HOUSTON, TEXAS (But The Game Is On) – - – 6 plays.
After a couple of weeks of speculation as to how many snaps rookie wide receiver Michael Crabtree would be in on in his debut, Crabtree could be found standing on the sidelines for just six of the San Fransisco 49ers snaps.
Crabtree was on the field for 48 plays and he those opportunities to show the 49ers coaching staff and front office that he is all he was made out to be. His readiness to function in an NFL offense, his ability to catch the football with defenders closing in for the kill, and his willingness to block for Frank Gore and his fellow receivers when his number wasn’t called were all qualities that stood out.
There were a few instances when Crabtree was confused about which side of the field he needed to be on, but his teammates always got him to where he needed to be. Other than a handful of small mishaps liked that, Crabtree was perfect. He ran his routes fluently, adjusted to his quarterback when they were flushed out of the pocket and was going all out when blocking for his teammates. 49ers head coach Mike Singletary thought Crabtree looked like a season veteran in his debut.
“Do I think he did a great job today? Absolutely. He did a heck of a job. I’m sure he did a lot of things wrong. The bottom line is, when he had the chance to make plays he made them. You’re talking about a guy that’s been working his tail off and hasn’t been at camp, and he came in today and it seemed like he had been here a while.”
Michael finished with five catches (six targets) for 56 yards – it would have been six grabs for 78 yards had it not been for a illegal motion penalty that nullified the 22-yard gain. Normally those numbers wouldn’t be anything to write home about but watching this game in person gave me a new feeling for what Crabtree is going to have to deal with this season.
Shaun Hill started the game and on every play, I am not exaggerating, he stared down his receiver and either threw the ball to him or was taken down in the backfield. This was particularly angering because on more than half of those plays, Crabtree was getting wide open down the middle or on the side of the field. Just watching a QB on TV it can be hard to pick up on these things, but sitting there and keying in on the QB’s eyes really makes you appreciate the Peyton Manning’s and Drew Brees’ of the world, who have terrific field vision and survey the field in the pocket.
[Note: Matt Schaub has this problem too. It was equally frustrating seeing Andre Johnson in single coverage 30 yards down the field while Schaub throws a three-yard curl to Kevin Walter. I can only imagine what Andre would be like with a guy like Peyton or Brees or Brady.]
In the second half, Singletary made the switch from Shaun Hill to former first overall pick Alex Smith, who had been practicing with Crabtree over the bye week. It was the right move. Hill was not establishing any type of rhythm with his receivers, which was partly the doing of the Texans linebackers who made Frank Gore a non-factor, forcing Hill to throw.
Smith had it going as soon as he got started. On his first pass, he hit Crabtree on a 17-yard slant in the middle of the field. Crabtree would also have catches of 6 and 11 from Smith.
Tight End Vernon Davis scored all three touchdowns for San Fransisco, which may overshadow some of Crabtree’s accomplishments. However, Crabtree played a pretty big role in all three of those scores. Davis was open in the middle of the field all three times because the Texans linebackers weren’t dropping back and their safties were sliding to Crabtree’s side.
Overall, Crabtree was pleased with his play.
“It felt good, man. I was kind of calm. I kind of practiced on being calm and coming into the game knowing what I’m supposed to do and executing plays. I think I did a good job and I think I have some more work to do.”
After his performance today, Crabtree should have even more respect in the San Fransisco locker room. He played in the majority of this game and I expect more of the same from him next week, including a score and possible 100-yards.
Just so everybody knows: Michael Crabtree in one game has 5 catches for 56 yards. Darrius Heyward-Bey in 7 games has four catches for 64 yards. Good pick Al Davis.
Here are the video highlights of Crabtree’s game.
For more of my NFL observations, check out my Drivin’ column tomorrow.