Greg Cosell, a senior producer at NFL Films Inc. and a nephew of the late sportscaster Howard Cosell, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital With Al Hunt,” airing this weekend before Sunday night’s Super Bowl in New Orleans, that he expects the Baltimore Ravens to defeat the San Francisco 49ers in a defense-minded football championship game.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: Welcome back. For Super Bowl XLVII, we interview the premier professional football analyst, Greg Cosell of NFL Films. Both Greg and I feel a void in the first Super Bowl without his boss and my lifetime friend, Steve Sabol, the genius who ran NFL Films and played such a huge role in the popularity of the sport.
Greg, Steve adored a great narrative, and he would have loved Harbaugh versus Harbaugh. What’s the difference between these two brothers and rival Super Bowl coaches?
GREG COSELL: That’s a great question, Al. I think they’re very different, I think, in their personal approach, their personality. I think Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco is a very fiery guy. I think John Harbaugh is a lot more relaxed in his demeanor on the sideline, totally different personalities. But what’s very strange about that is I think the Baltimore Ravens as a team, you could argue, are more reflective of Jim Harbaugh’s personality, a more fiery team, whereas I think the 49ers are in some ways more reflective of John Harbaugh’s personality, sort of very straightforward in their approach. So it’s a real interesting dichotomy between the brothers and the teams.
HUNT: That’s fascinating. We’re going to get into this great match-up in just a moment, but first the background. There’s a growing course of concern about violence in the game, from President Obama to the multitude of legal suits against the league from former players. Does America’s most popular sport face a crisis here, Greg?
COSELL: You know, Al, I think to some degree, yes, but a crisis that I don’t think will really happen for quite a while. The problem - and I’ve talked to many players over these last number of years, since it’s become a more significant issue - and I can only tell you what they tell me, because obviously I’m not a professional football player. The one thing I continually hear from players is it’s almost impossible to legislate safety in a game in which hitting people is really the modus operandi. And that’s what I hear over and over again. You simply cannot legislate safety.
HUNT: Yeah. Well, let’s go to the game. First, Colin Kaepernick, the 49ers’ wunderkind quarterback, he only played half a season, but he’s been dazzling. Is he the real deal? And how do the Ravens stop him?
COSELL: Well, I think he - he’s starting his 10th game on Super Bowl Sunday. I think we’re seeing a new element in the NFL, and he’s sort of the poster child for it, because of his running ability and, therefore, they can run what they call the pistol, where it’s sort of a modified shotgun. They can do the read option, where he sticks the ball in the running back’s chest and he either gives it to him or then he can run.
I think he has that special running element. This is new in the NFL, Al, so therefore defensive coaches are still trying to figure this out. So right now, offenses - and particularly Kaepernick and the 49ers - they’re one up on the rest of the league.
Speaking specifically about the Ravens, the one thing I think that pistol option offenses rely on is that the defense will sit back and react to all this back-field action, as opposed to being aggressive and proactive. I don’t think that’s the Ravens’ personality. I think they’ll attack the backfield action and try to speed it up. Now, you can get burned when you do that, but I still think they’ll try to force Kaepernick and that offense to play a little bit outside of structure instead of allowing them to do what they want to do at their pace.
HUNT: And, Greg, on the other side, Joe Flacco, mired in, really, mediocrity a few months ago, played sensationally over the last several games, besting Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Which is the real Joe Flacco?
COSELL: Well, it’s funny, Al, because I think Joe Flacco has actually had a very good five-year career. How often do we hear people say about quarterbacks, “He’s a winner”? Now, I’m not really sure exactly what that means, but for people who believe that - and many do - Joe Flacco, in his first five years, has won more games, regular season and playoffs combined, than any quarterback in the history of the NFL. He’s also won more road playoff games than any quarterback in the history of the NFL.
So I’m not sure Joe Flacco’s image really needs any rehabilitation. I think Joe Flacco has been a fine quarterback for much of his career, and he really should have been in the Super Bowl last year, if a receiver did not drop a perfectly thrown ball.
HUNT: OK. Another narrative Steve would have loved, Ray Lewis’ final game.
HUNT: Now, he has some personal baggage, but a fabulous career. Where does he rank in the pantheon of great linebackers, Butkus, Taylor, Bednarik, Nitschke?
COSELL: Oh, I think you put him right there. I think Ray Lewis’ ability - and, again, at this point in his career, he’s not the same player. Everyone knows that. But he’s playing in his 16th or 17th season. So you’re dealing with a linebacker who, for the majority of his career, was an outstanding player. And the thing that’s lost, because people see the gyrations, they see the emotion, they see the enthusiasm, which is beyond belief, but I think what really separates Ray Lewis, Al, was what I like to call play recognition, many others called instincts, as the all-encompassing term. But I don’t think there was a smarter linebacker than Ray Lewis when it came to diagnosing before the snap of the ball what the other team was doing.
HUNT: Well, we’ll look for that Sunday night, despite his advanced years, which don’t seem very old to me. The key match- up...
COSELL: No, I agree with you on that.
HUNT: Greg, what are the key match-ups you’re looking for Sunday night?
COSELL: On the Ravens’ offensive side of the ball, I’m looking for their wide receivers against the cornerbacks for the 49ers, because one thing about Joe Flacco, Al, is he throws the deep ball arguably better than any quarterback in the league. They’re a downfield-passing team. So that is one match-up on that side of the ball I’m looking forward, the receivers of the Ravens versus the corners of the 49ers.
And then you mentioned the other key one already, and we talked about it. It’s Colin Kaepernick. It’s how the Ravens handle that, because if the Ravens cannot slow down the run game to a certain extent, I’m not sure that the rest of their defense will function. So that, to me, is the key element on that side of the ball.
HUNT: Last year, Greg, you were in a distinct minority. You predicted the New York Giants would upset the New England Patriots. You were prescient. Let’s - let’s risk the streak. Who’s going to hold up the Lombardi Trophy Sunday night? And what’ll the score be?
COSELL: I’d pick the Ravens to win 23-20. I think they’re being underrated by many, many people. And I think this game will not be quite as high-scoring as some think. Ravens 23, 49ers 20.
HUNT: All right. Greg Cosell, thank you so much for being with us.
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