These are the names everyone recognizes when referring to the best vertical playmakers in this weekend’s NFC Championship game. Reliable hands, explosive deep threats, and clutch red zone options are attributes these great players possess. One, if not all, of these receivers will garner the most attention by their opposition when they step up to the line of scrimmage.
While Eli Manning has the luxury of throwing to either of his two superstar wide outs, the Giants will force Alex Smith to look at anyone but Davis when he drops back to pass.
That anyone he will find open consistently will be Michael Crabtree.
He will have the chance to be a game changer after dropping the ball the previous weekend. Despite gobbling up a touchdown pass against the Saints, he was incapable of holding on to other tosses that Smith lobbed his way. His four receptions and 25 yards receiving doesn’t exactly give Niner Nation flashbacks of past Jerry Rice’s post season performances.
Being forgetful will come in handy for Crabtree. Several quandaries will be hanging over him and the 49er fans when the game kicks off.
Which receiver will show up against the Giants? Is it the one who looked as if he greased his hands in oil last week or will it be the rising star who is supposed to be their number one WR?
Crabtree will hope the latter will be his destiny, as his fate was almost sealed as the scapegoat had his team lost last week. Luckily for him, his 49ers were able to pull of the comeback against New Orleans, allowing him the chance to rebound and carry his team into the Super Bowl.
This weekend’s showdown is set to be a wet and muddy affair, with showers in the forecast for San Francisco. Combine that with the high probability of both foes turning this into a smash-mouth affair, and this game is bellowing for an unsung hero to rise.
The 24-year-old wide out will be ready to emerge when that time comes. Crabtree is used to stepping up over time, as illustrated when viewing his totals over the past three years. His reception and yards totals have eclipsed each of his previous seasons, with his 72 grabs and 874 yards receiving in 2011 being the best of his pro career.
Crabtree will not only be able to utilize his progression as a method to bounce back, but rely on his best qualities to return and shine during the dreary game. Although Davis is the athletic freak of the receiving corps, No. 15 has the best hands of all his 49er counter parts.
In a game that will feature bruising hits and sloppy weather, being sure-handed will be the most important attribute to have for all players going vertical. He may have left them at home before the start of the divisional round game, but the former first round pick is too passionate and competitive to forget them again.
Being over-zealous will give him an advantage, but the other emotional teammate on his squad will be helping as Crabtree’s decoy.
It will be no surprise that the Giants’ defense will key in on Davis and so all the attention will be diverted into his routes and location post snap. This will allow Crabtree to have opportunities to sneak in areas that the linebackers and secondary pay little attention to. When Davis is trying to get vertical, Crabtree will have options underneath. If Davis is the quick route, Crabtree can be the secondary deep route that Smith will look to if his line can provide him a pocket.
That same Giants’ line and the rest of its defense will also be crucial in how well Crabtree plays.
What makes their defense stand out is their ability to bring pressure upon the QB. Their front four is one of the most feared D-line in the league and they paved the way for the Giants as the league leaders in sacks and interceptions during the 2011 season. An effective passing game can be difficult to attain when squaring off against Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, and their other fellow line mates.
Besides the front four though, this is a defense that is vulnerable across the board. Along with being a mediocre run-stopping team, at best, and the fourth-worst passing defense during the regular season; the back seven is susceptible when the pass rush in ineffective. Safety Antrel Rolle is the only stud of that group, but his day will be busy shadowing Davis over the top.
That will leave Crabtree with plenty of one-on-one opportunities against CBs Aaron Ross and Corey Webster. Add in a few dashes of no-deep coverage help against him when Rolle’s attention is on Davis, and the WR could see a few big-play long balls thrown his way.
He will also be able to take last week’s feats and his previous performance against the Giants as inspiration to bounce back big this weekend.
Crabtree is the type of player who cannot stand being insignificant in a game. Whenever those moments come, he somehow finds a way to put those horrendous accomplishments behind him and step it up the next chance he gets.
In their week ten meeting; the six-foot, one-inch, 214 pound receiver had his worst performance since the first game of the year with only one catch and 24 yards. The following week, he rebounded with a breakout game against Arizona with seven catches and 120 yards receiving.
After a Saturday filled with drops last weekend, Crabtree will surely use that time and his previous output against the Giants as motivation to have a monster game in Candlestick this Sunday.
When it’s all said and down, a little rain and a nightmarish act during the divisional game won’t deter the former Texas Tech star from coming back stronger than ever against New York. Although everyone is talking about Nicks, Cruz and Davis before the NFC title game, he will have the chance to be the talk of the town once it’s all over.
That name is Michael Crabtree, and he won’t allow himself to drop the ball two weeks in a row.