Return of Michael Crabtree Sets Up San Francisco 49ers for Postseason Run

Joseph HoytContributor IIIDecember 28, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 23:  Michael Crabtree #15 of the San Francisco 49ers catches this pass, but gets called for offensive pass interference against Robert McClain #27 of the Atlanta Falcons during the first quarter at Candlestick Park on December 23, 2013 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

When the Baltimore Ravens shipped veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin to the 49ers for a sixth-round draft pick, San Francisco became live with the idea of a rejuvenated, high-powered 49ers offense after stalling short of the end zone in Super Bowl 47. However, ideas of an offense that featured Boldin lined up parallel to Michael Crabtree on the outside was quickly put on hold.

In the first day of organized team activities, Crabtree suffered a torn achilles tendon and many speculated that he would miss the entire 2013 season.

Instead of accepting a trip to the injured reserve for the duration of the 2013 season, Crabtree rehabilitated his leg after surgery, and six months later, Crabtree returned to the field. And the 49ers' offense wasn't the same.

Since Crabtree's return, the San Francisco offense has changed for the better. Colin Kaepernick, who eclipsed a quarterback rating of 100.00 only three times in the first 11 games, has now eclipsed that mark three times in the past four games with Crabtree in the offense.

Aside from his statistical improvement, the 49ers' second-year signal caller looks more comfortable with another weapon added to his arsenal, especially in regard to keeping control of the football. In the first 11 games of the year, without Crabtree, Kaepernick had 11 turnovers. Often times he appeared flustered in his attempts to try and find an open receiver. 

An open receiver was a rarity without No. 15 in the lineup. Throughout the first 11 games of 2013, the 49ers were constantly searching for a threat to lineup opposite of Boldin. Whether it was Kyle Williams or Mario Manningham, the team's search came up empty, leading to Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis constantly being double covered. 

In an interview with Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee, Kaepernick talks about how the insertion of Crabtree has changed the way defenses play the 49ers.

“It’s changed the way defenses play us a lot,” Kaepernick told Barrows. “That’s opened up a lot of things for Anquan. It’s opened up a lot of things for Crab and Vernon. With those three on the field, it’s tough for defenses to match up with them in the passing game.”

While Crabtree isn't at full speed yet, the threat of his ability is enough to keep defenses honest. He has 16 receptions for 255 yards and one touchdown since returning.

As a threat, and a blocker in the run game, the San Francisco offense is averaging roughly three points more a game than without him in the lineup. A value that's importance can't be understated when games often come down to a field-goal margin in the playoffs.