Here’s the transcript of Greg Cosell’s Thursday morning interview on KNBR’s Murph and Mac Show.
Q: What did the eye in the sky say about Alex Smith?
COSELL: I think what they did was they came out a little more aggressively and they threw on first down early in the game – which, by the way, is always the best down to throw, because normally you’re throwing at base personnel packages and you end up getting predictable fronts and predictable coverages. And by the way, Alex Smith has been very good on first down all year. He’s completing 71 percent of his first down passes with five touchdowns and no interceptions, but at the end of the day we’ll see if that continues as far as “expanding and throwing more.” I wouldn’t expect Coach Harbaugh to say anything else – it’s his guy. What are you going to do, come out and say, “We’re really trying to manage him because he has limitations?” He’s not going to say that. Why would he?
Q: But he put the ball in his hands on 19 of the first 25 plays.
COSELL: You are correct. Their first half play breakdown was 20 called passes and six called runs. Harbaugh clearly went against tendency and Alex Smith was very efficient in that first half. He was 12 for 17 for 151 yards. Don’t forget – time moves on, he’s more comfortable in the offense, he’s playing better.
Look, I’m going to tell you exactly what I see: He’s not a great passer. The ball does not come out with a lot of juice. You wouldn’t call him an elite-arm talent by any means. But you don’t have to be an elite-arm talent to be an efficient player. The goal is to make him efficient. The one thing that’s clearly evident is you’re not seeing the negative plays. You’re not seeing the turnovers that have haunted him in the past.
Q: Do you think if Frank Gore plays this week that Alex Smith will be throwing a lot again, or do you think Frank Gore determines the amount of passes in the game plan.
COSELL: I don’t know that for sure, but I think that they’re playing a defense this week where as long as you can protect you can throw. This is a defense that normally blitzes a lot. They did not blitz a lot against Michael Vick, but that’s Michael Vick. They had a specific approach to him. Normally, this is a high-percentage-blitz defense that Arizona puts out there. Most blitzes come out of sub packages, not base personnel. So, if you stay with Delanie Walker, Vernon Davis, your two tight end package, you’re not going to get five DBs and six DBs, you’re going to get their base personnel. They don’t blitz a lot out of that.
By the way, what Jim Harbaugh’s doing in my opinion is really smart.
Q: In everything he’s doing?
COSELL: In the way he’s building Alex Smith.
Q: I agree. He built him and built him and built him and then he unleashed him in his ninth game when he had some self confidence.
COSELL: Correct. Alex Smith is a quarterback that you have to manipulate to some degree. He’s not an elite-arm talent. I know he was the No. 1 pick in the draft. That’s not his fault. But he’s not an elite-arm talent. He can be a quality player in this league. But you need to manage him. You’re not going to ask him to do, nor is he capable of doing, what an Aaron Rodgers can do, for instance. You’re just not going to ask him to do that. Harbaugh gets that. He’s doing it exactly right. He’s just not going to say this publicly because it serves no purpose.
Q: Should the Niners win? Is there something Arizona brings to the table that the Niners should be worried about?
COSELL: At the end of the day defensively, I think they (the 49ers defense) outmatch this offense. (Quarterback John) Skelton can make throws. But I think they’ll bring pressure. I think the O-line for the Cards is one of the worst in the league in pass protection. Their two tackles (Levi) Brown and, it will probably be Jeremy Bridges because Brandon Keith got hurt last week - Levi Brown may be the worst left tackle in football, and that’s an objective, film-study statement. So I think this is a very difficult test for the Cardinals offense, and the 49er defense is still playing well. I thought Eli Manning was phenomenal last week against a really good defense. John Skelton won’t do that.