By Jerrell Richardson
It’s official. Michael Crabtree has been activated off the Physically Unable to Play List and could be on the field as soon as this Sunday, when the 49ers take on the Rams. The return of Crabtree is huge for an offense that has been inconsistent all year, due in large part to the passing game.
While he denies that Crabtree is his security blanket, there is no getting around the chemistry that Colin Kaepernick and Crabtree developed at the end of last season, and the return of #15 can only help a team ranked dead last throwing the ball. Even without its number one threat, the receivers have had their moments this season. Just last week it was the arm of Kaepernick that led the team to a victory, giving hope that the offense has turned a corner. The reason for the turnaround is that the 49ers are finally getting over the multiple injuries that have decimated the receiving core, which for whatever reason was ignored during the down times.
Nobody To Throw To
Mario Manningham was thrown back in the mix just two games ago, and was understandably a bit rusty, while Vernon Davis has missed significant playing time this season while dealing with a hamstring injury and concussion. What this left on the field was Anquan Boldin, who is a stud, but not known for his separation. This put Kaepernick’s back against the wall as his only real option was a player whom you throw to trusting that he won’t let the ball get intercepted.
Keep in mind that Kaepernick had never played with the veteran receiver, and to ask him to avoid turnovers while trusting a player he doesn’t know is asking a lot. Add to the lack of targets that there was no Crabtree and it’s no surprise that the passing game has not lived up to expectations so far. However, it just got real. Manningham continues to look better and Davis is no longer dealing with his injury while Kaepernick and Boldin continue to get more comfortable with each other. Add to this a Pro Bow talent, and the San Francisco aerial attack is now legit.
Give It Some Time
Like Manningham, it will take some time for Crabtree to get back to his usual self. This is how the timing of his return is perfect. He has possibly five and at least four games to get his game legs under him, and will see the physical Seattle secondary getting him ready for the physical style of play associated with the playoffs.
As good as these players are, practice makes perfect, so until he gets two or three games under his belt, Crabtree will not be able to give the offense too much. However once he is clicking, he is another playmaker who, by the way, will have the freshest legs on the field. In hindsight, it’s not a far stretch to say that the injury to Crabtree may have actually added to the 49ers long-term success.
Better Off In the Long Run
While the team would obviously be better off (record wise) if there was no injury to Crabtree, what his absence has done is force Kaepernick to figure out how to move the chains without his favorite target. This season Kaepernick has only thrown the ball to Boldin and Davis, but that’s because they are the only ones who have gotten open and caught the ball. Manningham has gotten his fair share of catches since returning and Kaepernick has shown that he has learned to throw to whoever is open.
The familiarity with the other receivers would not be where it’s at now if Crabtree had been on the field in Week 1, as Kaepernick would have focused on his known playmaker. Now the passing game has several options to go to for a big play, which is a far cry from a year ago when everyone knew where the ball was going when San Francisco dropped back to pass.
Things Are Going to Change
After Michael Crabtree steps on the field will the team all of a sudden start passing for 300 yards? No, but what it will do is take pressure off everyone, and there is no way the offense is not going to be considerably better. For a few weeks things might not change, but eventually it’s Crabtree who will demand the opposition’s best cover corner opening things up for Boldin and Manningham.
A legitimate threat to pass the ball will prevent teams from selling out against the run, making life on Frank Gore and the offensive line easier, and an improved offense will only elevate the play of the defense.
There is also the excitement factor. It’s Week 12 and yet the 49ers just got a major shot in the arm giving them a new enthusiasm to apply for the remainder of the season. The last thing Crabtree’s return will do is put the spotlight on Kaepernick, who now has no excuse for not performing better. The team’s signal caller now has his full complement of weapons, all or whom are healthy and ready to turn around the leagues worst passing attack.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. Jerrell is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.