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TV Commentator Rankings

From the best to the worst of the NFL announcers

Posted: Thursday February 7, 2008 12:25PM; Updated: Thursday February 7, 2008 10:19PM
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Watching an NFL game described by Fox's Sam Rosen (left) and Tim Ryan not only is entertaining, but informative, too.
Watching an NFL game described by Fox's Sam Rosen (left) and Tim Ryan not only is entertaining, but informative, too.
Courtesy of Fox
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Here's an old rule of thumb I just made up: Never write a critical column about NFL announcers when you're in an ugly mood because every little annoyance will be magnified beyond reasonable proportions. Thus, as I spent the last two days going through the notes I meticulously made during the season, all the old resentments came back, the sneers, the head-banging frustrations, the wonderment at how we can stand still for the unbelievable barrage of crapola to which we've been subjected.

"Here's the story line."

"Coach, what did you tell them at halftime?"

"It's time for smashmouth football."

"You've got to win the battle up front."

Each one of these idiotic clichés is a blade under my fingernail, and usually I just shrug and move on; but after many years of this stuff has turned me so bitter that I can hardly live with myself, it's time to take a stand. Thus what you will get is an announcers rating column, the Tenth Annual, I believe, or maybe Tenth Animal, that will make up for a lack of balance by its grossly unfair nature. Sorry, can't help it. This dark mood just won't go away.

5 STARS

None. Last year's only five-star team, ESPN's second unit, was broken up. Dick Vermeil is tending to his beautiful vineyards in Calistoga, Brad Nessler is back in college and Ron Jaworski ... ah, this is a new, corporate, center stage Jaws who makes me want to cry. More about that later. A lot more.

4½ STARS

Sam Rosen and Tim Ryan, Fox
This is what I believe. Big guys are better analysts, and Ryan, a former DT, follows in the footsteps of Matt Millen and John Madden. And Tony Boselli, the former Jaguars' tackle, is on Ryan's heels. The reason is that they come in already fully versed in the intricacies of trench warfare, and they set about, seriously and respectfully, learning the pass-catching game, coverages and such. The fancy people, on the other hand, quarterbacks and the like, figure that their knowledge of what the pretty people do is enough, and they make little attempt to learn about the rough stuff. Thus, their work has a hole in it.

How good is Ryan? Well, how many analysts will tell you who the good BLOCKERS are on kickoff returns? Arizona-Washington -- "Watch Lorenzo Alexander reject Jerheme Urban out of the wedge ..." Kaboom! A former superstar is slipping, he'll tell you about it. The Seahawks' Walter Jones gets stuffed by Cleveland's Robaire Smith on a running play: "You wonder about Walter Jones," says Ryan, who, unlike most of his brethren, does not blindly plug the stars. The Browns' line goes unbalanced on a play, he catches it immediately. He and Rosen routinely will call penalties before the flags are dropped. Rosen is meticulous about telling you who's on the field, when a team goes into a different personnel grouping. There are snappers, too. The Saints' Reggie Bush loses ground, trying to put on a fancy move. "Think four and you'll get more," Ryan mutters. In his and Sam's case, four and a half.

4 STARS

Ron Pitts and Tony Boselli, Fox
Wow, what a terrific rookie season for big Tony. First look -- that's when he'll see the play in its entirety, before he has the luxury of the replay. This, of course, is the test. He'll diagram the line play, as well, swiftly and accurately. Coverages, too. Nothing like young eyes, folks. He'll pick up blitz schemes, he'll rip the stars as well as the ordinary Joes, which is unusual: "Edgerrin James got off the line too quickly," which was why he was stopped. "Ernie Sims came in high on that one," which was why Marcel Shipp got a touchdown over him. "Frank Gore missed the pick-up," which was why the rush forced an incomplete. Seems trivial, but there are guys who will never criticize a big name player. Pittsie, once a five-star Z announcer, has been bouncing around for a while, but he's latched onto a good partner here. They're not perfect. When a big fight broke out in the Bucs-Lions game, they had a hard time sorting out who did what to whom, but it's only their first year of working together.

3½ STARS

Al Michaels and John Madden, NBC
The only thing I ever had against this team was that their attention span would occasionally flag if a game were dull, and they'd get away from it and onto topics of the day. Someone must have had a talk with them at NBC because that hasn't seemed to be a problem anymore. And as I've written before about Sunday night's increased technical equipment, it makes for more comfortable watching, all around. John still has the pipelines to feed him the cogent observation, such as noting that "the Patriots' defense is set up not to let you complete passes outside ... you have to go inside." And he can still bring it when the mood seizes him. On the running style of the Jaguars' tiny Maurice Jones-Drew -- "He can run straight up and still get low."

3 STARS

NFL Network crew: Cris Collinsworth, Deion Sanders, Marshall Faulk, Tom Hammond, Bryant Gumbel
A mixed bag. When Deion and Faulk did Cincinnati-San Francisco in Week 15, I was stunned by their insight. I mean, they were giving us stuff such as: Deion on Chad Johnson -- "Any time Chad's in the slot, he's not going deep." Faulk on Johnson vs. T.O. -- "T.O.'s always looking to score, Chad's looking to fall down, after he runs a slant." I mean it was a clinic, a scouting report. Then I thought it through. This is the league's network. It's in its best interest if its broadcast team remained informed. Either Cincy coach Marvin Lewis briefed the boys on the ins and outs of his personnel, or some scout did, because I just don't believe these two announcers would figure this stuff out on their own. Their stuff only served to render more inane Steve Mariucci's comments that followed, during the break. But if they can provide enlightenment, why knock it, no matter where it comes from.

I've also heard them when their scouting report might not have been as incisive, or maybe they hadn't been paying as close attention to it. Deion made a big point of a delay penalty, coming out of a timeout, in the Steelers-Rams game. No, the penalty was motion. "Just put it up and give your receiver a chance," he advises Big Ben, even though his receiver, Santonio Holmes, was tightly covered. Then a mysterious rip of Rams coach Scott Linehan -- "When all is said and done, Scott, just think about that third and short. He should have gone for it" (It was fourth and six). At other times Deion is just silly, usually when he lets his monumental ego take over.

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