It's time to gear up for the biggest game of the NFL season 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 Super Bowl 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. Who will win the Super Bowl between the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens? Here are the matchups.
On the 49ers' run game, and the challenges it presents: "One of the most fascinating plays -- and I've seen it college, which shows you how much the college run game is coming into the NFL -- was the LaMichael James touchdown in the NFC Championship game. It was really cool, because it was two concepts in one play. It was a jet sweep concept with LaMichael James, but they also pulled the guard, and it was power for Colin Kaepernick if he didn't hand the ball off.
"You don't see that kind of stuff in the NFL. You're going to see more of it now, but you need a quarterback that can run to execute that, because you're counting on a certain defensive response. If the defense takes James away and jumps hard outside, you run power inside with Kaepernick -- who, by the way, probably would have scored on that play if it was power. They've been tweaking a lot of those types of things -- really cool concepts that, at this point, the NFL is not used to, They'll get used to it, and then, it will be different. But right now, the Ravens have to be prepared for that."
On Joe Flacco's improved mechanics: "The thing about Flacco is that he's always been a big-time thrower. I think there's been a couple of issues with him -- at times, he struggles with two things. He struggles at times with erratic ball location, and there are times when I feel that his pocket awareness and pocket command -- it's not very good. [Recently], he's done a much better job in the pocket. Now, keep in mind that sometimes, it's better to get sacked if you don't have a clear picture, and you're not seeing it, and the pocket is collapsing. He's not Kaepernick -- he's not going to run around. So, if the pocket's collapsing, you don't throw it up for grabs."
On Baltimore's protection concepts: "Joe Flacco has been sacked just four times in three playoff games. They're a deep-drop passing team, and they don't give him a lot of three-step, 'get-it-out' throws. The Ravens' offensive line has some a really nice job ... they've done more slide protection, which takes you away at times from one-on-one matchups at times. On the back side of a slide is man-to-man, but you can still use a back to chip, or a tight end, And I think they're going to do that. particularly when they're in their three-receiver personnel package. They'll either slide to Justin Smith or Ahmad Brooks, and it doesn't matter, and then they'll chip the other guy. I don't think they'll feel comfortable on deeper drops, just asking Bryant McKinnie to block one-on-one on Aldon Smith. Or Brooks, who is the most overlooked and least talked-about player on that 49ers defense."
On how best to stop Ray Rice as a receiver out of the backfield: "One thing that the 49ers have done in the playoffs, and have been effective with, is called a zone exchange. They rush Patrick Willis, and they drop out either Brooks or Smith. It remains a four-man rush, so I don't call it a zone blitz. They work it based on the front -- they feel that they can have the offensive linemen taken care of, and that Willis can get in through a gap. They could do that as a way to keep Ray Rice in the backfield. Bill Belichick was a master at this when he used to play the Colts with Edgerrin James, who was an excellent receiver out of the backfield. Belichick was not a high-percentage blitz guy, but he would blitz just so James had to stay in the backfield and block. You remove him as a receiver. Now, this might happen just three times or so, but if it's three critical plays... I've seen that on film, they've had success with it, and I would not be surprised to see that in this game."
As with everything involving Greg Cosell, this podcast is a must-listen for those fans of advanced tape analysis. Subscribe to the Shutdown Corner iTunes link (in iTunes, go to "Advanced/Subscribe to Podcast," and paste this link in: http://ysportspods.podbean.com/category/shutdown/feed/). You can also use the link below to either left-click and listen, or right-click to save to your computer.