It is difficult to climb up the ladder of network analysts on National Football League games if you don’t have a big name.
ESPN went for a name in adding former Dallas Cowboy star and future Hall of Famer Jason Witten to its "Monday Night Football" booth this season.
It’s been a failed experiment so far, though Witten has shown some potential of late.
If ESPN decides Witten needs to go after one season, I have a possible replacement: Adam Archuleta.
His work on the CBS broadcast of the Bills’ 24-21 victory Sunday over the Jacksonville Jaguars confirmed my thinking on the two other Bills games he has worked this season alongside play-by-play man Spero Dedes: Archuleta is the most underrated NFL analyst on any network.
The former NFL safety sees things instantly that other analysts often miss.
When the Bills got a penalty for 12 men on the field, Archuleta noted that the Bills were in a punt safe defense in case there was a Jaguars fake and that Eddie Yarbrough hadn’t gotten the message in time to get off the field.
On the Bills’ first touchdown, he praised the blocking of Bills receivers Zay Jones and Logan Thomas that freed up Isiah McKenzie’s touchdown run.
He constantly explained defensive coverages.
He noted that the Bills’ Jerry Hughes and Kyle Williams were playing a two-man game that confused the Jags linemen who were unsuccessfully trying to protect quarterback Blake Bortles.
He also was outspoken, saying that Jags running back Leonard Fournette had to be smart enough to avoid getting in a fight with the Bills’ Shaq Lawson because he was too important to Jacksonville’s offense.
“It is just absolutely crazy,” said Archuleta. “You can’t swing and can’t throw punches.”
Lawson and Fournette both were tossed from the game, a trade that was more favorable to a Bills team that couldn’t stop Jacksonville’s running game in the first half.
Archuleta also critiqued Bills rookie quarterback Josh Allen, whom he gave passing grades and added he “has to be considered one of the most dangerous running and scrambling quarterbacks in the NFL.” He also was impressed that Allen was throwing the ball downfield, but added he has to learn to hit the intermediate routes.
Those are only a handful of the astute things that Archuleta said that made me think he is worthy of much bigger assignments at CBS.
But because it is so difficult to climb the CBS ladder, Archuleta will probably get to call one or two more Bills games this season since Buffalo is 4-7 and plays in one of the smaller TV markets in the NFL.
If so, Bills fans should be lucky that CBS doesn’t appreciate him as much as he deserves to be appreciated.
Archuleta also has made Dedes an improved play-by-play man. Dedes also has a strong excitement level on big plays, including the key field goal miss by Jacksonville when the game was tied at 14 after the Jags had a first down at the 1-yard line. “A catastrophic sequence for Jacksonville,” Dedes said.
Now on to more highs and lows of Sunday’s coverage:
No Trash Talk: At game’s end, CBS’ cameras captured Jacksonville cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who had famously called Allen “trash” before the season go out of his way to congratulate Allen. It was a classy move. Ramsey was beaten on a few plays early in the game.
Oh, Zay Can We See You: Bills receiver Zay Jones’ first catch of the day came when he recovered the Jaguars’ desperation on-sides kick in the final minutes of the game. It would have been nice to see an aerial view to see if Jones was ever open since he is supposed to be a new and improved version of himself.
The Season Hasn’t Been THAT Bad: After the two-minute warning, Dedes said this would be the Bills second win of the season. It was their fourth win. He may have been thinking second in a row.
Party Time: When the Bills took a 14-0 first-quarter lead, Dedes said “it has been a party so far” and added “the Bills offense can’t be stopped” after scoring 55 points in five quarters. It was funny to anyone who has seen the Bills offense struggle so far this season.
Graphic Mistakes: Near the end of the game, CBS briefly had the Bills ahead 21-15 in a graphic when the score was score 21-14. It also carried a graphic at the start of the game that had Vlad Ducasse starting at guard when he was inactive.
Sunday Bloody Sunday: CBS showed some blood on the hooded sweatshirt worn by Bills Coach Sean McDermott, who said after the game it was his and someone else’s.
No Debate: When Jags coach Doug Marrone went conservative and punted on a fourth down inside Bills territory late in the game, Dedes didn’t ask Archuleta what he thought about that strategy. Bills fans who know Marrone weren’t surprised by his conservatism.
Wonder-ful Moment: After the field goal miss, Dedes said Marrone “has to wonder how much worse can it get.”
Funniest Promotional Moment: Before the game began, Dedes said Marrone was having “another emotional return to Buffalo.” Has anyone in Buffalo ever seen Marrone emotional?
The Sky Is the Limit on Penalties: There were so many flags that Archuleta was prompted to say: “I don’t know if I’ve seen this amount of penalties in my life. This is an astronomical number.” Later, he added all the penalties almost made the game “unwatchable.” I could almost hear someone from CBS calling him. Walt Coleman’s crew seemed to be trying to prove the NFL adage that you can call a penalty on every play. In fairness, Archuleta said almost all the calls were good ones and CBS’ cameras captured the proof in most cases. One of the exceptions was a holding call on the Bills’ Taron Johnson that extended the Jaguars’ second touchdown drive.
The Jags Should Have Listened: Before Allen’s 14-yard touchdown run, Archuleta said the Jags should be aware of his running ability inside the red zone.
Remarkable Analysis: In the first half, Archuleta said he was surprised the Jags were running so well against a Bills defense that had been better in that category recently. Before halftime, the Jags were on a pace for more than 300 yards rushing. They finished with 226 yards rushing, partly due to Fournette missing the fourth quarter. Archuleta noted Indianapolis ran for 220 yards against the Bills in a game he and Dedes called earlier but that was based on scheme. He said this time the Jags were being physically dominant. With the Jags tying the score at 14, Archuleta said: “It is pretty remarkable they were able to make up these points almost all on the ground.”
Tunnel Vision: CBS followed Fournette and Lawson into the tunnels after they were tossed, with Lawson acting much more upset than the running back. The Bills defensive end ended up being the team’s MVP for getting the Jags running back tossed.
Late Calls: CBS went to referee expert Gene Steratore after replay decisions were made, rather than before they were made. He agreed with all the replay decisions. His most interesting moment came when he showed the Jags missed an opportunity to challenge when the knee of the Bills’ Kelvin Benjamin was down on a long pass reception.
Looking Good: After Allen hit receiver Robert Foster on a 75-yard touchdown as three Jags hit him, Archuleta said: “I think that has to be the best throw so far of Josh Allen’s career. Boy oh boy, did that look good.” He added Ramsey was sucked in on the play.
Great Expectations: Archuleta flashed some humor after the game by deadpanning the game wasn’t quite "the Chief-Rams explosion I was expecting coming in but still had some fun here." How true. The Thanksgiving weekend game involving a pair of 3-7 teams easily could have been expected to be a turkey instead of being as highly entertaining as it turned out to be.
Boomer’s Prediction: On the pregame show CBS’ Boomer Esiason predicted the Bills would upset the Jaguars. I don’t know how much of an upset it was since the Jags are on a long losing streak. Esiason also sent some shade Ramsey’s way saying, “We’ll see about a little trash after the game.” The biggest upset of the day may have been how classy Ramsey was to seek out Allen after the game.