Sports media: Matt Bowen teaches advanced football on ESPN’s ‘NFL Matchup’

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Matt Bowen (center) joins host Sal Paolantonio (left) and co-analyst Greg Cosell on the set of NFL Matchup. ESPN

Matt Bowen begins to break down a play in the Vikings-Packers game in Week 2 as an example of a coverage sack by the Packers. He explains that Vikings receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are running a route combination called ‘‘cross country dagger.’’ Thielen will run a ‘‘deep over,’’ and Diggs will run, appropriately, a ‘‘dig concept.’’

On the other side of the field, Bowen explains, Packers cornerback Josh Jackson will use a ‘‘green dog technique.’’ That means if the running back stays in to block rather than run a route, Jackson can blitz. When Vikings running back Dalvin Cook joins the protection, Jackson adds to the pressure on quarterback Kirk Cousins.

With linebacker Clay Matthews dropping into coverage, Cousins holds on to the ball, and the pressure overwhelms the quarterback, who is swallowed by three Packers.

In real time, the play took roughly six seconds. But on ESPN’s ‘‘NFL Matchup’’ show, Bowen took 1 minute, 20 seconds to explain exactly what happened. And, with the help of top-notch visual enhancements, he was able to do so in a way that was understandable to the football layman but would satisfy any maven.

This is Bowen’s new gig at ESPN. Since joining the network in 2015 after a seven-year run as a defensive back in the NFL (2000-06), the Glen Ellyn native and Glenbard West graduate has established himself as a prominent analyst. He already has embedded himself in ESPN’s fantasy-football world, writing a weekly column and ranking players for the website. Now he’s tackling a different audience.

Though ‘‘NFL Matchup’’ doesn’t have the best time slots — it fluctuates during the early-morning hours Saturday and Sunday — it has survived since 1984, and the 30 minutes are well worth your DVR space. Bowen, along with host Sal Paolantonio and longtime executive producer and now co-analyst Greg Cosell, preview select games in a way typical pregame shows don’t.

‘‘We look for a way to teach,’’ Bowen said, ‘‘and I think we appeal to an audience that wants high-level football information.’’

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Bowen prepares for a show as though he still were playing. On Monday and Tuesday, he watches game video sent electronically by the NFL. He and Cosell each examine four games, looking for specific matchups and situations that will apply that week. Once he has chosen his plays, Bowen sends the information to the show’s production team, which creates the video. He adds his words before taping.

Bowen watches more video Wednesday and Thursday to prepare for future shows, giving him information to call back to and keeping him abreast of the teams.

‘‘Greg Cosell said it is a homework show; you have to study,’’ Bowen said. ‘‘That’s how I was as a player, though. I think that’s why I like it so much — because I wasn’t a star player by any means and I had to study to give myself just a chance.’’

From their previous encounters, Cosell (Howard Cosell’s nephew) knew that Bowen loved to study the game.

‘‘It’s a show where we have serious discussions about tactical football,’’ Cosell said. ‘‘One of the things that’s critical is you have to feel someone’s passion about the sport, and that’s what stands out with Matt. I think the passion oozes from the way he speaks about the game.’’

In fact, Bowen can’t get enough of it. He’s also a volunteer coach at IC Catholic Prep in Elmhurst, where he lives. He joins the team for practices Mondays and Wednesdays and for games Fridays. He has to hustle to make it by kickoff after flying Thursdays to Philadelphia to tape the show on Friday mornings at the NFL Films studio in Mount Laurel, New Jersey.

‘‘He shoots me texts on Saturday, showing me plays from his high school game,’’ Cosell said. ‘‘So he just loves football. And this show is about process. You have to love the process, and he does.’’

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