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How Does Michael Crabtree Injury Affect Arizona Cardinals?

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | The news broke Wednesday afternoon that San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree suffered a torn Achilles tendon, according to Mike Garafolo of USA Today.

This injury can keep an athlete out of commission anywhere from eight months to a year. In May, that could mean Crabtree's 2013 season is over before it began.

Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson has been tasked with guarding Crabtree since the two first met on the Candlestick Park field, Week 11 of Peterson's rookie season of 2011.

Crabtree has been burning Peterson ever since.

In four career games against the 49ers, Peterson has allowed 17 receptions on 22 targets for 286 yards and four touchdowns to Crabtree--he has yet to pick off a San Francisco quarterback while facing the former first-round pick, and his opposing passer rating is a nearly-perfect 158.1 against him (stats via ProFootballFocus).

Last year alone, Peterson allowed Crabtree seven receptions on eight targets for 138 yards and all four scores. To say Peterson struggles when covering the former Texas Tech Red Raider could be the understatement of the offseason.

What, then, does Crabtree's injury mean for the Cardinals? The short answer would be something like, "The world."

The long answer is as follows:

With Crabtree out likely for the season, Peterson could be charged with covering new addition Anquan Boldin. In one game facing Boldin (in 2011, when Arizona traveled to Baltimore to face the Ravens), Peterson shut him out on two targets. It's a small sample size, but at least it didn't look like 3-of-3 for 34 yards and two touchdowns--Crabtree's stats against Peterson for Week 8 of the 2012 season, a Monday Night Football affair.

This could also be the break second-year receiver A.J. Jenkins needs to see more playing time. He played in only five games as a rookie--including two playoff games--and was targeted just once; he did not catch the pass, as it was batted away by former Cardinals cornerback Greg Toler during the final game of the 2012 regular season.

Jenkins taking more snaps in the wake of Crabtree's injury means a significant amount of production will be lost twice against the Cardinals. In seven career games against Arizona, Crabtree has 38 receptions for 589 yards (15.89 YPC) and six touchdowns.

Jenkins will not replace him; that is Boldin's job. But in terms of raw production, this is a massive loss for the 49ers and a monumental advantage for the Cardinals--and for the rest of the NFC West, for that matter.

The St. Louis Rams won't miss Crabtree, either. His numbers against the Rams are very similar to those he has racked up against the Cardinals--37 receptions, 594 yards (16.05 YPC), six TD.

While it's not kosher to be openly happy a rival player is injured, to say Arizona's secondary will miss him this season is a flat lie.

The injury puts a massive damper on San Francisco's attempt to repeat as NFC champions. While they are still a deep and talented team, Crabtree is by far their best wide receiver. For the production they get from him, it would be similar to the Cardinals losing Larry Fitzgerald.

The 49ers will rally around the receiving corps and try to make up for Crabtree's absence, but that will be a tough task. Peterson should handle Boldin much better than he has Crabtree, and that means the run defense and coverage of Vernon Davis must be up to par.

With so many ways to beat teams, San Francisco will still be a tough out. It did just get a little easier for Arizona, however.

Shaun Church is a student of football statistics who looks for obscure numbers and provides in-depth analysis when something noteworthy is found. His work has been featured on Bleacher Report, Football Nation, The Boston Metro, ESPN.com and more.

You can follow Shaun on Twitter @Church_NFL

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