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November 3, 2011
Harbaugh, 49ers calling plays even film gurus haven't seen before

Before I went on the Murph & Mac show on KNBR this morning, an even wiser and more erudite (I know, it's hard to believe there's someone smarter) football mind spoke. Here's NFL Films' film guru Greg Cosell, who's been studying game film for more than three decades, talking about the 49ers-Redskins matchup on Sunday. His last answer is a must read.


What does a Redskins team that was shut out Sunday in Toronto bring to the table?

GC: "Offensively? I would again answer, not too much. And it starts with a revamped o-line that is struggling. And I know I tell you this every week, and every week I validate it on film - they're dealing with the best front seven in football. I don't know what (Ray) McDonald's situation is. I know he got injured. Is he out or ...?"

I don't think he's playing. He's got a bad hamstring ...

GC: "... Hamstring, you're usually not back for next week. But still, Ricky Jean Francois, I thought he came in and played well. McDonald is having an all-pro-type season, so there'll be some drop off. But not enough to where the front seven is not impressive in what they can do. And the Redskins did not run it well last week, and they're limited at the receiver position. And John Beck - I think they're a fairly easy offense despite Mike Shanahan being a very good schemer. I think because of his lack of personnel in terms of talent, I think they're a fairly easy offense to tactically defend. Now, can mistakes be made? That can happen any given week. Look what happened to the Rams vs. the Saints. So any given week, we know something can happen. But if you just look at this game based on tape study and the track record this year, you'd be hard pressed to think that the Redskins will consistently move the ball against that defense."

Tell us a little about John Beck?

GC: "It's a really hard position. And I'm not trying to defend anybody but it's really hard. John Beck at his best is a rhythm quarterback. Three step, five step, ball comes out. Play-action, boot action - that's designed movement off play action. That's what John Beck is. If John Beck is forced to take deep drops, it's because they're behind and have to throw the ball at intermediate and deeper levels, and you've won. That's not something he can do with any consistency. He needs to be, as we say, an 'on-schedule' quarterback. He needs to be 1st and 10, 2nd and 6, 3rd and 3, and then John Beck's positive traits can come out. If he's behind schedule, then he's not going to well at all."

Do the Redskins have a running threat?

GC: "They don't have a back you'd consider a great back. Knowing Mike Shanahan over the years, his zone scheme has been so efficient that it produces consistency and therefore production. The last number of games they've really struggled running the ball. They started out with injuries on their offensive line and moving people around. So therefore they don't have the continuity. That zone running scheme - that's like elephants on parade. It's like synchronized swimming. They move in unison, and they're not doing that particularly well right now."

What about Isaac Sopoaga and Joe Staley - not just involving those guys but doing it in a critical, third-down situation, late in the game?

GC: "I gotta tell you - I think Harbaugh is doing as good a job as there is in this league with what he has. And you know how I feel about Alex Smith. It's not personal knock on Alex Smith. Why do you think Jim Harbaugh is doing what he's doing? He's telling you - I don't have to tell you - he's telling you what he thinks of Alex Smith. He's managing him. He's manipulating him so he can be successful. Look what they did on the Frank Gore touchdown, which they came back to later in the game. You want some real football jargon? We call that a five-man surface. They had five players to the right on the line of scrimmage of the offensive center. Four of them were offensive linemen, and the fifth was Sopoaga. I don't think I've ever seen that in the National Football League. I've seen five-man surfaces, but they normally have a couple of tight ends as part of it. They had four offensive linemen and a nose tackle. ... He's understanding the ranges and limitations of his offensive personnel, and he's maximizing the strengths and minimizing the limitations. And you know what that's called? Coaching."

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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