We were skeptical of ESPN’s move to a two-man “Monday Night Football” booth for two reasons: The spirited, needling exchanges between Jon Gruden and Ron Jaworski made for good television, and Gruden uttered several head-scratching remarks last season.
The good news: Gruden has been solid so far, offering sharp, concise analysis alongside Mike Tirico. But he’s still not quite as good as he seems capable of.
Gruden does his best work analyzing individual matchups, key blocks, missed blocks, and strategy. He quickly noted that Atlanta defensive coordinator Mike Nolan was causing confusion in Denver’s blocking schemes by disguising coverages and playing so many players close to the line of scrimmage.
Often wrong when he predicted play calls last season, Gruden has done that more selectively this year (he was correct when he did it once during the Broncos-Falcons game) and instead has sometimes merely suggested calls instead.
Gruden is still a bit too effusive with praise and annoyingly leans on crutch clichés (“This guy is a football player!”). But he has criticized when appropriate, including questioning the Ravens for throwing while leading 41-13 against the Bengals.
Every spring, Gruden’s charisma helps make his quarterback specials compelling pre-draft programming. The question is whether he can display more of that personality on game telecasts, as John Madden did for many years.
One of a few reasons ESPN removed Jaworski from “MNF” is that network research showed that a lot of people thought their voices sounded similar and couldn’t tell who was speaking.
• On CBS’ pregame show, we miss the professorial approach of Charley Casserly, an ace at dissecting film. But new CBS information man Jason La Canfora, formerly of NFL Network, has served up decent information, including the government’s investigation into the Saints’ alleged misuse of Vicodin.
• Good Week Three stat by CBS’ Rich Gannon, noting that since 2000, kickers make 80 percent of field goals in overtime and the last two minutes of the fourth quarter after the opposing coach called a timeout to ice him. It’s 77 percent otherwise.
• Week Three unfortunate timing awards: 1) Fox’s Troy Aikman remarking about the Cowboys’ defense: “How much better are they, really?” On the next play, Dallas made its first interception of the season. 2) Gannon noting what a good job Ryan Tannehill had done protecting the football the previous six quarters. On the next play, the Jets intercepted him and returned it for a touchdown.
• ESPN’s Steve Young made the best point about the officials’ lockout, noting that it won’t matter to the league as long as the NFL’s popularity and profits aren’t affected. And they haven’t been, despite issues with the replacements. NBC’s Tony Dungy made the second-best point, noting the calls most often being missed in Weeks One and Two were illegal contact with receivers.
• Say what? Aikman noted that Tony Romo “studies other quarterbacks like Tom Brady to try to get better” and sometimes Dallas coaches are dismayed by that. Why would that bother Cowboys coaches? Aikman should have explained.
• Nifty technology by CBS demonstrated that Peyton Manning’s 12-yard outs are traveling 47 miles per hour — down from 51 in 2010.
• Fox’s Michael Strahan, trying to juggle his NFL job with his five-days-a-week gig as Kelly Ripa’s co-host on “Live!,” continues to offer little. Asked if the Steelers would lose to the Jets, he responded only with “Anything’s possible.” Thanks for nothing.
Barry Jackson covers sports media for the Miami Herald and Pro Football Weekly.