We're back with another weekly podcast featuring our favorite X's-and-O's analyst — Greg Cosell, the longtime NFL Films maven, who's also the executive producer of ESPN's "NFL Matchup." As always, we go through this week's upcoming games with a scout's eye and Greg in control of the All-22 tape.
It's always a must-listen when Greg talks football, so check it out! 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.
Here are the conference championship game matchups, and a few words of wisdom on each team from Mr. Cosell:
Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots
On how the Ravens can stop the Patriots' multi-dimensional offense, especially matching up with their tight ends: "Last year, against the Ravens in Week 6, Aaron Hernandez caught a 30-yard pass as an offset fullback. Bill Belichick does a lot of different things, and you can never be certain what he's going to do. He'll take a sense of the opponent that he's facing, and you try to get a feel for what he might do. I think you're going to see a lot of empty sets, and you'll see that out of no-huddle as well. They want to force two guys to have to get involved in coverage, and that's Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs. The answer for the Ravens will likely be blitz — that's been their high-percentage tendency against empty sets. That's one element of this matchup that I find really fascinating.
On the schematic challenges Joe Flacco faces: "The Ravens' receiving corps could be the absolute worst in the NFL when it comes to getting open versus man coverage. They don't do an awful lot to get them open versus man — you don't see a lot of the stack release concepts, or all the "man-beater" concepts. No bunch, no stack release. No rub elements. They don't do a lot to help their receivers win versus man. I'm not going to defend Flacco, but I think it's very difficult to … it seemed that last week [against the Texans] the route tree was a go route and a screen. I said this to one of my guys [while I was watching the Baltimore] tape — 'I feel like I'm watching a 1960s offense.' Every play, there was one receiver to the right, and one receiver to the left, often two backs or two tight ends, and that was every play, it seemed."
New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers
On whether Alex Smith has made that "leap," and the differences in the 49ers' offensive gameplan: "For all the good the 49ers did, with four minutes to go, they were losing, 24-23. And it gets down to a point which you know I've made 100 times — in today's NFL, eventually, your quarterback is going to have to make difficult throws in critical situations. I don't know how many throws Smith made on those final two drives, but my guess is, he made 15, give or take. I'm not sure when you look at the whole game that he threw a ton more, but it wasn't one of those 'pass first, and let's throw it all over the field.' But in the Week 10 game between the Giants and the 49ers, the 49ers came out throwing. In fact, they had 26 offensive plays in the first half, and 20 of them were called passes."
On the value Hakeem Nicks brings to the Giants' passing game: "Despite a few drops here and there, he's got really good hands. He's got big hands and he can snatch the ball. He's a big body, too. He's got elements in his game — and I hate comparing people, because people will assume I think he will be a Hall of Famer — [similar] to Michael Irvin. The way he catches the ball, the use of his body, he can make contested catches, which is always important. He's got pretty good quickness, but he's not dynamically quick in that he just goes, 'Boom — gone!' He made a great catch last week [against the Packers] when he came back to the ball at the sideline. He just snatched it with his hands, and shielded … well, it might have been [Sam] Shields he shielded! In the Giants' offense, he's the 'X' — he's the weakside receiver. Very often when they go with multiple receivers, he's 'X Iso' on the backside of trips. So, he often gets single coverage."