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January 19, 2012
Cosell: Gregg Williams didn't think Alex Smith could beat him

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The 49ers' game-winning play Saturday against New Orleans alternately has been called "The Grab" and "The Catch III." According to NFL Films' Greg Cosell, a more appropriate name would be, "The Throw."

"I would personally argue that the winning touchdown to Vernon Davis ... and I'm taking nothing away from Vernon Davis's catch ... the throw made that play, not the catch," Cosell said on KNBR this morning. "... He threw that ball before Davis even got past the underneath linebacker, Scott Shanle. Think about that: He threw that ball before (Davis) got past the underneath defender. Isn't it fascinating that they've been terrible in the red zone all year long, and they win and advance based on as good as a red-zone throw that you'll ever see?"

Gushing over Smith's throw is not uncommon this week. Cosell, however, has been among Smith's more constant critics, arguing that Jim Harbaugh's and Greg Roman's game-manager style game plans were based on what they perceived to be Smith's limitations. Cosell was asked whether Smith's end-of-game performances and the play calls that went with them end the notion that Harbaugh doesn't have faith in Smith.

"Yes, because it was third down, and that play was designed for a touchdown. A lot of people wouldn't have been surprised if they played to tie it - at home in a playoff game and with the momentum sort of teetering. You can argue that what the Saints did in the fourth quarter that the momentum was teetering. So, yes, that that showed absolute faith and obviously they were rewarded. And he was great, by the way, on the first fourth-quarter touchdown drive, the one that ended with Smith's run, which, by the way, also was a play call that was as good as we've seen all year. But the throw to Davis on the fade route to get to that point and then the throw to Davis on the final drive in the middle of the field - all those throws. Look, the bottom line is - I talked to a number of people this week; I watch the tape obviously, I certainly have my own point of view - but a number of people I talked to said that no one would have expected that from Alex Smith. So, a lot of people think I'm nuts when I've been telling you this stuff all year. And believe me, I've been called a lot of things on various websites and blogs, but Alex Smith had not shown this ability throughout his career. And when he made those big throws, those were big-time throws."

More Cosell highlights:

• Cosell said it was obvious that Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams didn't think Alex Smith could beat them or else he wouldn't have matched Davis in man-to-man coverage so often. "Why do you think he did that? Cosell said. "He did that because he didn't believe that Alex Smith could make the throws."

• On whether the Giants, as was the case in Week 10, will stack the line and force Smith to beat them. "I think there's a real confidence that they (the 49ers) can come out and be proactive throwing the football."

• Cosell said the best matchup is between the 49ers nickel defenders and the Giants three-wide-receiver package. "The Victor Cruz-Carlos Rogers slot matchup, I think, could be the most fascinating individual matchup on that side of the ball." Advantage? "I think Cruz will catch balls, I think Rogers will make plays."

• On Eli Manning. "You threw out a word that I think is critical - patience. I think Eli Manning is as good a progression reader as there is in this league. There are so many plays when you watch him on film where you see him go from the primary read to the secondary, No. 2, and then throw it to the third guy."

• Cosell said the Giants will not play man-to-man defense on Davis like the Saints did and his numbers will not be as eye popping. He said that Delanie Walker's presence will be a big boost to the 49ers and that the 49ers will go back and pick out plays that worked earlier this year. "Walker caught a beautiful touchdown in Week 2 vs. Dallas. He caught that touchdown I mentioned against Tampa. You start looking up plays, you go back through your whole season and you see what was effective."

• On whom he thinks will win: Last week, Cosell picked the Saints over the 49ers. This week, Cosell is going with the home team, but not with confidence: "I think it will be a really close game. I'm not suggesting it will be 31-10. But I think I like the Niners in this game."

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW 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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