Welcome to a new installment, called “We Talked About That.” Watch a couple of NFL games, and you’ll come away with two irrefutable facts: (1) most announcers are bad at their jobs, and (2) most of them throw around the phrases “We talked about that” and “You wanna talk about ____” like they’re going out of style. The point of these blog postings, therefore, is to celebrate those two things.
This week we’ll focus on the two games that were absolute thrillers, and the talk of the league the following day. Thankfully, they were called by bad announcers.
Broncos 35, Vikings 32 – Fox – Thom Brenneman & Brian Billick
Fox got this game, which should have been on CBS (the road team being from the AFC), but was switched when the league’s “flex” policy left Fox with only two early games (a first). Brenneman and Billick are an interesting pair, basically jammed together at the point on the Fox depth chart where “good” meets “hacky.” The capable Brenneman is essentially a reduction of Joe Buck; Billick’s cut way back on his mistakes, and misinterpretations of the rules, but he still has very little interesting to say. Despite the fact that he’s coached a Super Bowl-winning team, and arguably the greatest defense of all time, he remains just a Guy Who Says Lots Of Stuff.
He certainly had Lots Of Stuff to Say about Champ Bailey, the ten-time Pro Bowl cornerback of the Broncos. Essentially, any time an incomplete pass was thrown his way, Billick simply launched into his talking points about how good Bailey is (though he’s nowhere near as good as he once was, and was absolutely torched by Detroit’s Calvin Johnson a month ago). In the third quarter, Joe Webb beat Bailey for 28 yards on the sideline, but was called for offensive pass interference. Even as replay after replay showed the call was questionable at best, Billick simply repeated “you just gotta stay away from this guy [Bailey]”-esque platitudes.
The most astute piece of analysis I got all game was from Brenneman. During a goal-to-go snap for the Vikings just before halftime, Brenneman asked, as the Vikings got in formation, why neither Kyle Rudolph (their tallest receiver) nor Percy Harvin (their best) was on the field. Billick’s response (after an incompletion): “Sometimes you just have too much time and overthink these things.”
When Denver scored a touchdown with 8:52 remaining to pull within 29-27, Brenneman wondered aloud if the Broncos should go for two. I’m guessing — since the answer to the question is, “Yes, and you’re a fucking idiot just for asking” — that he did this to throw Billick a bone, and tee him up for a slam-dunk response. So, what did Billick say? “You definitely think about it here.”
On the Vikings’ ensuing drive, they faced a 3rd-and-7 at the Broncos 43-yard line. What kind of play did Billick think the Vikings would call for [rookie quarterback] Christian Ponder? Would Ponder challenge cornerback Andre Goodman again? [They did, for 17 yards]. Well, Billick had precious few thoughts on the subject. Instead, he spent the twenty seconds fulfilling his role as a Guy Who Says Lots Of Stuff, detailing the benefits of converting this particular third down: more time would run off the clock, they would be in field goal range, etc. He didn’t have enough time to take that analysis to the next level, and mention that by converting a third down, and advancing the ball farther down the field, they increased their chance of scoring more points, which in a tie game would give them the lead. And that if they had the lead when time expired, they would win. And winning is good.
Arizona 19, Dallas 13 (OT) – Fox – Dick Stockton & John Lynch
Fox’s #4 team is another Odd Couple. Stockton is 69 years old, and while his voice still sounds as silky-smooth as it did when it served as the soundtrack for the NBA’s Golden Age, he’s lost more than a few miles on his fastball. NFL commentary is simply too much for him at this point. Indeed, Stockton’s frequent ineptitude is one of the main reasons for launching “We Talked About That”; I honestly feel that I could do his job better than he does. And I’ve always secretly hated him for marrying Lesley Visser, a friend of a friend who I might have had a crack at seducing when I lived in NYC, were it not for Stockton, an egregious overachiever.
Anyway, Stockton was thoroughly mediocre, per usual. He neglected to mention (probably because he didn’t notice) that a 50-yard FG by Dan Bailey hit the post before going through the uprights. He said “this is a big play” while Kevin Kolb was scrambling. He rattled off receiver’s stat lines without on-screen graphical support [one of my biggest pet peeves].
His partner, John Lynch, is now in his third full season in the booth, but is patently average. In the Cowboys/Cardinals game, he was given an announcing gift from the Gods. The scenario: tie game, Dallas ball, 3rd-and-11 at the Arizona 46, 0:31 on the clock. Dallas has two timeouts remaining.
- 3-11-ARI 46 (:31) (Shotgun) 9-T.Romo pass short middle to 88-D.Bryant to ARI 31 for 15 yards (21-P.Peterson).
- 1-10-ARI 31 (:08) 9-T.Romo spiked the ball to stop the clock.
With :25 left on the clock, Tony Romo, instead of calling a timeout, “hurried” his team up to the line of scrimmage and spiked the ball. A timeout lets you run AT LEAST two more plays, and (probably) gets you a few crucial yards to shorten the FG attempt from 49 yards to, say, 43. Spiking the ball with only :07 to go (one more second ran off the clock) resigns yourself to trying the FG, from 49 yards out, on the next play. But Lynch didn’t say anything about it (nor did Stockton). A minute later, when Cowboys coach Jason Garrett inexplicably called a timeout, effectively “icing” Bailey (who ended up missing), Lynch went to town, but anyone could have done that. The Romo spike was a moment ripe for not only small-picture analysis (how to lose a game with ineffective clock management), but also big-picture contrasts: could you ever see Peyton Manning or Tom Brady not calling timeout with :25 left? Me either. And that’s one of the main reasons why Tony Romo is Tony Romo, and the other guys aren’t. And Lynch missed it.
“You Talk About Cliches!”
“I can’t talk enough about the tackling going on in the Chicago secondary.” –Solomon Wilcots
“You talk about elite quarterbacks, but you don’t talk about [Tony] Romo.” – Lynch
“You wanna talk about open-field tackles!?” – Billick
“We’ve talked so much about pass protection, we talked about play-action…” –Phil Simms, with the rare double
Now, the Good News
The part in the blog where we will celebrate the best team in the business, Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth. My girlfriend and I made dinner and ate it while watching the game, so I didn’t take notes. But on Detroit’s first offensive possession, Collinsworth talked big picture. Instead of just saying lots of stuff between plays, Collinsworth was talking X’s and O’s about how the Saints were defending Calvin Johnson, even though the Lions’ first two plays (an end-around and a pass to the RB) were run to the opposite side of the field. It was great — the exact type of thing that football fans need to think about.
Right before halftime, the Lions had first-and-goal from the 2, and Collinsworth’s fixation on Johnson paid dividends. The Lions scored on a run, but what Collinsworth gushed about was the Saints’ coverage of Johnson. Two seconds later, NBC showed the replay not of the touchdown run, but of the coverage: two Saints DB’s playing press coverage (something Collinsworth said he had never seen before) to prevent a fade pass to Megatron — one of the few truly unstoppable plays in football. It was great.
And I hope Brian Billick stayed up to watch the whole game, because he got a lesson in how to announce offensive pass interference — an infraction for which Lions’ WR Nate Burleson was penalized three times in 14 minutes (which has to be some kind of record). Collinsworth (a former WR himself) was brilliant, detailing the ways in which a WR can get away with pass interference, and saying “take it from a guy who cheated his whole career.”