It's time to gear up for this Sunday's conference championship games with analysis from the best in the business -- Greg Cosell of NFL Films and ESPN's "NFL Matchup." Greg gives you a sense of the week's upcoming games you won't get anywhere else, based on his conversations with players and coaches past and present, and his OCD-level evaluation of coach's tape. We start with the San Francisco 49ers at the Atlanta Falcons, and finish off with the Baltimore Ravens at the New England Patriots. Who will make it to the Super Bowl? Here are the matchups.
On how Atlanta's defense figured out the read-option against Seattle last week: "We always say on the 'Matchup' show that it's an update league, and [Falcons defensive coordinator] Mike Nolan did a terrific job of adjusting. We went back to Week 14 when they played Cam Newton, and they had a particular way of defending read-option concepts, and they were not effective. What they did against Seattle is that they basically took their two defensive ends, they stood them up, and they widened them out just a little bit. When they stood up, both defensive ends had better vision -- they could see more clearly into the backfield.
"Then, when the Seahawks ran read-option on 15 snaps, whichever side the option was supposed to go to, the defensive end just stood there -- he did not crash down inside at all. So, they removed the option from the read-option. The quarterback reads the defensive end -- if he crashes down inside, the quarterback runs to the outside. If the end stays where he is, the quarterback hands the ball off. So, every time the Seahawks ran the read-option, Russell Wilson handed the ball off -- 11 times to Marshawn Lynch, and four times to Robert Turbin. They did a super job of defending those runs as well -- 15 rushes, 56 yards. Russell Wilson never carried the ball once, because the Falcons removed the option."
Does Colin Kaepernick present different challenges? "The 49ers do it a little differently in that they do it out of the Pistol formation, so that means the back is behind the quarterback, not next to the quarterback as the Panthers did and as the Seahawks primarily do. The other element that is different and will be very interesting is that the 49ers tend to use a lead blocker on that outside defender. They don't just rely on the backfield action to be the determining factor. So, even if that outside defender is just standing there, they send a lead blocker at him. They'll likely have opportunities where Kaepernick -- by design -- will keep the ball, and the actual play call is a run for Kaepernick, because they'll block that outside defender."
On how the Ravens' defense seems to attack Tom Brady differently than do other teams: "I think the Ravens don't play in awe of Brady. A lot of teams will not blitz the Patriots, because Brady is so good pre-snap and recognizing blitz. It becomes an irrelevant thing, because you're sacrificing a body that never gets there, and then, Brady eats you up. When these teams played in Week 3, Brady was 12 of 15 for 155 yards against the blitz. But that game came down the final minutes. The Patriots are ahead, 30-28, and they have the ball just across the 50-yard line. If they get a first down, the game is probably over, and it's second down. The Ravens blitz, they get someone in clean because a mistake was made, and they sack Brady. The next play, third-and-16, and who blitzes on third-and-16 when they still need 20 yards to get in field goal range? They blitz again, and Brady's able to duck under it this time, but he throws it away because the whole timing broke down. In critical situations, the Ravens have shown that they're willing to blitz, and they've gotten there at times."
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