Greg Cosell spoke on KNBR Thursday morning. Here’s what he said about the 49ers and the Falcons.
Q: Was Kaepernick’s record-breaking performance aided by an awful Packers defense?
COSELL: I think that’s fair. I think the numbers reflect that. He had three scrambled in the first half for 53 yards. All of them came against man-to-man coverage concepts. Two of those plays they doubled Michael Crabtree. I think that playing man-to-man in third down situations or second-and-long against Kaepernick is probably not smart. You won’t see the Falcons do that. They didn’t played one snap of man coverage last week against Russell Wilson, so you won’t see that against Atlanta.
The other factor, of course, was the pistol runs. If you’re being fair, you have to say that Green Bay played extremely poorly in terms of their defensive discipline and understanding what they were defending.
Q: Will the Falcons be ready for Kaepernick because they faced Russell Wilson, or are they up a creek because they have one short week to prepare?
COSELL: Now we’re getting into serious football, gentlemen. The Falcons last week did an outstanding job taking away the option in the Seahawk’s version of the read option, which is different from the pistol. What they did against Russell Wilson was they had their widest defender on the line of scrimmage basically just stand there. So they removed the option from the option. They forced Russell Wilson to hand it off, because he’s reading the widest defender, and if the widest defender just stand there on the outside, then Russell Wilson will hand the ball off. There’s no option for him to run. They did that and then did a very good job defending Marshawn Lynch when he handed it off.
What the 49ers do in the pistol is a little different, because often they bring a lead blocker across the formation to block that widest defender. For instance, on Kaepernick’s 56-yard touchdown, Bruce Miller blocked the linebacker, Eric Walden. They don’t just leave that player alone unblocked. They actually assign a blocker to him. So what Seattle does and what the 49ers do is actually a little different.
Q: What the 49ers did to Green Bay, can the 49ers do that effectively to Atlanta’s defense?
COSELL: Well, they’ll try. We’ll see what Atlanta does in response. That’s the big issue. What you don’t want to have happen if you’re Atlanta, you don’t want to have Kaepernick get to the edge with nobody out there. As long as there’s a body out there, even if Kaepernick is a better athlete, you make him run sideways longer. When he can just turn it up immediately because there’s nobody out there, that’s what you get last week on the 56-yard touchdown.
Q: Where does this leave Frank Gore and the running game between the tackles?
COSELL: Last week they ran 34 plays out of the pistol, which I think might have been the most they’ve run all year. 34 of their 75 snaps, so 45 percent of their offensive plays were out of the pistol. Kaepernick rushed 8 times for 102 yards. Gore rushed 16 times for 87 yards. So out of the pistol, if you factor in two runs by James, they rushed 26 times for 209 yards. That’s unheard of. You have to assume Atlanta will be prepared. Whether they stop it, that comes down to assignment discipline by the players. There’s an old expression that the coaches have all the power but no control. We’ll see.
Q: Did Justin Smith play well?
COSELL: I thought he was fine against the run, and Green Bay totally abandoned the run away after their two rushes of the second half with Harris they basically didn’t run the ball. The game really did not get out of hand until late. They chose to abandon the run. I thought he was effective playing the run and not as effective rushing the quarterback.
Q: Does Atlanta think their skill guys can gash the 49ers?
COSELL: I think Atlanta has throughout the season predominantly has been a passing team. I would not be surprised to see them play meaningful snaps with three wide receivers, because I would guess that they’re going to feel pretty good about their matchups on the outside. I think they’re going to feel good about Jones and White matched up against Culliver and Brown. Whether that works or not, that’s why they play the games, but I think they’ll feel those matchups favor them.
Q: What are the 49ers facing in Matt Ryan?
COSELL: I think you’re facing a quarterback who’s really good at the line of scrimmage. They use the use the no huddle effectively at times. I think when he has a clean pocket he’s very, very efficient and very good. I think when he struggles is when there are bodies around him and the pocket gets a little muddied. I think he’s at his best as a functional-space quarterback who can step into throws. He’s accurate, he can make any throw and he’s very good. The key with Matt Ryan is to prevent him from being able to step comfortably into throws.
Q: So it’s going to be a big week for the 49ers’ pass rushers?
COSELL: Yeah. The 49ers have not been a high-percentage blitz team. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them selectively bring a little more pressure.
Q: Last year you said the 49ers were managing Alex Smith. Are they managing Colin Kaepernick? Or have they unleashed him?
COSELL: You obviously have the pistol element, so you don’t see as many heavy sets with six and seven offensive linemen. You used to see that more with Alex Smith. Now you only see it if it’s third and short or a goal-to-go type situation. Now the offense is more spread out. They’re getting the ball to Crabtree – he has 63 targets in the last six games. The next closest is Randy Moss with 26. Crabtree has become arguably a big-time NFL receiver. I always thought he had that talent.
So the offense has changed. It’s a running offense and it always will be, but they understand that you have to make explosive plays in the pass game to be an NFL champion. That’s why Kaepernick is playing.