Crabtree injury could make the 49ers stronger

5/24/13 in NFL   |   droth   |   127 respect

At the very end of the 49ers final drive in the Super Bowl, Colin Kaepernick tried repeatedly to get Michael Crabtree the football.  The 49ers came up short and many were critical of the play calling down near the goal line.

Feb 3, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) calls a play against the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY SportsIt wasn't a coincidence that Crabtree emerged as a legitimate  eceiving threat after Colin Kaepernick took over midway through 
the season.  Kaepernick looked for Crabtree a lot.  The two developed a level of chemistry that really gave the offense a boost, but as we saw in the most crucial moments of last season, perhaps he looks for Crabtree a little too much.

Losing your number one wide receiver for potentially the whole season is never good.  Especially when that receiver was just beginning to live up to very lofty expectations.  It is, without a doubt, a setback for the offense but the season is far from lost. 

It will force Kaepernick to involve other receiving options in the passing game.  Vernon Davis is one of the most talented tight ends in the NFL and was underutilized at times in 2012.  Mario Manningham will return after missing most of last season with an injury, they added Anquan Boldin, and last year's first round pick, A.J. Jenkins, is said to be getting stronger and improving after spending much of the offseason training with his quarterback.

The niners have receiving options, it's just a matter of Colin Kaepernick developing a similar comfort level that he had with Crabtree.  Kaepernick has shown that he can learn on the fly and he has met every challenge he's been faced with so far, so 49ers fans should be confident that he'll learn to work with this group of pass catchers.  Not being able to rely on Crabtree will, hopefully, help Kaepernick grow as a quarterback and a leader which will make the team that much more dangerous moving forward.

This could also have an effect on the other side of the ball for the niners.  We've seen, in the past, up-and-coming teams that make their living on defense that eventually shift and become offensive-minded teams.

Tom Brady's Patriots are a perfect example.  When the Patriots emerged on the scene, they won a Super Bowl by hitting the Rams harder than any other team had hit them and Tom Brady and the offense did just enough to get in Adam Vinatieri's range.  Similarly, the Steelers evolved from the Steelers of old to a Pass heavy offensive team as Roethlisberger developed into an elite quarterback.  When the 49ers began their climb to the top of the NFL power rankings a few years ago, they were a defensive team and Alex Smith managed the games very well.

But then, as we saw in New England and Pittsburgh, once the team is established, they expand the offensive philosophy which can come at the defense's expense.  When Kaepernick took over as QB, the offense opened up.  They still had a great defense, but were in more shootouts and the team's identity became more balanced and less defense-oriented.

This injury to a key offensive player may help spark the defense because it is a reminder of what the team's original strength was: toughness on defense.  I'm not saying that Crabtree's torn achilles will make Aldon Smith better, but it will put more responsibility on a defense that excelled when it was the team's calling card in previous years.

If Colin Kaepernick can get used to spreading the ball around to his many receiving options and the team takes this opportunity to refocus on its defensive identity, the 49ers could come out of this unfortunate situation even stronger.
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