After a 1-2 start to the 2013 season, the San Francisco 49ers had ventured into unfamiliar territory. The franchise wasn’t accustomed to losing back-to-back games under head coach Jim Harbaugh, and offensive coordinator Greg Roman hadn’t ever faced a situation where pundits were questioning his play-calling abilities.
With only two losses to their name, fans and media members alike began to wonder whether or not the Seattle Seahawks had become the class of the NFC West. Lo and behold, this notion was seemingly laid to rest after the 49ers rattled off four-consecutive victories over the St. Louis Rams, Houston Texans, Arizona Cardinals and Tennessee Titans.
But what had changed in San Francisco during its four-game win streak? Roman realized the Niners were putting too much pressure on third-year signal-caller Colin Kaepernick and the team’s passing attack. Since Harbaugh and his coaching staff arrived in The Bay Area, the 49ers offense had always been viewed as a unit that pounds the rock and controls the clock.
Despite having late-season success through the air in 2012, Roman’s offensive shift in 2013 was failing, so he knew he had to go back the organization’s bread and butter: the run game. And as soon as he did, the 49ers became the 49ers of old.
|Number of Run and Pass Plays From Weeks 4-7|
|Opponent||Run Plays||Pass Plays|
Over the course of the last four weeks, the 49ers have called 88 pass plays and 155 run plays. Those are the types of play-calling numbers we are accustomed to seeing under Roman’s watchful eye. But will they continue when wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham return to the lineup?
With Manningham’s return inching closer and closer, that is the million-dollar question.
As it stands right now, the passing game has only produced two viable pass-catching options in 2013. The first is Pro Bowl wideout Anquan Boldin and the second is Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis. Boldin and Davis have combined for 60 receptions and 961 yards receiving. Their receiving totals account for 67 percent of Kaepernick’s 1,420 yards passing.
That’s staggering when one takes the time to examine the way Kaep spread the ball around last season. Yet in all fairness to him, receivers Kyle Williams, Jon Baldwin, Marlon Moore and Quinton Patton haven’t exactly taken advantage of the opportunities they have been given. Those four players above have only been able to muster up 15 catches for 135 yards and no touchdowns.
That’s where Manningham comes in.
Even though Williams, Baldwin, Moore and Patton haven’t been able to make their presence felt, there’s no question Manningham is raring to go after having his season cut short due to an ACL injury in 2012. According to Cam Inman of the Mercury News, the sixth-year player out of Michigan has been garnering first-ream reps in practice, and Roman has hailed his savvy route-running skills.
However, David Fucillo of NinersNation.com believes Manningham’s contributions on the practice field won’t come in handy until the team’s Week 10 contest versus the Carolina Panthers. Which, in all reality, is probably the correct move. Based on the fact the Jacksonville Jaguars are 0-7, it’s safe to say there’s no need to rush him back.
Rushing him back for an almost guaranteed win without him would be foolish on so many different levels. Inserting Manningham into the starting lineup when he’s 100 percent healthy is the only move that should even be considered at this moment in time.
A healthful Manningham has so much to offer the 49ers offense. The 185-pound receiver won’t blow you away with his speed right out of the gate, but once he hits his stride down the field, it’s game over for any defensive back that tries to cover him. Additionally, his wide array of moves in and out of his breaks make him a tough cover whether he’s 10 yards downfield or 20 yards downfield.
This has been his been his modus operandi since his days with the New York Giants. There’s a reason the 49ers made him a high priority free agent during the 2012 offseason. Sure, he has never had a 1,000-yard receiving season in his career, but he does have a Super Bowl ring and has been a part of two different teams that made appearances in NFC Championship games.
Using wins and losses in never a fair way to assess a player’s career, yet some players just know what it’s like to win. Being apart of winning organizations can help improve a player’s attitude and their mental psyche. As they say, “Football is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical.”
Without a doubt, Manningham’s triumphant mental state will undoubtedly improve the spirits in the locker room and in the huddle. By no means am I saying the atmosphere in the locker room and huddle are bad—it just never hurts to have another positive influence directing the team.
Aside from his effective state of mind, what else can San Francisco hope to see from Manningham when he is activated? In terms of on-the-field production, expectations shouldn’t shoot through the roof right away. Nonetheless, things will quickly change once he settles into his comfort zone and gets on the same page with Kaepernick.
A reasonable stat line week in and week out could possibly read something like this: three receptions for 51 yards and a touchdown once every three games. A multitude of factors could alter these numbers when he reenters the lineup, but based on his past, those averages seem plausible.
No matter which way you look at it, the only thing that matters to San Francisco is the fact Manningham’s return will immediately bolster its wide receiving corps. Now, someone other than Boldin and Davis may actually catch a touchdown pass or amass a first down.
At 5-2, with nine games left to play, the 49ers are not only getting healthy at the right time, but the players who are getting healthy are key cogs to what this team does offensively. Expect the passing game to look like it did toward the end of last season; there’s too much talent with Boldin, Crabtree and Manningham for it not to.