A no. 1 wide receiver means so much for an NFL team, especially one with a young quarterback who is developing as an NFL quarterback. When Colin Kaepernick took over as the starter for the San Francisco 49ers, a large part of his success was thanks to having Michael Crabtree to throw the ball to or to bail him out if he needed a conversion.
Without Crabtree for the first 11 games of the 2013 season, Kaepernick had his struggles as he could only rely on two pass-catching threats.
On Sunday as the 49ers beat the St. Louis Rams 23-13 and Crabtree made his season debut, his presence on the field had a noticeable positive impact for the 49ers’ offense. This cannot be measured by his numbers alone, though he did have two receptions for 68 yards.
His impact was noticeable in several ways. From the beginning of the game it was clear that Kaepernick played with a certain swagger that had not been seen during the season, at least since Week 1. While Kaepernick has had games in which he has thrown for more passing yards and or more touchdown passes, the manner in which he played on Sunday can be attributed to having Crabtree back as an option.
This helped make the Rams’ defense pay for stacking in the box. At times during the game, the Rams would play with eight men inside the defensive box and dare the 49ers to pass on them. Thanks to Crabtree being back on the field, the 49ers did not blink twice about making the Rams pay and as a result, forcing a couple of defensive holding penalties.
An element that the 49ers’ offense missed with the absence of Crabtree was that of a wide receiver who could stretch the field on deep passes. His return on Sunday proved to be the answer to this dilemma as his 60-yard reception in the second half showed that the 49ers once again have that vertical threat at the wide receiver position who can beat, or at the very least put a scare in opposing secondaries.
The return of a no. 1 wide receiver like Crabtree helps open things up for other wide receivers like Anquan Boldin, who was able to take advantage of having more underneath routes open for him to exploit thanks to Crabtree being on the field. He collected nine receptions on Sunday, the highest single-game total since his breakout in Week 1.
As Crabtree gets into game shape, he will have a bigger individual impact on the 49ers’ offense. That said, Crabtree has already made an noticeable impact just with his mere presence on the field, and it can only grow in stature until the end of the season.