Greg Cosell breaks down the Ravens and Alex Smith

Here’s the transcript of NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell’s interview from this morning on KNBR’s The Murph and Mac show.

Q: Do the Harbaugh brothers coach in similar ways? Do their teams show similar tendencies?

COSELL: There’s a toughness, a physical and mental toughness that is instilled in both teams, and that comes from the brothers. That would be the similarity. I think the difference is John Harbaugh is not actually coaching the offense or the defense, whereas Jim clearly has his hands on what they do offensively in San Francisco. And as I’ve told you many times, and I feel that it was just again borne out this week, he does a really, really good job with his formations, with his use of personnel dictating matchups. I think he does a terrific job with that. That would be a similarity and a difference.

Q: What’s John Harbaugh’s imprint on the Ravens?

COSELL: My guess is, and I don’t know this because I’m not there every day, but my guess is he would be a bit more of an executive head coach, and there are many head coaches like that in the league and many are successful. You could say the same thing about Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh, and I know you guys play Pittsburgh in a few weeks. There are certain head coaches who are actively involved with one side of the ball as Jim Harbaugh is, and there are other head coaches who might be involved just in a conceptual way, saying things like, “Hey, I’d like to see more of this personnel,” or, “I think we should run the ball more in these situations,” but they’re not really involved in the specifics, the details. I think Jim Harbaugh is involved in the details of the offense.

Q: Is there extra buzz than usual in the hallways of NFL Films for the Harbowl?

COSELL: Stay tuned. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to announce anything so I won’t, but there will be something very exciting coming out of this game that will be on the NFL Network probably 24 to 48 hours after Thursday night. It might be 72 hours, but my guess is it will air Saturday night – that would be my guess.

Q: What do the Ravens present that could be a matchup problem for the 49ers?

COSELL: I think the main thing they present is speed on the outside in the form of Torrey Smith, a rookie who’s an inconsistent player, but he has the kind of speed that you must matchup to. So that’s No. 1. I think No. 2, they’ll say that they have to stop Ray Rice. Everybody will say that first, but quite frankly the running game for the Ravens this year has been very inconsistent. It’s been week-to-week, not because Rice is any less of a player, but because they have not executed their run game well when they’ve run it, and 2, they’ve often abandoned the run game. A couple of weeks ago when they lost to Seattle they had 32 first half plays, the Ravens did, and they handed the ball to Ray Rice four times. Sometimes they take their own great back out of the game by their play calling. You still must defend the run and you must defend Ray Rice coming out of the backfield as a receiver – he can be extremely dangerous.

Q: How dangerous is Joe Flacco?

COSELL: Another quarterback who’s a little week-to-week, but highly skilled and elite arm talent. Can make all the throws, both short, medium and long and the ball comes out with velocity. I hate to say this, it’s such a cliché but it’s true – on any given week he can make “wow” throws. He can stretch the field, so you have to be prepared for Flacco and Torrey Smith, as I mentioned a moment ago.

Q: The Ravens have lost some games to some weak opponents. Are they a team that isn’t as strong as their record would indicate?

COSELL: When the inconsistencies become consistent, then you are a flawed team, and I think they are right now. I can only tell you what the film shows, I can’t speak to why they’re inconsistent. When I watch Joe Flacco there are weeks when he throws the ball extremely well, makes great decisions, ball comes out quick, all the good things you talk about with quarterbacks, and there’s other weeks when the decision making is slow, holds the ball too long, there’s inaccuracy. I can’t tell you why that is, I can only tell you that’s what the film shows.

Q: Do you see the Ravens defense posing multiple problems to a 49ers offense which you have said is not an explosive unit?

COSELL: And they’re not, and what I’ve really noticed in the last two weeks is I think Jim Harbaugh – and he would never admit this because he hasn’t clinched anything – but I think he’s having Alex Smith throw the ball more in anticipation of playing in the playoffs, because it’s very difficult to win in the playoffs just running the ball and playing good defense. You need to create more explosive chunks of yards in the pass game, and they’re throwing the ball. I don’t think Alex Smith was as sharp this week as he was the week before, but he’s not turning it over.

And Harbaugh, where he’s so good – and I mentioned this when we started – he does a great job with formations and passing concepts. He gets matchups that he wants. The perfect example – just one of many this year – when you go to the game Sunday was the Davis touchdown in the third quarter. He had all three tight ends on the field on that play, and he got Davis matched on the safety, Rashad Johnson, who…that’s just a mismatch. That’s what Harbaugh has been so, so good at this year, and he’ll attempt to do those things against the Ravens.

But where the Ravens pose some problems is they’re really difficult with their fronts. A lot of versatility, a lot of different front looks, they’re difficult to identify who’d rushing, who’s not rushing. I will be a challenge for the offensive line. This is a homework week. They really have to do a lot of classroom work before the game is played.

Q: Which makes it that much harder that it’s a short week and a travel week.

COSELL: Right. This is one of those where you hope they don’t say after the game, “The dog ate my homework.”

Q: John Gruden said that coaches study short-week opponents all year in their spare time.

COSELL: That’s exactly right. They’ve been doing bits and pieces on the Ravens going back a long time. It’s not as if they just started on the Ravens on Sunday night after the game with the Cardinals, believe me. But still, it’s the player. It’s not how much the coaches know, it’s what the players can execute in the game. All coaches, contrary to what people believe, know a lot of stuff and can get up on the board and draw stuff. That’s being a chemistry professor. It’s how much the players can execute during the game.

Q: Do you think that the 49ers can go to Baltimore and win that game?

COSELL: Yes, because I think it will be more of a lower scoring game, unless turnovers make it a higher scoring game. If this were to be a turnover-free game, I think you’re looking at a 13-10 kind of game, and I think that the 49ers can win those kinds of games.

Q: Some 49ers fans are angry with you for what they perceive as your denigration of Alex Smith. Is he changing your perception of him?

COSELL: I think he’s an improved player, although, like I said, I think this week he was not quite as sharp. He had some accuracy and ball location issues in this game. But I think overall he’s improved his decision making. For the most part he sees things more clearly. But I think what people do is, when a team wins, and we’re seeing this with Tim Tebow, and I’m not comparing the two – by the way, it’s interesting that Alex Smith ran Urban Meyer’s offense better than Tim Tebow, but that’s another conversation. But when teams win, and because the quarterback is such an important player in this league because for the most part it’s a quarterback-driven league, I think quarterbacks get rated more highly. There’s no question that Alex Smith is an improving player. Is Alex Smith a top-five, seven quarterback in this league? No he’s not, but he’s an improving player, and with this team, with the defense and the run game, you can’t minimize the fact that he does not turn the ball over. That is a critical, critical element because if he turned the ball over he would take away from the strength of this team, and he’s not doing that, and I think Jim Harbaugh’s been helping him tremendously with concepts and schemes, and as I’ve told you before – that’s called good coaching.

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