Greg Cosell spoke on KNBR on Monday and Tuesday. Here’s what he said about the 49ers’ Super Bowl matchup against the Ravens.
Q: How much more difficult will it be for the 49ers’ offense to do what they want to do against the Ravens’ defense?
COSELL: Ray Lewis is going to struggle against this offense, because they’re going to make him have to run. I don’t think he’s at the point in his career, in fact I know so, where he’s going to be able to do that really well. Now, he’s still a terrific between-the-tackles run defender, but the 49ers give you so much more than just, “Here’s Frank Gore up the middle, try to stop him.” So much of that comes off the pistol. Even Sunday, 16 of Gore’s 21 rushes came out of the pistol. This is going to be a tough, tough matchup for Baltimore’s defense. Now, they’ve got a lot of veteran players and they’re smart. I’m not suggesting the 49ers are going to score 45 points. I just think it’s going to be a difficult matchup.
I just haven’t seen teams in the playoffs try to exploit Ray in the passing game. That’s where you can get him. I think you can exploit Ray in the pass game. I think there are opportunities for the 49ers to do that.
On the read option play, if a defender is not going to be blocked – the 49ers don’t always do that, but there are plays in which a defender is not blocked – what should that defender do? Most teams have that defender play reactively. He looks into the backfield and waits and sees. One thing the Ravens did Week 14 against the Redskins was they had that unblocked defender attack the backfield, make what happened in the backfield happen faster. It will be interesting to see how the Ravens approach that in the Super Bowl. As a defense, that’s what you want – unblocked defenders. Why not have them be aggressive and attack as opposed to sit and wait?
Q: Is Joe Flacco underrated?
COSELL: I think he’s a much better passer than he’s given credit for. He’s an elite passer. He’s an elite arm talent. Prior to Kaepernick, I firmly believed that Flacco had the strongest arm in the NFL, and arm strength is not throwing the ball 90 yards. Arm strength is driving intermediate throws with ease at 22, 25 yards between defenders. Flacco is a master at that. Those are not easy throws because they’re really 40-yard throws when you count the drop. He’s effortless with those throws. He almost doesn’t need to step into those throws. He’s a great deep ball thrower, playing in a offense that’s very hard to complete a high percentage because they drive the ball down the field very often. There are very few easy completions in that offense. And his receivers, quite frankly, struggle winning against man coverage. So he’s making very difficult throws to covered receivers.
Q: How different is the Ravens’ offensive line compared to Atlanta’s?
COSELL: I think it’s a little better. It’s not a great O-line. I think that McKinnie at left tackle will absolutely need help with Aldon Smith. They’ve got a rookie at left guard – Osemele – and he’ll be matched up often with Justin Smith. I think that’s a matchup to look at in this game.
Q: How close to Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez are Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta?
COSELL: I would argue they’re not real close, but that’s just my opinion. What you worry about with Smith is the homerun. But as a consistent receiver, he’s not in the class of White or Jones.
I think Boldin is essentially a slot receiver. On Sunday, from late in the second quarter until late in the fourth quarter, they lined up with three wide receivers on every snap and they went to their no huddle and Boldin was in the slot. That’s where he’s most effective. He’s terrific making contested catches. He has iron claw hands.
They did a great job when they went to their no huddle out of 11 personnel with three wide receivers. They did pretty much go up and down the field. I thought the Patriots were very basic and very vanilla on defense. A lot of that was pitch-and-catch for Flacco. It will be interesting to see what the 49ers do. The 49ers have good players, but their coverage concepts are not necessarily that complicated. With two weeks to prepare, every team has a few new wrinkles, and I’ll be interested to see how the 49ers choose to play coverage.
The Ravens have had more success running the ball out of three wide receivers and one back than out of two backs. They’ve had far more success running when they get the opponent in Nickel. I think that’s the way they’ll stay. They’re predominantly a zone running team. They run a ton of weak-side zone. The Niners will know that, because that’s what film study is. That’s ultimately how they try to run the football. The interesting thing against the Patriots, beginning in the second half the Ravens had five consecutive possessions in which they lined up with three wide and went predominantly no huddle. They up-tempoed the game. You’ve got to be prepared for that when you play the Ravens.