Ian Eagle’s play-by-play carries the day for CBS
Besides seeing the Ravens beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the pleasures of Sunday’s CBS telecast was the confident, steady and smooth work of play-by-play announcer Ian Eagle.
He’s now the point manon the No. 2 CBS broadcast team, and he is certain to have a long career ahead of him as a top dog somewhere if his chance doesn’t come soon at CBS.
Am I biased? If so, it is only because he is such a no-drama professional in a world of hotdogs, empty-headed deep voices and ex-jocks who think their playing careers guaranteed them a scholarship for the rest of their lives in the broadcast booth.
Eagle is a superb table-setter, and he showed that skill from the minute the CBS cameras started broadcasting from M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.
“Twenty days ago, Ben Roethlisberger had surgery for a torn meniscus, and here he is starting for Pittsburgh,” Eagle said opening the pregame telecast.
At first, I was thinking, “Here we go again, it’s all about Ben. How long before they start affectionately referring to him as Big Ben?”
But that was Baltimore bias: “Oh, poor us, the national announcers always favor the other team, blah, blah.”
After reflection, I had to acknowledge that Roethlisberger’s return was the story at the start of the game, and the fact that he played so horribly in the first half was more important than anything else in Baltimore establishing its lead. Not that Eagle’s set-up was perfect. He pivoted from Roethlisberger to the Steelers’ defensive woes by saying, “Defensively, the numbers are an eye-scratcher?” Huh? I’m guessing he meant to say headscratcher. Though the numbers are bad, I don’t think anyone wants to scratch their eyes out over them.
But that’s a slip of the lip and a blip of the brain. Try talking live for two hours or so as your average NFL play-by-play announcer does, and see how many strange things come out of your mouth. That’s the only “mistake” I heard Sunday out of him during the telecast.
Perhaps the best testament to Eagle’s skill is that he was not working with his normal analyst partner, and he still made the telecast seem mostly seamless. Dan Fouts was doing the San Diego game this week, a CBS Sports publicist told The Sun via email, because the former quarterback was “being honored at halftime with other Chargers Hall of Famers.”
So, Rich Gannon was the analyst alongside Eagle. And I’m not saying it was all the result of Eagle’s work, but I can’t remember Gannon sounding better. The two fed off each other nicely all afternoon.
In the opening, when Eagle turned to problem areas for the Ravens in his setup, he went straight to Joe Flacco. After acknowledging Flacco’s Super Bowl credentials, he went on to say, “But he has not played at the level they expected this year.”
And with that, Gannon picked up the ball with video showing a third-down play where the safeties had moved up almost to the line of scrimmage well before the snap.
After explaining how a quarterback who is locked in might effectively respond to that, the film showed Flacco calling a simple handoff into the line that was stuffed for a loss.
“Joe Flacco has got to play better in order for the Ravens to get it turned around on offense,” he said.
In his “Tools of the Game” segment, Gannon pointed to the need for the Ravens to use Mike Wallace to “stretch the field.”
A short time later, Wallace stretched it for a 95-yard touchdown reception — most of it gained on his run away from the defenders.
Obvious? Maybe. But it was nice to see these two responsibly calling Flacco out for his level of play in some of the Ravens’ recent losses.
And while I am talking about this broadcast crew, let me not forget Evan Washburn. He had a strong interview with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin at halftime to go along with a solid set-up on Roethlisberger’s injury at the top of the telecast.
In the end, the good play-by-play announcers get you to trust them. You hear their voices, and you settle in to the telecast willing to follow the narratives they lay down and focus on the facts they highlight.
I did that with Eagle on Sunday, and he didn’t disappoint.