Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 11/29/13
The San Francisco 49ers offense has been lacking explosive plays all season long. They are the worst passing team in the NFL based on yards per game. There’s been numerous reasons why the offense has struggled, but one of the main reasons is that their best receiver, Michael Crabtree, has been injured all season long; until now. The Niners are expecting to get a huge boost for the stretch run as Crabtree is scheduled to return from the torn Achilles that he suffered back in the OTA’S. The Niners will gladly welcome him back into the lineup because that will give Colin Kaepernick another weapon in the offense and help take pressure off Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis. However, just because Crabtree is playing doesn’t mean he will be effective. History has showed that Achilles injuries are the most difficult injuries to overcome in all of sports. So, if the Niners are expecting Crabtree to be the receiver he was last year they may be in for a surprise. The expectations of Crabtree should be modest the first few weeks so we can see what he looks like after not playing for well over 4 months. The Niners will welcome Michael Crabtree back into their offense. But there’s still a question of just how much help he will be. Even if Crabtree isn’t 100 percent, he’s still another weapon added to the Niner offense and he has great chemistry with Kaepernick as the two displayed last year. To be exact, Crabtree was targeted on over 25 percent of the Niners pass plays last season. He was targeted on 118 of 408 total pass plays the 49ers attempted, twice as many as anybody else on the team so it’s a safe bet that he’ll still be an intricate part of the offense. He also had over 30 percent of the Niners receiving yards last season 1105 out of 3551 total passing yards. Crabtree returning couldn’t have happened at a better time for the Niners. December is when you want to be playing your best football, so getting a player of Crabtree’s caliber back should only help the Niners offense and give the Niners a good shot at returning to the Super Bowl. Also adding Crabtree will allow the Niners to get more creative in their offensive schemes. The schemes have been pretty vanilla for the most part this year especially in the passing game. That has to do with a lack of weapons and the fact that Kaepernick is still learning to read defenses. Adding Crabtree will allow the Niners to do the bunch formations that the Denver Broncos, New England Patriots and all the other good offenses do. They can stack Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, and Mario Manningham on one side of the field and have them run separate routes. This will be difficult to defend and make life easier for Kaepernick as well. There will obviously be more options that the Niners can mix in when Crabtree returns. The Niners hope that the Colin Kaepernick and Michael Crabtree connection will blossom again this season for the stretch run. As mentioned briefly above, there’s also a few concerns with Crabtree coming back. The first, would be the risk of re-injuring himself if he isn’t fully healed. The Niners have been monitoring Crabtree every day, so they should know if he is fully capable of going out and competing. The second concern which may be overlooked a little bit is whether or not Crabtree takes catches and targets away from Boldin and Davis. Last year Crabtree was Kaepernicks go to receiver and a guy who was targeted by Kaepernick as much as any receiver in the NFL once he took over at quarterback. It worked last year because Crabtree was 100 percent healthy but this year it could be a little risky. If Kaepernick gets back to last years habit of targeting Crabtree on almost every pass play, then that may change the Niners offensive philosophy of spreading the ball around to the open receiver. This could make the Niners offense easy to defend if they know that Kaepernick is going to Crabtree on almost every pass play. The final concern would simply be Crabtree’s effectiveness. If he isn’t back to 100 percent, he could be more of a liability than an asset. Now that the Niners have Manningham involved in the offense, they have enough weapons to be a successful offense without Crabtree, so they don’t necessarily need him if he isn’t himself. Then again, Crabtree’s presence will make life easier for the other receivers like Boldin, Davis and Manningham as well as Kaepernick. Though it isn’t certain, it is highly anticipated that Crabtree will be able to play this Sunday against the St Louis Rams. This game will allow the Niners to evaluate him to see how he looks. If he looks healthy and effective, it will be a great sign for the Niners Super Bowl run. If he doesn’t look healthy and struggles, then the Niners may choose to sit him out for the next few games or for the rest of the year and let him recover completely.
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