Michael Crabtree has only fumbled once in his four-season NFL career. That fumble came last week against the Falcons when a fight to cross the goal line turned into a near Kyle Williams-esque debacle. Luckily for him, the 49ers shut down Atlanta’s offense and rendered their defense powerless on the way to a 28-24 49ers victory.
That’s an off game for Crabtree: six receptions, 57 yards and a fumble. If the 49ers want to beat the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII, Crabtree is going to have to play more like himself. Luckily for him and his team, that means playing like one of the most dominant receivers in football.
If there is one player who has benefitted the most from the Colin Kaepernick QB shuffle, it’s Crabtree. Since he came into the league in 2009, Crabtree has ran down the field anticipating good throws from the likes of Shaun Hill, Troy Smith and Alex Smith. At times, that was way too much to expect. He somehow still managed to improve his stats year by year.
Kaepernick’s emergence has allowed Crabtree to break out and become the force the 49ers drafted him to be. Since Alex Smith was benched, Crabtree is averaging 29 more receiving yards per game. He also finally cracked the 1,000-yard receiving mark this season with 1,105 yards and scored a career-high nine touchdowns. A 6’1”, 214-pound receiver flourishes with consistency under center? Imagine that.
His postseason numbers this season speak for themselves: 15 of 18 catches, 176 yards and two touchdowns in two games. He has had three multi-touchdown performances in his last five games. If the 49ers can move the ball against the stingy Ravens secondary, it will be because Crabtree was able to expose them.
The Baltimore defense has been giving quarterbacks headaches all postseason (via ESPN). Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady—three of the best pure passing QB’s in the NFL—only completed 53.2 percent of their passes and tallied three touchdowns, four interceptions and a combined 64.3 NFL passer rating against Ray Lewis and his purple monster this postseason.
Luckily for the 49ers, Kaepernick is capable of busting defenses with his legs and arms. If the Ravens can’t solve the mystery of the pistol offense, they’re going to be in for a long day. Even if they can take away Kaepernick’s rushing lanes, they’ll have to deal with his scorching-hot fastballs to versatile receivers like Crabtree, Vernon Davis and Randy Moss.
It all comes down to Crabtree in the end. Elite players tend to make their opponents’ lives miserable. It shouldn’t take long for Crabtree to get Lewis and company fuming. As long as he doesn’t let those sexual assault charges clog up his mind (via CBSsports), there’s no reason Crabtree won’t give the Ravens hell on Feb. 3.