The San Francisco 49ers earned another win over a divisional rival when they beat the St. Louis Rams. They were able to gain a game on the Arizona Cardinals in the race for the final playoff spot. The defense continued it’s dominance. It is clear that they will play a key part in the 49ers playoff push. The thing that will be key is the offense. The success of the passing game was the X factor from the win against the St. Louis Rams. Let’s take a look at a few of the reasons for the revitalized passing attack.
The passing game all starts with Colin Kaepernick. It is imperative that he feels comfortable in the pocket and can get into some sort of flow in the offense. Kaepernick is at his best when he is able to have fun on the field. He has to be able to be loose and just let the ball go like he did in the Rams game. Kaepernick trusted what his eyes showed him and wasn’t hesitant to throw the ball to receivers as they broke open.
Another factor in Kaepernick’s resurgence is how the receivers are able to get into their routes and not get jammed at the line of scrimmage. Nothing disrupts the timing of a passing play more than when a receiver is not able to get a free release. The return of Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree helps because these are two receivers that can consistently beat the press. Boldin is capable as well. These are three receivers that can make teams pay for stacking the box against the 49ers offense.
Fortunately, the 49ers have found ways to beat man coverage. The thing that is interesting is Manningham, Crabtree and Boldin each have beat man coverage in different ways. Manningham showcased his ability in a small sample size against the Washington Redskins. He got inside leverage right away at the line of scrimmage and was wide open on numerous occasions when he ran slant routes. The focus wasn’t on Manningham in the Rams game but he can be a factor on crucial third downs.
Boldin was able to beat the man coverage that he faced by overpowering the corners. His hands are some of the strongest in the NFL. He has proven himself to be a “trusted agent” for Jim Harbaugh and his young quarterback. Boldin drew a few penalties early in the game. A couple of the penalties kept drives alive.
Last but not least, Crabtree made his return on Sunday against the Rams. He was facing man coverage on one of his catches and he beat Trumaine Johnson for a 60-yard gain. The ability to start and stop that well is not something that many would have imagined.
The return of Crabtree allowed the rest of the offense to settle into the roles that they were given prior to the Crabtree injury. His injury knocked everything out of rhythm. Boldin was brought in to be the number two receiver and not have to consistently go against the opposition’s top corner. Manningham will also benefit because he will now draw the nickel corner and be but into a position that win surely work in his favor.. These are the kind of matchups that Manningham has made a living by dominating an inferior corner.
Vernon Davis will also benefit from Crabtree returning. Teams have been able to key on stopping either Boldin or Davis by way of double teams. They can no longer do that because Crabtree is a legitimate number one threat that has been able to do well against every corner except for Richard Sherman. This will force defenses to be hesitant to leave Crabtree in one on one matchups.
Kaepernick showed that he has the ability to throw the ball with a great bit of touch. One of his throws was a perfect drop shot to Vernon Davis just over the defender. The throw to Crabtree on the hitch and go was also a perfectly placed ball. Kaepernick had one passing touchdown on the day. He showed how accurately he can place the ball into a spot even when his target is surrounded by defenders. He was able to find a different release point when he threw the ball to Vernon Davis on a 17 yard touchdown.
The bottom line is that Kaepernick now will benefit from having Crabtree back. In Crabtree, Kaeprnick has a comfort zone that he targeted 55 times more than any other receiver on the team. Often times when Kaepernick was asked to explain this, he simply said that he gets open. It’s more than that though. Crabtree has earned the unconditional trust of Kaepernick. It’s the kind of relationship in which the quarterback feels that if his receiver doesn’t catch the ball, noone does. That is what is referred to as a safety blanket.
The 49ers will need to continue to build off of the 19-for-28, 275 yards, one touchdown performance that Kaepernick had against the Rams. Seattle will present a tough challenge. They don’t let guys get too open. They will surely try to rush the passer as aggressively as possible. Be sure to check out my article about Five Things To Watch For Against The Seahawks which will be posted on Friday.