NFL Network's broadcasts have improved dramatically since the early years, where viewers were subjected to Bryant Gumbel's horrendous play-by-play. But they're still not at elite level.
The telecasts feel overproduced, with sometimes ponderously long intros, including a montage of players and coaches spewing rah-rah nonsense ("The goal is to win!" Rex Ryan exclaimed in one of those silly intros). The network's cameras didn't follow the ball on a fumble in the Jets-Broncos game, and viewers didn't know OG Matt Slauson had fallen on it for a Jets touchdown.
Brad Nessler, a capable play-by-play man, hasn't been diligent about identifying the defender who made the tackle or was responsible for coverage. Nessler likes to say an offensive player "made the first man miss" (everyone can see that) but usually doesn't identify that "man." In Nessler's defense, he engages his analyst (Mike Mayock) in conversation more than predecessor Bob Papa did with Joe Theismann and Matt Millen.
Mayock has become the network's greatest asset. His analysis is sharp, pointed and detailed. He often will tell you the specific offensive lineman responsible for a long running play and which defender was to blame.
Mayock's evaluation skills as a draft guru help him as a game analyst. "My biggest pet peeve about Vince Young is lack of anticipation as a quarterback," he said during Eagles-Seahawks in Week 13.
He makes keen points on strategy, such as questioning Mark Sanchez for not attacking Denver's inexperienced nickel-back in their Nov. 17 game. And he has expanded a bit this year beyond X's and O's, making his work more lively and interesting. He made the eye-opening point that "I see some Barry Sanders" in the Eagles' LeSean McCoy and then backed it up (with the help of NFL Network producers) by showing side-by-side video of the two.
But Mayock hasn't been perfect. He said the Jets should use a timeout late in the Broncos game. They had none left — Nessler knew this, because he had acknowledged it a short time earlier. But Nessler didn't correct him. Mayock and Nessler also contradicted each other about whether the Jets needed to call a timeout late in the first half or whether the play clock would not have expired. Viewers were left thoroughly confused. But Mayock's work is good enough overall that he should join the upper tier of analysts at some point soon.
AROUND THE DIAL
• Though network voices blasted Stevie Johnson's objectionable TD celebration, analysts still too often turn the other cheek on showboating. Houston's Jonathan Joseph held the ball up, foolishly, during an interception return — clearly to gloat — but CBS' Solomon Wilcots didn't say a word. NBC's Bob Costas remains the strongest voice against self-indulgent celebrations.
• CBS' James Brown asked all the right questions in his network exclusive with Peyton Manning, including whether he would be OK with the Colts drafting Andrew Luck. "I have not had time to think about that yet," Manning insisted.
• Though CBS has rights to road games of AFC teams, Fox got the Week 13 Denver-at-Minnesota game because it lost the Lions-Saints game to NBC's flexible scheduling.