism existed about Moss being a one-week phenomenon as an analyst is starting to fade. (The opposite take comes from New York Post media writer Phil Mushnick who killed Fox for the hire and called Moss “one of the most repugnant humans to wear an NFL uniform.”) Moss is an interesting listen and he might have had the line of the weekend on Fox NFL Kickoff when asked how he felt about the Vikings giving his number 84 to rookie Cordarrelle Patterson. “First of all, that's disrespectful to give a rookie my number,” Moss said. “I don't really believe in numbers but from a professional standpoint, I did make that number. He hasn't proven anything yet but, hey, what can I say? I’m just Randy Moss sitting here in the studio.”