Greg Cosell breaks down the Niners matchup with the Giants

Murph and Mac interviewed NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell this morning on KNBR.

They talked about Tim Tebow, Carson Palmer and Philip Rivers first, and then they talked Niners matchup with the Giants after. I’m giving you the Niners stuff first, but I’m including the rest of the interview below.


Q: The 6-2 New York Giants against the 7-1 San Francisco 49ers. Eli Manning and Alex Smith are ranked fifth and sixth in quarterback rating. If you’re the Giants are you going to take away the short routes and try to make Alex Smith beat you deep? Is that your plan?

COSELL: It’s funny you say that, because if you want to talk real football now, what the Giants have been doing is they play essentially with three safeties in what they call their “big nickel.” It’s five defensive backs and three safeties. That’s often their base defensive package, and I’m going to be very anxious to see if they stay with that because of what the 49ers do. A lot of two tight ends. Sometimes six offensive linemen. Sometimes Sopoaga in the game as a blocker. This is a team that plays a lot of big people. So, I’m anxious to see if the Giants stay with what’s essentially a nickel defense concept against that. If they do, that might be advantage 49ers in the run game.

Q: Jim Harbaugh described it as a clash wills, and maybe that’s right. The Giants will decide whether they stick with the girl who brung ‘em or risk getting beat by Gore.

COSELL: The thing is you look at last week, the Niners – and every week I’ve been telling you what a good job Harbaugh and his offensive staff do – and you saw the touchdown pass to Bruce Miller last week. Another great example of a play that’s kind of an unconventional play. Bruce Miller’s a converted defensive end from Central Florida, and he runs a wheel route for a touchdown. It’s a great call because it’s essentially a one-read throw for Alex Smith. It breaks down the defense. They’re doing these kinds of things really, really well and having success with them.

Q: What can the Giants do to crack this 49ers defense that seems to be getting even better?

COSELL: I’m going to be anxious on this side of the ball as well because I believe Hakeem Nicks, who’s a really good receiver, will be back. It will be interesting to me to see whether the Giants play more three wide receiver to get to the nickel sub package, and try to throw the football. The Giants have not had a consistent run game at all, and I don’t believe they’re going to run against that base 3-4 front seven. It’s just too good. The Giants O-line and their running game has not been good enough to be able to run the ball against this defense.

Q: How do you think Eli Manning has been playing this year?

COSELL: It’s funny, you talk about that, and when you watch every play you see things. One of the safeties for the Patriots basically dropped an easy interception on that drive, so if he doesn’t drop it we’d be having a totally different conversation. That’s why you have to look at every play. But I think for the most part Eli has played well. He’s a solid, professional quarterback. He’s not turned the ball over this year. They ask him to do an awful lot at the line of scrimmage with audibles and checks. He basically controls their run game at the line of scrimmage. So I think Eli is a very, very solid player. We’ve had this big debate – I don’t know if you’ve seen it, maybe it’s an East Coast debate – about whether he’s elite, which is one of those terms which I guess everyone has a different view of that. But he’s a very solid player.

Q: So it’s the Giants D with their three safeties against the Niners excellent run game, and Eli Manning and Hakeem Nicks testing the Niners nickel defense. Are those the key matchups?

COSELL: Yes, these are things I’ll be looking at. I think the 49ers, and again, we say this every week, but the running game is absolutely critical for them. If they can’t run it, they’re going to have a tough time against this Giants defense because the one thing about this D-line is they rush the quarterback really well. If you put Alex Smith in too many third and sevens, eights, nines, it won’t be Alex Smith necessarily, it will be the O-line that may not be able to hold up against that pass rush.


Q: What did you think of Tim Tebow against the Raiders?

COSELL: I thought that the Raiders clearly did not prepare at all to defend the read option. It looked like they had never seen it. It made me wonder if they had practiced the week before, because I think when you play Tim Tebow you have to expect that. Tebow threw five passes in the second half, and yet they gained a large, large majority of their yards in the second half by playing what is essentially a college offense. So, you had to wonder what the Raiders were doing in terms of preparation.

Q: They said that they did prepare for it. That’s almost scarier, isn’t it?

COSELL: Look, I have tremendous respect for coaches because of what I do, and I’m sure they did. I’m just responding to the coaching tape. The coaching tape made it look as if they had not really prepared for it.

Q: Wow. Did Tebow throw any balls that made you say, “There’s progress and I’m going to come around on him?”

COSELL: I think there were two or three throws, but again, it’s really interesting how – and I don’t know how Tim Tebow’s going to play out – I don’t believe that the way they beat the Raiders last week, in today’s NFL over time as teams get more film of that and truly prepare for it, I don’t believe they can play that way as a base offense, so he will have to throw it. I think we’ve lowered the standard. He makes two or three good throws in a game, we sort of say “Wow, he can throw it!” But think of the other standard. Carson Palmer made about five or six “wow” throws on Sunday, and yet all you hear about is, “He’s not very good.” It’s all perception.

Q: Palmer also had three interceptions. Is it reasonable to think we’ll see more improvement tonight?

COSELL: I thought he threw the ball really well on Sunday and read coverage really well. Interceptions are a funny thing – you’ve got to look at each one separately. The first one he took a shot in man to man coverage with Denarius Moore and Champ Bailey. Champ Bailey won. That’s not a bad throw or a bad read. The defense won – that happens in the NFL, particularly when it’s a hall-of-fame corner. The second one was the one that got away from him. It was the play right before McGahee’s long touchdown. You can see when the ball came out it got away from him. Hey, it happened. It turned out to be a pick. The last one you have to disregard. They’re down 14, he’s trying to make a throw, he gets hit. If you look at each interception, except for the one that truly got away from him, they’re not bad interceptions, and overall he made a couple of throws – the touchdown to Reece, there’s not three quarterbacks in the league that No. 1 attempt that throw, and No. 2 make that throw.

Q: What are you seeing from Philip Rivers?

COSELL: I actually thought, believe it or not, Rivers threw two interceptions for touchdowns, I believe both were in the first quarter Sunday. But I thought after that we started to see a little more of the Philip Rivers we’ve come to expect, and I’m very anxious to see the game tonight because if Rivers throws the ball more like Rivers, I think the matchups in the secondary favor the Chargers.

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