Sports Out West

49ers Week 13 primer: Crabtree to return for big game with Rams

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After two straight games of under 200 total yards on offense, the San Francisco 49ers finally woke up in Week 12. Whether it was because they are starting to turn a corner or because they were playing a bad Washington Redskins’ defense is irrelevant. The bottom line is Colin Kaepernick and company finally made plays through the air that led the way to a 27-6 win. In Week 13, San Francisco will welcome back a familiar face to the lineup in Michael Crabtree with hopes that the star wide receiver can help the offense maintain it’s strong play against the St. Louis Rams.

Recent History

There were different circumstances early in the season when the 49ers met the Rams in Week 4. Both teams were coming into the game after back-to-back losses had run their records to 1-2. Both teams were also having trouble scoring points as each only managed one touchdown apiece in their Week 3 losses. San Francisco ended up being the squad that got their act together as the 49ers returned to their ground game and ran for 219 yards in the 35-11 win. Frank Gore lead the way with 153 yards rushing and a touchdown. The Rams had all kinds of trouble moving the ball and only managed 188 total yards. The 49ers’ stingy defense held St. Louis runners to 18 yards on 19 carries. The win would be the launchpad to San Francisco’s five-game winning streak.

Players to watch

The 49ers have activated Crabtree to the 53-man roster and he should see action in this game. What remains to be seen is how much he can actually contribute after missing so much time. In all likelihood, Crabtree will play a limited number of snaps as he works his way back into playing shape and reacclimates himself to the speed of the game. Crabtree was the 49ers’ leading receiver last season with 85 catches for 1105 yards.

When the Rams drafted Tavon Austin, they envisioned the versatile wide receiver as someone who could provide big plays for their plodding offense. After a slow start, Austin has started to show signs of being a big-time play maker the last two contests. He’s been a force in every facet imaginable, averaging 34 yards on his touches in the return, rushing, and passing game in Weeks 11 and 12. Each of Austin’s four touchdowns during that span have been of the big play variety. He has receiving scores of 81 and 57 yards, a rushing touchdown of 65 yards, and has returned a punt for 98 yards. 

 Game changing factor

While Aldon Smith had been back in the fold for the past two weeks, he hardly looked like the dominant pass rusher who recorded 38 sacks in his first 35 games. The gradual return to form was to be expected though, as Smith was out of action for six weeks as he dealt with substance abuse issues. After two very ordinary performances, Smith broke out in Week 12, recording two sacks and pressuring Robert Griffin into throwing an interception.

While Smith begins to round into form, fellow outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks is playing the best football of his career. He has 5.0 sacks over his last three games and already has 8.5 on the season which is a career high for him. One of the issues with the 49ers’ defense had been that Smith was the only player providing a consistent pass rush. Now that Brooks is terrorizing quarterbacks from the other side, San Francisco will be very tough to beat.

Stats to know

Kaepernick finally made some progress in Week 12, throwing for 235 yards and three touchdowns. It was only the third time all season the quarterback has broken the 200 yard passing mark. The return of Crabtree, even if limited, should provide a boon for Kaepernick as the two developed a special chemistry in 2012.  In the last five regular season games of 2012, Crabtree caught 35 of Kaepernick’s passes for 538 yards and 4 touchdowns. Overall, Kaepernick completed 68.5 percent of the passes thrown Crabtree’s way with 8 touchdowns and no interceptions. Throwing to all other wide receivers, he had a 58.4 percent completion percentage with 1 touchdown and 4 picks.

Even more important is what Crabtree will bring to the team on third downs. In 2012, the receiver caught 32 passes and 24 of those receptions were converted into first downs. Overall, he was targeted 49 times on third and fourth down by both Kaepernick and Alex Smith. Crabtree was also deadly after he caught the ball in 2012. His 543 yards after the catch were the fourth highest total in the league and accounted for 49.1 percent of his total receiving yards.

Bottom line

As well as the Rams have played the past two weeks, the 49ers will be a tough matchup for them. The San Francisco offense may have finally broken out of their slump and the defense is playing as well as it has all season. The 49ers have to win every week in order to keep pace in the NFC wild card race and this game will take on added importance because of it. The game will be closer than their Week 4 matchup, but the Niners should be able to run their record to 8-4.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Al Sacco

Al Sacco is sports expert who knows football, baseball, basketball and hockey. He has spent his time as a sports journalist covering the San Francisco 49ers as a staff writer for 49erswebzone.com and 49ersgab.com. He is also a contributor to Yahoo! Voices and has had his work used on ESPN NFL Insiders.