Michael Crabtree's Return Will Fix San Francisco 49ers' Passing Game

Tyler BrookeSenior Analyst IINovember 27, 2013

Feb 3, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree (15) carries the ball in for a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens during the third quarter in Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Derick Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers have struggled to make plays in the passing game during the 2013 NFL season, and now they're in danger of potentially losing out on an NFC wild-card spot. Fortunately, Michael Crabtree is finally ready to play, and that will help turn things around as the regular season winds down.

According to the team's official Twitter account, Crabtree was activated from the PUP list on Tuesday, and head coach Jim Harbaugh expects him to play in Week 13 against the St. Louis Rams.

The 49ers are currently 7-4, but they've gone 1-2 in their last three games and are tied with the Arizona Cardinals for second place in the NFC West. To make matters worse, the team ranks last in the NFL in passing, averaging just 173.5 yards per game through the air.

Colin Kaepernick just hasn't looked like the same player this season. He was an incredibly accurate and mobile quarterback in 2012, but his numbers have dipped and he's struggled to make the same throws he made during their Super Bowl run. There's a drop-off in key areas too, as you can see below.

Colin Kaepernick 2012 vs. 2013

The big difference here is that Kaepernick has been without both Crabtree and Mario Manningham for the majority of this season. Manningham has recently returned, but he's not playing the role that he would be playing with Crabtree in the offense.

Crabtree was one of Kaepernick's favorite targets and one of the biggest weapons on offense for the 49ers in 2012. He caught 85 passes for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns in the regular season. In the playoffs, he picked up another 20 catches for 285 yards and three scores. He opens up the passing game and gives others the opportunity to make plays as well.

With their star receiver returning this week, the 49ers will be able to move their other weapons into more ideal roles. Anquan Boldin can serve as more of a possession and red-zone threat as the No. 2 guy, while Manningham can move to the No. 3 spot. Meanwhile, Vernon Davis can continue to make plays at tight end, but have defenses focus less on him and more on Crabtree.

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 03:  Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates with teammate  Michael Crabtree after a touchdown was scored against the Baltimore Ravens during Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on February 3, 2013
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

An improved passing game will also continue to open up the running game. The 49ers are still averaging 135.1 rushing yards per game, but they're averaging just 4.3 yards per carry, as opposed to 5.1 yards per carry last season.

Crabtree will have an opportunity to make some big plays this week when he's out on the field. The Rams allow 247 passing yards per game, which ranks 22nd in the NFL, plus they will now be without Cortland Finnegan, who was placed on injured reserve this past week according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

The 49ers are going to be fighting for a playoff berth, and with Crabtree returning, the team is getting healthy at exactly the right time.