Updated: Monday, October 23, 2017, 4:28 PM
“I have no words of wisdom this morning other than to say let’s enjoy the night.”
That’s how Jay Rothman, the executive producer of ESPN’s Monday Night Football kicked off the final production meeting ahead of the Eagles’ match-up against Washington.
After having met with the teams over the weekend, Rothman, play-by-play man Sean McDonough, analyst Jon Gruden, sideline reporter Lisa Salters (a Montgomery County native) and the rest of the Monday Night Football crew went over the details of their production, viewed by millions of football fans across the country.
Here’s an inside look at how the ESPN crew prepared for Monday’s game, navigating through the storylines they planned to hit during the evening:
It took less than two minutes for the meeting to focus on Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz. ESPN has dubbed the second-year starter “North Dakota tough.”
Other narrative themes the production crew wanted to highlight included tight end Zach Ertz’s effectiveness in the Red Zone, LeGarrette Blount’s short-yardage effectiveness and the resurgence of wide receiver Nelson Agholor.
Rothman also wanted to make sure they discussed defensive end Chris Long, set up as the crew’s “spotlight guy” following his decision to donate his game checks for the rest of the season.
“Not to depress everyone, but the least-rated part of the show is the top of the show,” Rothman said. “So I think we can bring back Chris Long after a short break and re-tell that story later in the broadcast.”
The subject of safety Malcom Jenkins’ social activism came up. It’s an issue NFL broadcasts have dealt with all season — whether to show players protesting racial inequality during the national anthem. A tweet by President Trump earlier Monday morning complaining about protesting players only heightened the awareness of the issue.
Rothman expressed a desire for one week in which people could simply tune in and see a big game. McDonough and Gruden agreed.
“I’d like to do Jenkins a favor by talking about him as a player,” Gruden said. “He is a great player and he never misses a snap. I’d like to just let his play speak for itself.”
With no players expected to kneel during the national anthem (Jenkins raises his fist in protest), the crew decided to keep all talk of social activism and politics to Monday Night Countdown, and focus on the game itself during the broadcast.
When the discussion turned to Washington, Rothman wondered if it was important to talk about Kirk Cousins’ use of silent counts to throw off the Eagles pass rush.
“The key to the Eagles pass rush is they get off the ball. They don’t read s—. They just get off the ball and go and raise hell,” Gruden said. “It is the key to the game, actually. I think it’s pretty cool.”
As the production crew went over pre-cut highlights of Eagles’ blitzes against the Panthers, Rothman had a question for Gruden: “Do we call them zero blitzes or all-out blitzes?”
“I want to make it understandable for the viewers,” Gruden said. “There’s no safety in the middle of the field, so there are zero safeties deep. Let’s call it a zero.”
The production team revealed several graphics, referred to as “cards.” In one, Cousins’ expensive contract was contrasted negatively against Wentz’s relatively inexpensive rookie contract, something that McDonough thought worthy of airtime.
“In my eyes that’s worth a conversation,” McDonough said. “You can’t just jam it onto the viewers.”
Among the other cards planned for the broadcast were a souped-up Wentz Wagon and a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air themed spot about how the Eagles continually rotate their defensive line, keeping them fresh.
Another comparison Gruden wanted to spotlight was Wentz’s ability as a scrambler. To illustrate it, the production crew dug out archive footage of former Eagles quarterbacks Randall Cunningham and Donovan McNabb eluding defenders.
“Wentz is as good a scrambler as those guys were, and no one thinks it,” Gruden said. “He’s got about 23 plays he’s made getting out of trouble that are unbelievable.”
Laughter broke out when Rothman asked about the low quality of the McNabb film. Even the 1980s-era footage of Cunningham was better. “It looks like it was filmed on Skype,” he joked.
As the production crew reviewed images of the Eagles’ starting defense, the headshot of defensive lineman Tim Jernigan and his full set of gold teeth caused a bit of a stir.
“Nice teeth,” said Rothman. “Is that a grill?” asked Salters.
The joking continued when the screen changed to the Eagles’ secondary, which featured cornerback Jalen Mills and his green hair.
With the headshot review complete, the production meeting wrapped up, with the crew ready for another week of Monday Night Football.