With the Bears and 49ers set to square off tonight, Monday Night Football will be a defensive bout—which means the difference could come down to offense. That makes Michael Crabtree key for a San Francisco win.
With Alex Smith announced as unable to go, an already thin Niners passing attack takes a huge hit.
While the Bears' pass defense isn't as imposing (10th in the NFL), they still challenge opposing quarterbacks (seven touchdowns allowed to 19 interceptions).
Making the first start of his career, Colin Kaepernick certainly has his work cut out for him.
Which means he'll need his receivers at their very best, and that's where Michael Crabtree comes in.
In his fourth NFL season, Crabtree has finally started to emerge as a star. Through nine games, he has 44 catches for 510 yards and four touchdowns.
If he keeps pace, he should finish with career highs in all major stat categories. Crabtree could even eclipse 1,000 yards receiving for the first time in his career.
Not only has Crabtree become the Niners' No. 1 receiver, he's also instrumental in wins.
He averages 63 yards per game when San Francisco wins (or ties), with all four of his touchdowns. In the 49ers two losses, he's averaging just 33 yards per game.
The numbers become even better at home, with Crabtree averaging 70 yards per game in wins (or ties) at Candlestick Park. He has two of his touchdowns in those games.
In the 49ers' one home loss this season, Crabtree had a mere 26 yards receiving. He was targeted six times in that game, but only had three catches.
No other receivers have been as instrumental in the Niners' offense as Crabtree.
Randy Moss isn't the threat he used to be (254 yards, two touchdowns), and tight end Vernon Davis has been surprisingly quiet as of late (101 yards and no touchdowns over his last four games).
The easiest way for a young quarterback to succeed is rely on the players around him for support.
Frank Gore will certainly do that on the ground, but that won't be enough. Kaepernick has to be able to go to the air attack, and he needs his No. 1 receiver to be at the top of his game.
That's why Crabtree becomes so instrumental.