Dec 23, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree (15) carries the ball against the Atlanta Falcons during the third quarter of the final regular season game at Candlestick Park. The San Francisco 49ers defeated the Atlanta Falcons 34-24. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

San Francisco 49ers: Why Michael Crabtree Is Key To Beating Carolina Panthers

It wasn’t until Michael Jackson died when we truly felt his value. The same goes for Michael Crabtree.

The San Francisco 49ers played all season without their 2009 first round pick until Week 12 when his right Achilles tendon was good to go. It’s taken time for Crabtree to get back in the swing of things (like that Lakers guy), but he finally broke out during Wild Card weekend. Facing the Green Bay Packers in arctic conditions, the receiver hauled in eight receptions for 125 yards, 37 of them after the catch.

The home run threat (even at half-speed) will be a welcome addition against the Carolina Panthers this Sunday in the Divisional Round. The 49ers lost to the Panthers at home in Week 10 as their offense stalled like a neglected hatchback. San Francisco mustered merely 151 total yards (46 yards passing) and 2-of-13 third-down conversions. Colin Kaepernick attempted only six throws longer than 10 yards (per Pro Football Focus), a number that would have surely increased had Crabtree been in the fold.

This time, the 49ers will travel to Charlotte but will have their aerial stockpile prepared. Crabtree should draw the physical Captain Munnerlyn in coverage who will be a challenge to burn, but will allow Anquan Boldin and the slot man to take on Melvin White and Drayton Florence respectively. The Panthers will use safety help for their corners, but the downfield threat of Crabtree should open room for short and intermediate gains.

The air attack is crucial for the 49ers this Sunday because the Panthers boast the second-ranked rushing defense in the NFL at 86.9 yards allowed per game. San Francisco should still pound the rock for sake of ball control (they had considerable success in Week 10 too) but a victory on the road will need to come by the exploitation of Carolina’s 12th-ranked third-downs allowed percentage (35.8 percent).

With Boldin and Vernon Davis’ help, “the greatest catcher of all time” can be a difference-maker.

Tags: Michael Crabtree San Francisco 49ers

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