Andrew Catalon, Matt Ryan, and Tiki Barber on the NFL on CBS. Andrew Catalon, Matt Ryan, and Tiki Barber on the NFL on CBS. (CBS.)

The biggest change to the NFL on CBS broadcasting lineup this year is on the team of play-by-play voice Andrew Catalon, analysts Tiki Barber and Matt Ryan, and AJ Ross. This week, that team spoke to AA about how their partnership is going so far, and cited their chemistry as a reason why this three-man booth (often a difficult format to pull off) is working.

First, some history on where these figures came from. Catalon had previously worked with Steve Tasker and Steve Beuerlein (2014-16) and James Lofton (2017-22) on NFL on CBS broadcasts, while Barber had worked there on selected games since 2019 (and had been in various media roles for decades, including NFL work with NBC and Fox).

Ryan is new to the media world, and even has not officially retired from the NFL. That’s led to discussion about him possibly returning to play, although he’s shot a lot of that down and that status may be just about collecting what he’s guaranteed from the Indianapolis Colts. Meanwhile, Ross joined CBS in 2018 and has worked with them on a variety of fronts, including the NFL and the NCAA Tournament (since 2021). Catalon said the group here and their willingness to work together has been key to the success of this three-man booth.

“Before I worked with James Lofton, my booth was a three-man booth with Steve Beuerlein and Steve Tasker, so it’s not my first rodeo with a three-man crew,” Catalon said. “And it can be tricky; it’s not the easiest, especially for the analysts to decide who talk when.”

“But what I love about this group is just how selfless we all are. None of us have an ego, from the producer [Steve McKee] and the director [Andy Goldberg] to us in the booth to AJ on the sideline. And that’s what you really need to make it work. You can’t have guys who are saying “Hey, I’ve got to get mine in, I’ve got to get on the air here.'”

He said that hasn’t been the case with this team.

“That’s not the way we operate. We have a great group, and I think a lot of it is because of all the time we spend together away from the game. We go to dinner every Friday, we’re always hanging out together on the road, and I think it’s really helped us understand about each other and what it takes to make it work.”

“We just care about a good product and not who’s saying what. And that’s why I feel each and every week this crew is getting better and better. And I think the ceiling remains high for all four of us.”

Ross started her NFL on CBS career working with Catalon and Lofton, and said it’s been great coming back to work with Catalon again.

“It’s been a seamless transition. Andrew and James were my first-ever NFL crew back in 2018, so they essentially showed me the ropes from Day 1. From there, I’ve bounced around a bit with different crews, but Andrew is the epitome of a professional and especially taught me as far as research and preparing for these games. His research is unparalleled. So it was seamless for me coming back into the fold with him.”

She said Ryan and Barber have been terrific to work with as well.

“Matt and Tiki are absolutely amazing. As esteemed as their careers were on the field, they are so awesome and so humble off the field. And I think the way that their authenticity resonates in these meetings, they’re able to just draw things from players and coaches that I personally haven’t witnessed in any production meetings, that just sets up a whole other conversation and different storylines we’re able to have every week that I think just make the broadcast more awesome.”

Barber said he’s loving getting to do game analysis each week, especially with this group.

“I was excited to get this opportunity, and once the crew got put together, I was even more so. As AJ was talking about, I’ve been retired for 17 years, and I’ve done a lot of different things in the media, but this one has felt the most fulfilling because of how close I feel to the game still.”

He said he feels like both he and Ryan have connections to current players, with some of his coming through his recently-retired (after the 2012 season) brother Ronde.

“That’s for a couple of reasons. One, everybody knows my brother, because he played for so long, and so they feel like they know me, and that allows us to have a good conversation with folks. And the other thing is that Matt just retired, so all of these offenses that we’re seeing, some of these coordinators who were in the Shanahan system and have now gone to different places, it’s the same one that he won the MVP with back in 2015.”

“So we know the people that we’re talking to. The players, they remember Matt, some of them read my children’s book. So there’s this connection in every locker room we go in, which makes it easier for us to get and ultimately tell the stories of the team, because they feel comfortable.”

Barber said the group here has been a joy to work with, which has helped him embrace doing this every week.

“It’s been really fulfilling. This is a fun crew, we have a lot of fun together, and I think we translate that to our game broadcasts. We’re not trying to be stiff; if Matt has something to say and he wants me to draw it out, I’ll draw it, he’ll talk it. So we collaborate really well, and I think very seamlessly, without a lot of effort.”

Barber has a lot to juggle each week, including with his daily afternoon radio show with Evan Roberts on WFAN. He said that radio show has its own advantages, and has some crossover with his NFL on CBS work.

“WFAN is about watching local sports and having an opinion about it. Sometimes you give a loud opinion, sometimes it’s a subtle opinion. But you better believe people are going to call and come back at you.”

“I have a good team over there as well; kind of like this one, I’m the old man in that group with Evan [Roberts] and Shawn [Morash] and [Tommy] Lugauer, and we do a lot of prep, we prep for the show and come in with a plan, just like we do with our games.”

For Ryan, broadcasting is new, and he’s jumped into it at a high level with this NFL on CBS work. He credits his experienced colleagues for how smoothly it’s worked so far.

“It’s definitely been an adjustment. It’s different. How you prepare is very different from preparing as a player. The rest of the team has made it that much easier, kind of holding my hand through the process.”

Ryan said he’s also felt more at ease with broadcasting over time.

“I really had no idea what I was doing Week 1, probably still have no idea what I’m doing Week 7 or 8. But I am getting more comfortable, just watching everybody and how they prepare during the week, and getting to see everybody on Friday when we get to a practice.”

And he said each colleague here brings something to the table, starting with what Ross gets from interviews.

“AJ’s been incredible in getting information out of players, asking them questions about things that I wouldn’t even have thought of. She gets them to talk and be comfortable. And that part’s been really cool.”

Ryan said Catalon’s research and habits have been valuable to watch.

“I think Andrew, as everybody has mentioned, the level of research that he does and just how prepared he is week-in and week-out, and his level of knowledge about the teams, that part to me has been really cool to see from a distance.”

And he said Barber has been a terrific analyst to work with given the differences in how he approaches the game.

“Tiki has been great; he sees it from a different perspective than I do,” Ryan said. “And I think that perspective, as an analyst doing this for the first time, so much of it is driven by the way I see things. But hearing kind of a different lens and a different approach to it, to me, that part has helped me so much too with how you need to grow and how you need to look at things. Just little things along the way.”

Ryan said overall, the group here has made this an enjoyable transition for him.

“It’s been fun, I think everyone has mentioned that, and to me, it’s put me at ease in a lot of ways. I didn’t know what it was supposed to be like on air. And it’s been amazing to me every time they’re like ‘All right, 3,2,1, you’re on,’ and I’m like ‘All right, what’s going to happen now?'”

And he said that chemistry has really helped the broadcast product, and reminds him of some of the best teams he played with.

“Just feeling comfortable with everyone and getting to know them on a personal level, I think it comes through when we’re on air that everyone is close and everyone is working together,” he said. “I always feel like the best teams I was on playing were the ones that were unselfish, that wanted the other person next to them to do great too, that were trying to set them up or help them in different ways.”

“To me, this group has really felt like that, where everyone’s rowing in the same direction, trying to do a great job to deliver an awesome performance on Sunday. And to really speak to the two teams and the fanbases that are listening and try to tell the stories of what’s actually going on in the game and what’s been going on during the week and why they’re playing a certain way. To me, it’s been a lot of fun and I’m really lucky to do it with this group.”

Barber said this three-man booth reminds him a bit of when he worked in a three-man booth for Fox with Ronde and with play-by-play voice Kenny Albert in 2017.

“Just like Andrew, I had done it before,” he said. “The first time I was in a booth was with my twin brother for Fox down at the Buccaneers-Giants game. It was interesting because I had never thought about doing booth work, and it kind of re-sparked my interest in the game. I had done so many other things, I’d worked at Fox and Today, and a bunch of different other media adventures, so to get back to it was exciting.”

He said that booth also worked because of chemistry.

“But the reason it worked with my brother was because we were so comfortable together, I mean, we had shared a womb. I have not shared a womb with Matt Ryan [laughs], but I feel like we had the same kind of connection.”

“And it was a really fast friendship, maybe over a couple glasses of wine, or I think I was drinking gin. But we got close really quickly, and when this team got put together, I couldn’t have been more excited. I knew Andrew briefly already because I’d filled in for James Lofton [in 2021 when he was out with illness], so I’d met Andrew before, and we had a really comfortable booth.”

And Barber said that’s crucial in a three-man booth.

“Doing a three-man is all about non-verbal communication, and we have a really good team in our booth. AJ’s down on the field and she’s bringing us everything that’s down there, but in our booth, it’s me and Matt and Andrew, but also his stats guy Mike and his spotter Lou, and there’s so much going on.”

“The only way it works is if you trust one another. And that’s the biggest benefit of our group; we trusted each other really quickly, and it’s because we hang out. We spend a lot of time together when we’re on the road.”

Ryan concurred with that on the importance of their communication habits.

“I agree with everything Tiki said. There’s a ton of non-verbal that goes on up there. I think Tiki and I are very comfortable doing whatever, just giving a little elbow here or a little hand signal there.”

“But I’ve got to give Andrew credit too, because he delivers it in a way that makes it work for Tiki and I, and allows us the space to be able to get in the point that we want. But also, he’s just very good at being able to tee you up, like, ‘This fits.’ He’s done an awesome job of orchestrating that.”

He said it’s been interesting for him coming into a three-man booth without any previous broadcasting experience.

“I don’t know any different, so for me coming in, it was just like ‘Okay, you’d better figure it out quick, you’d better figure out that you need to hit Tiki on this one and let him know this is his,'” he said. “Like ‘You’re perfect for this.’ Or maybe I’ve got a point to make or something like that. I think not knowing any different is helpful coming in, like ‘This is how we have to operate, this is what we’ve got to do.’ You figure it out.”

And Ryan credits Catalon for how smoothly this has gone.

“But I think Andrew, and I think Tiki would say the same thing, this works because Andrew makes it work. He’s excellent at being able to kind of orchestrate all of the moving parts that are going on on a Sunday between 1 and 4.”

There’s a ton of discussion about Ryan possibly going back to playing, even with his comments about not looking to do that. But he said he likes the game analyst role, and he’d like to continue with it. He also said it has some similarities to how playing felt.

“I’ve really enjoyed it. And I hope to be able to stick with it moving forward. I think the thing I like most is that it’s certainly not playing, but it’s similar to playing in that you prepare all week and then you have no idea how a game is going to shake out. And then when the ball’s kicked at 1:02 or whatever time, for three hours, you’d better lean on the preparation that you did all week.”

“You can’t fake it; you have to just be up there and let it rip and call it like you see it. And I really like that portion of it, the not knowing.”

“I think there’s a rush, in anything, whether it’s playing the sport or talking about the sport, it’s free-flowing. And it’s moving. And you have to be able to be quick on your feet and adjust and improvise and adapt to what’s going on, and that portion of it I really enjoyed.”

And, further illustrating the chemistry here, Catalon wrapped up this call with quite an appropriate comment in reference to Barber’s earlier remarks about his brother.

“I just wanted to say that I also did not share a womb with anyone on this call, just so you have that down.”

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.