Diner morning news: 49ers need a passing fix

QUOTE: “Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking makes what we read ours.” -- John Locke, “Of the Conduct of the Understanding” (1706)

Michael Crabtree’s fast education

The 49ers have decided the time is now for Michael Crabtree to get in a game and help their anemic passing game. Matt Bowen did a great job breaking this down earlier today. Coming off a week in which nine teams collected over 400 yards of offense, the 49ers have yet to pass for more than 200 yards in any game this season. That will have to change if they’re going to win the NFC West. The Niners must find a way to make plays down the field in the passing game. Yards per attempt is the key stat, not how many yards you run for each week. I know I tend to harp on this statistic about the passing game, but for me it’s a clear indication of a team’s ability to win. Take a look:


23. BUFFALO 5.1 2-4
24. DETROIT 5.0 1-5
25. ST LOUIS 5.0 0-6
26. TENNESSEE 5.0 0-6
27 SAN FRAN 5.0 3-2
28. TAMPA BAY 4.9 0-6
29. CAROLINA 4.9 2-4
30. KANSAS CITY 4.6 1-5
31. OAKLAND 4.5 2-4
32. CLEVELAND 4.1 1-5

One thing we know about these teams is that they’re struggling to get consistent play from their quarterbacks. The other number that jumps out is that the 49ers are the only team with a winning record in the group. The real question then becomes: How long can they keep winning without making plays down the field?

Can Crabtree offer some solution to the 49ers’ passing game Sunday in Houston in what figures to be an entertaining game? The Texans have been on a mini-roll of late in terms of their run defense (contrary to popular belief, Matt “I Love Me Some Texans” Bowen did not go to Houston to meet with the coaching staff so he could go over his eight-man-front fits). They have not allowed 50 yards rushing in any of their past three games, so they might be able to play the 49ers’ run game well. And if they do that, it will cripple San Francisco’s offense.

Being one-dimensional is not good in any facet of life, but it’s really bad for a football team, especially as the season moves from autumn to winter. The 49ers’ opponents have seen them on tape, and their personnel has been broken down as it relates to the scheme they’re running. So getting Crabtree now will add a new wrinkle to the offense. Whether that wrinkle is real or not, defenses will have to defend Crabtree until they learn more about his skill level. No team is worried that Shaun Hill’s passing is going to beat them; the key to beating the 49ers is forcing them to throw, taking away their run game. Now, with Crabtree, the defense will have to pay the passing game some respect, at least early on.

As I write this today from the NFL Films offices before shooting “Inside the NFL” for Showtime, I’m reminded of a conversation I had a few weeks ago with Phil Simms about quarterbacks. We were talking about making big plays in the passing game and the only way that teams will respect the long ball is based on the quarterback, not the wideouts. His belief, which I agree with completely, is that no matter how talented the wide receivers, it’s the quarterback’s ability to throw accurately down the field that’s the key to a successful passing game. Hill is 4 of 22 for 144 yards when he throws the ball more than 20 yards. He has one long pass for 50 and another for 39. So if you’re the Texans, are you going to worry about Crabtree being in the game?

Starting Crabtree is not going to change the fortunes of the 49ers’ passing game unless he can take a five-yard pass and turn it into a big play. As long as Hill is starting at quarterback, the 49ers must win the game playing their style — which is with physical toughness on defense and avoiding mistakes on offense. The formula worked well early in the season, but now, as they face a team that can move the ball on anyone, this game will require them to open up their passing game. On paper, having Crabtree looks like it might help, but on the field, I’m not confident he can cure what ails the passing game.

Random thoughts…

The Jay Cutler extension with the Bears is a win for both sides. The Bears took the money that would have essentially gone to their first-round picks this year and next and shifted it to Cutler’s account. Teams have to give up high picks for players who need an extension or they won’t have the money to pay their draft picks. I’d rather give the money to Cutler than any rookie….

I’m with Steve Smith of the Panthers in the sense that the team’s offensive coaches must find a way to use him each week. He has to touch the ball at least 10 times a game. He’s too talented and too vital to the offense to have only one catch, as he did Sunday against Tampa Bay. Offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson must be a tad more creative and enhance Smith’s role….

All this talk about the Chargers being a talented team is really just talk — especially on defense. When you break down who’s playing in their front seven, you realize they are just not a very good defense. They’ve missed with too many picks, and clearly, their top players are not playing very well….

New England has a bye after playing the Bucs in London, but after the week off, the Patriots meet Miami, Indy, the Jets, New Orleans and Miami again. That’s a very tough road ahead of them.


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