Greg Cosell on Alex Smith and Carson Palmer

Here’s the transcript of Murph and Mac’s Q&A with NFL Film’s analyst Greg Cosell from this morning on KNBR.

Murph and Mac asked Cosell about Carson Palmer first and then the 49ers second. I’m giving you the whole interview, but I’m putting the Niners stuff at the top.

Q: Jim Harbaugh and Vic Fangio called the 49ers defensive performance in Detroit last week the best one they’ve ever coached. Did you see that on the film?

COSELL: I think they played a team that’s one dimensional. The Lions have no base run game and they’re offensive line is probably average at best. So you’re playing a team that is easier to defend tactically. But one thing that the 49ers have going for them which is incredibly rare. When you play a base 3-4 defense and then you go to your sub package, whether it’s five defensive backs or six defensive backs, I can’t recall another base 3-4 team in which both inside linebackers stayed on the field for all three downs, in Willis and Bowman. And I would even make the argument that through six games Bowman might be playing better than Willis. And that’s saying an awful lot, because I think Patrick Willis is the best inside linebacker in football. But I think Bowman is playing exceptionally well in all areas.

Q: How good is this 49ers defense?

COSELL: What did I tell you before the season started? Didn’t I tell you they had one of the best front sevens in football?

Q: You did.

COSELL: Because the Niners haven’t been very good I’m sure there’s been skepticism. There’s always skepticism when a team has not been very good and a person like myself says there’s a unit on this team that’s very, very good. You’re probably thinking, “What does this guy know?” But I watch it on film, as you know. I think their secondary is now starting to perform a little better as well. I think Culliver is an upgrade as their nickel. I think their safeties are certain kinds of players but they’re not bad. But this front seven, and particularly now in their sub packages with Aldon Smith at defensive end, and he actually played in the base defense this week for the first time because I guess Haralson has an injury. It will be interesting to see what happens, but Smith has been I think an impact player as a pass rusher. I’ve told you about Ray McDonald from day 1, too. We all know about Justin Smith, but McDonald has been really impressive week-to-week as well.

Q: And that’s the engine of the team, because they’re really limiting Alex Smith’s throws.

COSELL: Here’s what they’re doing with Alex Smith, and he’s a great guy, so none of this is ever personal, but they’re playing the games to minimize his impact on the game. And they’re able to win games doing that, so more power to Harbaugh and the coaching staff. They’re doing absolutely the right thing. I’m reading a lot of people talk about now Alex Smith is proving….Look. This is what they’re doing. They’re trying to hide him. They’re trying to minimize his impact on the game. And that’s great. Do you know what that’s called? Coaching.

Q: Did you see anything strategically that allowed the Niners to run so effectively against the Lions defensive line?

COSELL: Yes, absolutely. The two long runs by Gore were the exact same run, and it’s a great run against an upfield, penetrating line. It’s what we call a wham run, where you let one of the D tackles penetrate, and you bring, and I forget who it was now (it was Delanie Walker), but you bring someone from the side and they nail them. Both those runs were the same wham block concept.

Q: Was that Delanie Walker?

COSELL: I think it was Delanie Walker, yes. And on both of those runs Anthony Davis at right tackle, who has not played particularly well through much of the year, did an excellent job on both of those runs getting to the second or third levels of the defense and sealing it for Gore to have the room to break the big run.

*******

Q: Tell us your thoughts on Carson Palmer.

COSELL: I’ve seen every single throw he’s made in his NFL career. Here’s the way I would describe it. From 2005-2007 he was the third best quarterback in football behind Manning Brady, Brady Manning, whatever your choice may be. I thought after his injury that he lost some arm strength, and I thought it was evident last year in particular. I don’t think the ball came out quite the same way, but that’s a relative term. It’s not as if he can’t throw. I think this is a huge upgrade. I would have made the trade in a heartbeat. I think Palmer brings a presence to an offense. He’s a big, physical pocket quarterback, and I think that he immediately makes you more competitive in the pass game. Whether he’s the player we was from 2005-2007, my answer to that would probably be no but like I said, he was the third best quarterback in football in those years. Let’s say he’s the twelfth best quarterback in football, that’s still pretty good. I’m just throwing that out. I haven’t made a list.

Q: Could Carson Palmer regain some of that arm strength?

COSELL: I don’t know if he could totally regain the strength, but he was always a very good timing and anticipation passer, so that part of his game already existed. What he had in his prime was he was something that’s pretty rare, he was a power thrower. Big arm, great velocity. He was very, very accurate. I don’t know if we’ll see that exact guy anymore, but like I said, he had other attributes – timing, anticipation, he’s firm in the pocket. He’s strong. I know there’s been a lot of talk of, “Did they give up too much?” I would have made the trade.

Q: Palmer had knee surgery, not elbow surgery. He almost had Tommy John surgery…

COSELL: Right, and he chose not to. I don’t know anything about the surgery, so I couldn’t begin to tell you what the result would have been had he chose to have it, but I can tell you for a fact, and it’s on film this is not speculation, he did lose some arm strength.

Q: What about Palmer as a leader?

COSELL: It’s funny you say that, because I had a really great opportunity when Carson Palmer came out of USC. He came to NFL films and spent an entire day with myself and Ron Jaworski. So, I got to know Carson, and I think he’s an absolutely terrific guy. He’s not a yeller and a screamer leader like that, but I think he’s one of those quiet leaders by example who shows up to work every day as a pro’s pro. Hue Jackson was in Cincinnati from 2004-2006 in Carson’s formative years and he knows what kind of player he is. He has a presence about him. You don’t have to yell and scream to be a leader. Palmer has a presence about him, and just reading the quotes by Al Saunders, who I also know extremely well, it’s evident that when he stepped on the field, that presence was there.

Q: He’s probably going to start this Sunday against the Chiefs…

COSELL: I know, that’s fascinating. That game I’m probably going to watch closely on Sunday. Normally I jump around and I see all the games on tape because I have Sunday Ticket, but that game I’m going to look at pretty carefully on Sunday.

Q: What’s your schedule?

COSELL: I start watching film about 7:15 Monday morning and I leave, I watch film until 8:25 Monday night. This is Eastern Time, of course, because I live close to NFL films. I go home and watch the Monday night game. Then I start again Tuesday morning. And then later in the day I start writing and officially putting together the NFL Matchup show. But all day Monday and Tuesday I’m pretty much watching film.

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