By Gabe Schapiro
On Sunday wide receiver Michael Crabtree made his long-awaited 2013-14 debut. Back on May 21 he tore his Achilles, dealing a big blow to an already thin receiving corps. Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco pass offense felt the adverse effects, and have struggled for much of the season. This has raised questions about whether Kaepernick could live up to the hyped expectations built up through last seasons Super Bowl run. On the stat sheet Crabtree didn’t have a huge first game back, but his impact could go far beyond that.
In the 23-13 win over the St. Louis Rams, Crabtree finished the day with two receptions for 68 yards on four targets. However, he is such a threat that his presence alone can open up the field for his teammates. Anquan Boldin had nine catches for 98 yards, and Vernon Davis had four receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown. Perhaps most importantly, Kaepernick had one of his best games of the season, completing 19 of 28 passes for 275 yards, a touchdown, and no turnovers. The 275 yards through the air are the most he’s had since Week 1, and is just the fourth time he’s eclipsed the 200-yard mark.
To put things into perspective, only two players on the entire 49ers roster this season have caught a touchdown pass: Boldin and Davis. Crabtree’s 68 receiving yards already puts him third among San Francisco’s active wideouts. With 16 more yards he will move into second. For an offense who essentially has three options on each play; hand it to Frank Gore, pass it to Boldin, or pass it to Davis, the addition of Crabtree back into the mix could pay big dividends.
With all of that said the Rams aren’t exactly a stiff test. They generally play the 49ers well, but their defense has been very middle-of-the-road this season. As a whole they are ranked 14th in the league in points allowed, and 19th in pass defense.
Crabtree’s game-changing ability so soon after returning will be tested significantly more next week against the league’s best pass defense, the Seattle Seahawks. However, his first game back was a good start. It already lets Kaepernick breathe just a little easier, as the 49ers push for a playoff spot.