Greg Cosell expanded on his NFC championship commentary Thursday morning on KNBR’s The Murph and Mac Show. Here’s what he said.
Q: For everyone who didn’t read your blog, tell us your evaluation of the game.
COSELL: “Let me just start with this: It was 49ers football. They played true to their character. It’s a run-based offense. It’s a high percentage of two backs, two tight ends, two backs and two tight ends. Occasional shot plays, pass plays off play action, off boot action. That’s what they do. The touchdown to Davis, the first one – really beautifully designed, great throw by Alex Smith. The second touchdown to Davis – beautifully designed, another great throw. And we know that if Kyle Williams doesn’t fumble, maybe they win the game. He fumbled twice. That’s 49er football – they did not turn the ball over this year. They were +28 in turnover differential. But the problem is what happens when that doesn’t happen? And history suggests that type of thing never happens two years in a row, by the way, that kind of turnover differential.
“But there are other plays in the game – designed, big-play opportunities that were there, and Alex, for whatever reason – and he knows it, by the way – he didn’t pull the trigger. I don’t know whether he didn’t see it well. I can’t answer that.
“The first play of the second half was about as vivid as you could get. You know that’s a designed play because they came out of halftime with it. It was one of their staple plays – what we call a wheel route. They had Delanie Walker on a wheel route from the line of scrimmage tight end position. He ran right by Corey Webster who slipped. He was wide open. There was no pressure on Alex. Only he can tell you why he didn’t throw it. It would have been a 68 yard touchdown, and he ended up getting sacked.
“There are other examples as well. Michael Crabtree is taking a ton of abuse, and he’s certainly not been worthy of the tenth pick in the draft – we all know that. But, on the first play of a drive with four minutes to go and a tie game, Crabtree is wide open on a corner route from the slot, no pressure on Alex Smith – he left the pocket and then threw it out of bounds. These are plays that you have to make in these games.
“Now, am I going to say he’s the reason they lost? No, I think that would be a little strong. But, I think in tight games like that when everything doesn’t go right that’s gone right for your team all year, that’s when your quarterback has to make throws, and there were a few he missed. Obviously, if Kyle Williams didn’t do what he did they might still have won the game.
“When your turnover differential doesn’t work in a given game – and by the way, you can’t count on that. It worked out phenomenally this year, but I’ve done studies, a lot of people have done studies, a lot smarter people than me have done studies – that kind of thing doesn’t happen year after year after year. So, the +28 will not likely happen next year, and when that doesn’t happen – when other things that you expect don’t happen, the magnitude’s of the quarterback’s play increases. That’s just the way the NFL is.”
Q: But what if you look at Alex Smith’s performance this way – that he did throw two touchdowns, that he didn’t turn the ball over. He did what he did all year, and that’s been enough.
COSELL: “That’s the argument. You could argue he did exactly what he’s done all year and if it wasn’t for the turnovers they very likely could have won the game. But, they had turnovers. So, therefore, when that happens your margin for error lessens and your quarterback has to make throws.”
Q: Did Alex Smith outplay Eli Manning in that game?
COSELL: “I don’t think so, personally. Eli threw 58 balls and he had the living crap beat out of him, so you have to give him credit just in that area, that he kept getting up. I believe he was hit 23 times.
“He should have thrown two picks, maybe three. But the one thing I like about Eli – he has amnesia. He just plays one play to the next. He could throw a horrible ball and then the next play he plays like that didn’t happen. I think that’s one of his strengths.
“Eli is a more talented passer. He can make some throws that Alex Smith can’t make because he’s got a stronger arm and he’s more willing to make those throws. Quarterbacks who are willing to make stick throws, which by the way you have to be willing to do in this league, will always at times appear that they force a couple and they might throw a few more picks. But, in this league, in critical moments you’ve got to be willing to make stick throws into small windows.”