49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

May 27, 2013
Crabtree injury: May gloom can end in February brilliance

crachilles.jpg

I landed at San Francisco International Airport last night, turned on my phone for the first time in eight days and discovered 6,728 messages (only a slight exaggeration). Some thoughts on what prompted that flurry of activity:

* It's hard to overstate Michael Crabtree's importance to the 49ers' passing game. He obviously was Colin Kaepernick's favorite receiver (a whopping 92 targets in the 10 games Kaepernick started) last season, and moreover was Kaepernick's go-to receiver on critical plays and third downs. San Francisco's final attempts to score at the end of the Super Bowl clearly illustrate Kaepernick's comfort and confidence in Crabtree.

The doom and gloom about the 49ers' 2013 prospects, however, aren't taking into account recent history. Terrell Suggs' Achilles injury last year has been cited often in the last week because the Ravens' inside linebacker was able to return to field at midseason (Oct. 21). But it's perhaps more notable because the Ravens ended up winning the Super Bowl. The same apocalyptic headlines about the 49ers were being applied to the Ravens at this time last year. In fact, Baltimore dealt with major injuries to Suggs and inside linebacker Ray Lewis and still won a championship. Which is to say that injuries, including springtime injuries, can be overcome.

And you can bet Jim Harbaugh will find a way to use Crabtree's injury as a psychological advantage. It only reinforces the us-vs.-the world, band-of-brothers mentality the 49ers head coach has successfully fostered in Santa Clara.

* The bad news about the Suggs comparison ... The Ravens linebacker suffered his injury a bit earlier than Crabtree, on April 29. What's more significant is that Suggs' was a partial tear. Crabtree's reportedly is a complete tear. It not only will take longer for the tendon to heal, it will take longer for the muscles in Crabtree's right leg - especially his calf - to be back to full strength. Crabtree's game centers around making sharp cuts and exploding upfield. The big question now is when he will be able to regain that explosion.

* The key for the 49ers is third down. According to STATS LLC, Crabtree ranked fifth in the league last year with 22 catches in which the 49ers converted third downs into first downs. What's more, he ranked second when the scenario was third-and-7 or longer. He caught 11 such passes while Indianapolis' Reggie Wayne caught 12. As you'll recall, Crabtree caught many of those passes well short of the first-down marker and then bulled his way through the defense for first downs.

* Who takes over that role? Anquan Boldin is the obvious choice. He led the Ravens with 16 catches that converted third downs to first downs and eight that converted third-and-longs to first downs (in 15 starts). That doesn't include the critical third-and-short conversion in the Super Bowl in which he was well-covered by Carlos Rogers.

* What about Randy Moss? The veteran receiver wants to play in 2013 and remains an option. However, the 49ers know what they have in Moss. What they don't know is what they have in players like A.J. Jenkins, Quinton Patton and Ricardo Lockette (whom I wrote about last week). Unless the 49ers sense that another team may snap up Moss, it makes sense to hold off for now at least while those younger players get critical exposure during OTAs and minicamps.

* One more note: Another shame as far as Crabtree's injury is that it came the same day as the 49ers' and the Bay Area's Super Bowl L achievement and overshadowed Jed York's triumph. The area landed the marquee Super Bowl because York was able to build a stadium in California, something no other NFL has been able to do. That deserves a bow.

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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