Brian Murphy and Paul McCaffrey interviewed NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell this morning about the Niners upcoming Monday night matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Here’s the transcript.
MURPH: These are the No. 1 (the Niners) and No. 2 (the Steelers) scoring defenses going against each other. When you look at this matchup, is that the overriding theme – that these are two incredibly stingy defenses, and that will control the game?
COSELL: “That would be my guess. And I think Roethlisberger is the critical element in this game, No. 1 whether he plays. My guess is he will, but how productive will he be? Because he has the ability to make plays outside of structure, which often can be the difference in games against very good, sound defenses like the 49ers.”
MURPH: You’ve seen this guy play hurt a lot over the years, haven’t you?
COSELL: “Yeah. Look, I would have a tough time believing he won’t play, but again we’ll see how it impacts his movement. Although, one of the big myths about Roethlisberger – and again, this comes from watching every play – is that all his big plays come from outside the pocket. That is very far from the truth. That’s a myth. The large, large majority of his plays come from within the pocket. It’s just that we see on Sportscenter nine thousand times all those plays when he’s outside the pocket, so the perception is that’s what he does. But for the most part, the large majority of what he does comes from throws within the pocket area.”
MURPH: And he’s got this speedy wide receiver Mike Wallace. Can you tell us about him, and/or other receiving threats the Steelers might have.
COSELL: “Well it’s funny you mention the others, because over the last month or so Antonio Brown has become really his go-to receiver, particularly on third down and particularly against man coverage. Wallace is a speed guy. You must account for him because he can lift the top off your coverage, and the last thing you want to do in a game like this is give up that one demoralizing 75-yard touchdown. So you must deal with him on every snap and make sure he does not blow the top off your coverage. But Brown has become the more consistent, the more sustaining receiver for this offense.”
MAC: How do you think the 49ers cornerbacks matchup against their receivers?
COSELL: “I think in their base package they’re going to play who they play – Rogers and Brown. I think Brown is a guy that the Steelers might target. The nickel and the sub packages are different because Rogers comes inside over the slot. I think ultimately the Niners have a good defense that’s built more on their front seven and their pressure in their nickel and dime packages. Let’s put it this way – I think that the Steelers will take some shots out of base personnel and look to attack down the field, probably against Brown.”
MURPH: It’s interesting you say that. I’m looking at the stats of average yards per catch – Mike Wallace is 16.7 and Antonio Brown is 16.8 – whereas on the Niners Crabtree is at 12.1 and Vernon Davis is at 11.2. That’s a significant difference of big plays. That would be maybe something that we should watch, like you just said – take the shot down the field, do the demoralizing touchdown – that the 49ers haven’t really exhibited on a consistent basis all year.
COSELL: “Well they do take some shots once in a while – they hit a long touchdown to Crabtree two weeks ago on a beautifully designed play. I think it was the same game in which Vernon Davis dropped another touchdown.
“Look, we’ve talked about the Niners and we don’t need to go over the same ground. I will say this: The Niners have lost two out of their last three, and the two losses have come against teams with detailed and sophisticated pressure schemes – the Ravens and the Cards. And by the way – the Cards’ defensive coordinator is Ray Horton came from the Steelers, so you’re going to see a lot of the same principles and concepts this week. This is a huge, huge test for the 49ers offense because in those two games Alex Smith has not thrown for 200 yards in either game. Now, he’s not the only culprit – their offensive line has struggled as well – but this pass offense as a whole is going to need to show the ability to move the ball with some consistency against teams that blitz and show different pressure concepts. That’s the next step in the development of this offense. You can’t always line up and just run the ball and then throw off the run game. Sometimes you’ve got to throw proactively and you’ve got to defeat pressure.”
MURPH: That’s a great point – everything that we’ve seen in the Baltimore and Arizona losses will be seen again Monday night, there will be pressure. When you look at the film, the right side of the offensive line of the Niners – that’s been the problem since the Ravens game – do you see Adam Snyder and Anthony Davis just getting overwhelmed? Do they look like injured players or do they look like guys who are just getting beat on matchups?
COSELL: “Well they’re getting beat on matchups. I think when you play teams like this, what you end up with are two elements – you end up with individual matchups that are problematic, and you end up with scheme issues because it comes down to pre-snap identification of who’s rushing and who’s not. Teams like the Steelers, as did the Cards and as did the Ravens, they confuse your pre-snap identification, and all it takes for a big 320 lb. guy is to be off by a beat and you lose the matchup and somebody runs by you.
“This game is big. It’s a very big game for where the 49ers potentially can or can’t go as they get to the playoffs.”