Greg Cosell breaks down the matchup with the Lions

Yesterday on the Murph and Mac show, NFL films analyst Greg Cosell broke down the Niners upcoming Sunday matchup with Lions. Here’s the transcript of what he said.

Q: That 48-3 win was the Niners’ biggest win since 1987. What stood out to you?

COSELL: Believe it or not, I was really impressed with their defense. Of course, I thought the Bucs came and played offense exactly the wrong way, because the 49ers have a really good front seven, and the Bucs basically came in and said, “We’re going to line up with base personnel and have a power run game.” That’s not going to work against the 49ers defense. I’ll tell you, the one player who really stood out to me and I think will be critical this week when they play Detroit, and that’s Chris Culliver. He’s now their nickel corner. He plays on the outside. He’s over six feet. He’s 200 pounds. He runs well. They play a lot of man coverage concepts with a safety helping so that their corners can really play physically with their receivers coming off the line of scrimmage. So, I think you’ll see Culliver matched up against Megatron this weekend.

Q: So you think Culliver’s the guy?

COSELL: I think they’ll play what we call two man, or man under two deep. It’s where you have two deep safeties who are splitting the field and helping, and then you play man-to-man on all five eligible receivers. And when you do that on the outside, you can get up in press position, and even if you get beat it’s OK because you have a safety over the top. In fact, one of the things you do playing that kind of coverage is you almost allow the receiver to run by you at times and then you undercut him. That’s how Culliver made his interception last week. He was playing press man with help over the top, and he undercut the route. That’s what you try to do in that kind of coverage, and I think you’re going to see that this week.

Q: That sounds like what Carlos Rogers has done quite a bit, too. Is that something Vic Fangio installed with the 49ers?

COSELL: Well, every team in the league plays two man, but I think that Culliver’s skill set allows him to play it well. Rogers, of course, moves inside to cover the slot when they go to their sub packages. You’re going to see that this week because the Lions are basically a shotgun offense that plays out of a three wide receiver personnel on numerous snaps.

Q: How about the matchup between the Lions defensive line and the 49ers offensive line?

COSELL: I thought the O-line had its best game of the year last week, but this is a different animal they’re facing this week. This is the best D-line rotation in football that they’re facing in the Detroit Lions. They play that wide nine technique with the defensive ends. They line up very wide. They literally are in a track stance and they explode off the ball. Staley and Davis will have their hands full. It will be interesting to see what Jim Harbaugh and his staff do this week, because I think they’re going to need to give the tackles some help.

Q: Wow. But what about Ndamukong Suh in the middle? Is he just destroying guys?

COSELL: He’s relentlessly powerful. You don’t watch him and say, “Oh my God, look how explosive he is,” but he just seems to be methodically and relentlessly powerful. And like I said, they’ve got nine guys that they rotate on their defensive line. The guy playing next to Suh, Corey Williams, has at times played better than Suh this year. So this is a really tough D-line to matchup to. You’re going to have to try to handle it if you’re Coach Harbaugh with play calling, with formations, with personnel. You’re going to try to have Alex Smith take short drops and get the ball out quick, use your two tight ends, Walker and Davis. There’s ways to handle this. The question is what happens on those plays? Can they be successful and help you sustain offense?

Q: What about the 49ers run game? Is that something Detroit is vulnerable to?

COSELL: You can run against that wide nine look, because there are gaps inside. They like to run power. That’s the staple of their game, where they pull a guard and Gore gets behind him. I think you’ll see that. Look, the reality is even though Alex Smith in the last six quarters has had a quarterback rating of 143, which is outstanding, the reality is last week the game got out of hand early, he was managed and manipulated beautifully by the coaching staff. Alex Smith is still a quarterback who needs things to work for him in order to be successful. They are not going to come out and toss it all over the yard. They’re going to line up with two tight ends, which is very often their base personnel package anyway. They’re going to try to run. They’re going to try to shorten the game. When you run you shorten the game because time moves off the clock, so the other team has fewer plays. That’s just basic math. That’s what they’re going to try to do. Now their defense becomes key, because while you’re doing that your defense can’t be giving up big plays. You can’t get behind 17-3 when you’re trying to play that way, because then all that goes out the window.

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