Here’s what NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell said about the Niners this Thursday morning on KNBR’s Murph and Mac Show.
Q: Body language, accuracy, decisions – Alex Smith looks like a different guy, right?
COSELL: “I would say he’s definitely a more confident player than he’s ever been. What the 49ers do, they take a few of what we call ‘shot plays’ every game. When you hit those, your performance is outstanding. The 52-yard touchdown to Crabtree was on the first third quarter possession, it’s what we call a shot play. Shot plays often come between the 40 yard lines where you go downfield and you’re essentially looking for a touchdown. And it was a very basic play that a lot of teams use. It was a two receiver route. Ginn ran the crossing route and Crabtree ran the deep post. You protect with eight people off play action, so you’ve got eight-man protection, which, theoretically, you should have no pressure on the quarterback, and he made a phenomenal throw for a 52-yard touchdown. He also made a great throw that Vernon Davis dropped. Now I thought Alex Smith for the most part threw the ball well.”
“The only thing that stood out to me in that game was all their different kinds of runs, all these deception runs – triple option, the Ginn reverse, the Walker toss reverse off misdirection, the Williams reverse from the slot. I think Jim Harbaugh is doing a terrific job of trying to create what we call ‘explosive plays,’ 20+ yards plays by design. That’s effective. That’s working. And I think he’s doing that because he knows his pass game, as a multi-dimensional week-to-week pass game is solid, but not explosive.”
Q: Harbaugh called some of those runs fly sweeps.
COSELL: “Oh yeah, yeah, the fly sweep, absolutely, that’s what we call it. He also whipped out the old counter trey that the Redskins used to run with the Hogs back with John Riggins in the early ‘80s.”
Q: Do you think these trick plays are all a part of playoff preparation in a way? Is it confusing the Saints scouts?
COSELL: “I think anytime that you run deception plays of any kind, that puts a burden on defenses that you will play because they have to be prepared for that, because all play calling on both sides of the ball is about probability and tendency. Nothing is about certainty. So you show things and you force the defense to have to defend different things. That’s the exact reason why Tim Tebow and Cam Newton are having so much success with the read option elements, because NFL teams don’t see that very often, so now they have to try to defend it. I think Jim Harbaugh, coming from college and being much more in tune with those kinds of things, understands that all these deception elements pose problems for defenses.”
Q: We used to think that anything from the college game wouldn’t work on the pro level. Do we have to change our preconceptions? Are things changing before our eyes?
COSELL: “I believe that’s true, and I think one reason for that is the relaxation of rules. I think it’s a passing league, it’s a spread league, because it’s very difficult to No. 1, hit receivers. After five yards obviously you can’t touch them, and you can’t really intimidate receivers like you could in the old days. The days of Ronnie Lott laying out guys when they crossed the middle of the field – those days are over. So I think it’s a spread game, it’s a space game now, much more so than a tight, physical game. So anything that allows you to use these space elements increases your efficiency and makes you more difficult to defend.”
Q: Arizona’s won four of their last five games. Are they really doing better right now than they were earlier in the season?
COSELL: “Again, their defense. See, they brought in Ray Horton from the Steelers, and there’s a lot to learn, and with a lockout and shortened training camp they really struggled on defense early, but because they’re the Cardinals and nobody follows them people are unaware that their defense has improved dramatically. I’ll be real anxious to see this game on tape, (The Cardinals defense) versus the 49ers offense. I’d like to see the Niners offense be a little more explosive. And this is not an easy defense right now to play against. There’s a lot of blitz concepts to deal with. You’ll see similar things that they faced when they played the Ravens. Now they’re not as talented as the Ravens, clearly, but they’re going to do a lot of things, and some of those things gave the Niners problems on that Thursday night game.”