With the emergence of Colin Kaepernick behind center, the San Francisco 49ers have transformed their offense into a dynamic and potent one with their wide receivers and tight ends heading into Super Bowl XLVII.
The Niners explosive wide receivers start with Michael Crabtree, who’s blossomed into San Francisco’s legitimate threat in his fourth season, leading the team in receptions (85), yards (1105) and touchdowns (nine). Crabtree – listed at 6’1″ and 214 pounds – has finally given this team what they hoped for selecting him 10th overall in the 2009 NFL Draft.
Crabtree’s hands have improved steadily and can catch most everything in traffic and has the strength to do so with a defensive back draped on him. A good amount of the growth of Crabtree has come from the development of Colin Kaepernick, taking advantage of his strong and accurate arm. Because of those abilities, it has been helped by the fact that Crabtree is more reliant in his route-running abilities with everything being predicated on timing. A number of throws from Kaepernick have come in tight windows where precise route-running is crucial and in that area is where Crabtree excels.
Randy Moss, the 14-year veteran who sat out the entire 2011 season in short retirement, signed a one-year contract before the season with the San Francisco 49ers.
Gone are the days of defensive coordinators having sleepless nights and corner backs with reoccurring nightmares of being burned by Moss. He was so feared in his ability to dominate his opponents, that he’ll forever be linked to a phrase where one receiver torches a defender, simply put. “He got Mossed”. His namesake even inspired a lyric from Killer Mike on the great hip-hop duo Outkast’s song ‘The Whole World’, “I catch a beat runnin’ like Randy Moss.”
But Moss fills a need for the Niners and saw more play time after season-ending injuries to Kyle Williams and Mario Manningham. The sometimes mercurial Moss hasn’t exactly been pleased with his role on the team this season, playing out of the slot and opposite Crabtree but targets have gone more so to Crabtree and Vernon Davis. Moss has just 28 receptions for 434 yards and 3 TD’s this season.
With his hands still an asset to his playmaking abilities, he is someone the Ravens will have to monitor carefully when he sees time in the slot and opposite Crabtree. Moss sees a lot of time when the 49ers go to a two running back-set with two tight ends. Because the 49ers are more of a run-first type offense, this could help Colin Kaepernick attempt to soften the Ravens defense by throwing down field to Moss who can still stretch defenses which he did in San Francisco’s win over New England in December.
The Ravens will look to play him man-to-man and limit him to the sidelines. This will be an interesting match-up for safety Ed Reed who will be keeping a close eye with every move Moss makes as the Ravens hope Kaepernick will challenge them down field and the Niners hope Moss can make a few plays to force Reed to follow him to one side of the field.
If Moss can get some catches against the Ravens secondary, that could help to open things up both underneath and intermediate to tight end Vernon Davis.
Vernon Davis has transformed himself as one of the premier tight ends in the NFL after a run-in with former head coach Mike Singletary who once kicked Davis off the field because of poor attitude. Since then, Davis has responded to what Singletary tried to instill in him and has flourished even more with Jim Harbaugh as San Francisco’s head coach.
Davis, the former standout at the University of Maryland, has seen a slight regression in his numbers during the regular season, but has been a match-up nightmare for defenses the last two years the 49ers have been in the playoffs. After being held to a single catch in the win over Green Bay, Davis caught five passes for 106 yards a touchdown in the win over Atlanta as the Falcons tried to shut down Kaepernick and the 49ers run game. Last year he had four touchdowns in two games with Alex Smith at quarterback.
Vernon Davis is a physical specimen who can find the gaps in defenses and extend drives with yards after the catch. The Ravens have had looks at dynamic tight ends, so they’ll have their hands full yet again with Davis. As the Ravens look to stop the run and the dynamic capabilities of Colin Kaepernick, Vernon Davis quickly could be the x-factor on offense for San Francisco.
So many weapons at the disposal of offensive coordinator Greg Roman to give the Ravens different looks. How will the Ravens matchup and respond?
Matt Lund is a contributor for BaltimoreSportsReport.com and co-host of the BSR Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @MattCLund.