COMMENTARY | In an interesting turn of events, the San Francisco 49ers got their passing game going in a big way against a dreadful Washington Redskins defense in Week 12. The likes of Anquan Boldin and Mario Manningham stepped up, combining for nine catches, 139 yards and two scores on 13 targets. This came immediately before San Francisco announced that it had activated Michael Crabtree to the 53-man roster and that he will likely play Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.
In what will be a huge shot in the arm for the worst passing offense in the NFL at the most opportunistic time, San Francisco will finally be getting its true No. 1 wide receiver back just in time for a playoff push over the final month of the season. According to Pro Football Focus, Crabtree caught 72 percent of the passes thrown in his direction last season, which ranked him seventh among qualified receivers. In fact, he ranked second behind only Randall Cobb among receivers with a minimum of 100 targets. Taking into account the postseason, Crabtree caught 70 percent of the balls Kaepernick threw in his direction in 2012 and was targeted an average of 10 times per game in San Francisco's final eight outings.
Now you know one of the primary reasons the 49ers have struggled passing the ball thus far this season.
That should change a tad come Sunday. Looking specifically at the matchup against St. Louis, Crabtree's return couldn't have come at a better time. With Cortland Finnegan on injured reserve and Trumaine Johnson questionable for the game due to a concussion, San Francisco has a huge matchup advantage. St. Louis plays sides in the defensive secondary, which means that Janoris Jenkins will likely line up against Anquan Boldin on the left side of the hash. As we saw earlier in the season, Jenkins simply doesn't possess the physicality to go up against Boldin and stop the veteran receiver. Even if St. Louis decides to mix its coverage assignments, Boldin will be a matchup nightmare against whoever lines up opposite Jenkins.
When Crabtree was sidelined with the achilles injury, San Francisco didn't have the weapons to take advantage of this. Now enter into the equation rookie Brandon McGee, who will likely find himself lined up against Crabtree. McGee committed two bad pass interference penalties in his first extended NFL action last week and is going to struggle big time if Johnson is out of the lineup. While I like what the rookie brings to the table, at 100 percent, Crabtree has to be given the benefit of the doubt in that matchup.
The Rams other option is in the form of unproven defensive back Quinton Pointer, who has not seen action this season after appearing mostly on special teams in six games last season. Not exactly the best of matchups for the road team there.
If St. Louis is forced to account for both Crabtree and Boldin outside of basic man coverage, this will cause some issues as it relates to defending Vernon Davis between the hashes. The Rams duo of starting safeties leave a lot to be desired and cannot be counted on to stop Davis in one-on-one coverage. This means that if Alec Ogletree is forced to double one of those two receivers outside with underneath coverage, Davis will have himself a field day.
These are the types of matchups that general manager Trent Baalke and Co. figured would occur when they traded for Boldin at the start of the 2013 league year. While it has taken 12 weeks too long, San Francisco now has major matchup advantages against pretty much every team it goes up against, including St. Louis. It's now all about Crabtree showing that he can start off hot out of the gate after not seeing regular game action since February. That's the larger issue at hand. If he can, San Francisco should be in great shape moving forward offensively.
Vincent Frank has been covering the National Football League for three years. He started out writing for Bleacher Report and is currently the head editor at eDraft and a columnist at Pro Football Focus. Vincent co-hosts a weekly radio show called "Football Debate Central" with former NFL player Ryan Riddle and has seen his work featured on CNN, BR and Los Angeles Times, among many other outlets.
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