Greg Cosell spoke on KNBR Thursday morning. Here’s what he said about the 49ers.
Q: What stood out to you in the 49ers win over the Dolphins?
COSELL: The 49ers ran 17 snaps in the pistol formation. 31 percent of their offensive plays were in the pistol. I think that’s indicative of the fact that the transition has likely been made, because when you go that heavy with pistol – which is obviously a function of Kaepernick – then I think you’ve moved in that direction.
Q: How effective was it against the Dolphins?
COSELL: It was very effective. Obviously the 50-yard touchdown to seal the victory came out of the pistol. They ran the same play the play before for just two yards, and then they came right back with it and that sealed the game. But I think the overriding point was how much they were in that formation.
Q: Can the 49ers succeed running the pistol that many times against the Patriots?
COSELL: I don’t feel the 49ers were aggressive with the pass game against the Dolphins. There were a couple of plays where I think Kaepernick maybe didn’t pull the trigger on throws that were there. My guess is in this game, they’re going to have to scheme some explosive plays in the pass game, because as good as the 49ers’ defense is – and it’s playing very well – I think it’s hard to go into Foxboro and think you’re going to win a 13-10 or a 17-13 game.
Q: Does the Patriots defense have a tendency to get beaten on explosive pass plays?
COSELL: Very much so early in the year. They changed dramatically with the acquisition of Aqib Talib, the cornerback. He did not play in the second half against Houston. I don’t know specifically at this moment what his status is for the game. But if he plays, he changes their defense dramatically. They play him in man-to-man coverage without any safety help much of the time, and that gives them extra bodies to defend all the other receivers. It’s what we used to call the Deion Coverage, for Deion Sanders, and now what I guess people called Revis Coverage, or Revis Island, where one corner plays man coverage with no help. The Patriots have done a lot of that since they acquired Talib.
Q: How is their pass rush?
COSELL: Better than people probably think. It’s not a dynamic pass rush, but they do have a pass rush, and they have players with versatility. Chandler Jones is now back, the rookie from Syracuse who missed a number of games. He’s a good pass rusher. Now when you get to the run game, they’re very good inside versus the run game with Vince Wilfork and Brandon Spikes. Spikes is a violent run defender for an inside linebacker. For people who looked at this defense early in the year and haven’t really taken note since, it’s better now.
Q: What do you think of the Patriots offense?
COSELL: They’ve transitioned quite a bit into a running team. Did you know the Patriots run the ball more than the 49ers? That happens to be true, and that’s not skewed by a running quarterback. The Niners running totals are skewed by the fact that they have a running quarterback now. The Patriots are a running team and they’re outstanding with run action with Brady under center. The Brandon Lloyd 35-yard touchdown on Monday night was a prime example. They had three tight ends, and they went with really hard run action. The safeties bit really hard, and Lloyd was wide open. It looked like a bust, but it was not a bust. Goldson, all this week I guarantee he’s being coached up, because Goldson is outstanding from the safety position playing downhill in the run game. He’s going to have to be a little careful, because if he keeps hitting that really hard they’re going to take advantage of that.
Q: How much of the Patriots’ weaponry is just the sheer matchup problem that Aaron Hernandez brings?
COSELL: Yeah, great point about Hernandez. The 49ers have to decide how they want to treat Hernandez, and when I say treat, this is what I mean – is he a tight end, or is he a receiver? In other words, do you play your base offense when he’s on the field with another tight end, or do you treat him as a wide receiver and play your nickel defense? That’s the first thing that Vic Fangio has to decide, and everything will flow from that.
Q: How do they stop Brady?
COSELL: The thing that Brady is so good at, just like Peyton Manning, they’re so good before the ball is snapped. They’re aware of where pressure is coming from. They set their protections to take care of it. Or if they know that there’s a player who their protection can’t block, they get rid of the ball before that player can get there. Brady is a master at recognizing defenses and manipulating defenses before the snap.
There are two schools of thought: Some people believe you don’t blitz Brady because you won’t get there, and you’re just wasting a defensive body. Other people you have to blitz him because you’ve got to hit him. I don’t know if that’s what Vic Fangio will do. The 49ers are not a high, high percentage blitz team, because they’re so good generating pressure out of their nickel with four rushers. Obviously, they’ve got Aldon Smith. It would not surprise me to see him line up over the guard, inside in the nickel to get him closer to Brady, and to get a more advantageous matchup.
Q: Is there a matchup that favors the 49ers in this game?
COSELL: Ultimately, when you’re the 49ers, and you’re a team that plays a certain way, I don’t think you can step outside of the way you play. Having said that, I still think explosive plays in the pass game, but hey, every team has explosive pass plays in their play book.
But you can’t go into this game saying, “We’ve got to all of a sudden win a shoot out, and we’re going to start throwing it all over the field and step outside of character.” Sometimes I think teams, when playing high scoring offenses, think, “Oh my God, we’ve got to score every time or we’re in trouble,” and they step outside of what they do. The 49ers are an extremely talented team, a very complete team, and they have to play 49er football. They can’t step out of what they do just because they’re playing a really good team on the road.