Slumping Crabtree draws shut-down secondary

Kansas City wide receiver Dwayne Bowe leads the NFL with 14 touchdown catches.

In two games against the Chargers secondary, though, he’s combined for two catches for 16 yards.

Indianapolis’ Reggie Wayne ranks second in the NFL in receptions (94) and yards (1,213).

Against San Diego, however, he had five catches for 42 yards.

Houston’s Andre Johnson and New England’s Wes Welker, tied for third in
the NFL with 80 catches, were both given the shutdown treatment by the
Chargers — combining for eight catches for 66 yards.

You get the point: The Chargers top-ranked pass defense can magically make elite No. 1 wide receivers disappear.

With that in mind, it’s fair to wonder what San Diego could do to a No. 1
wideout with 42 catches (T65th in the NFL) and 555 yards (58th) in 13

In other words, what will become of struggling second-year wide receiver Michael Crabtree tonight?

Crabtree’s highly anticipated breakout season has taken a sharp detour into irrelevance recently.

He had as many drops (1) as catches and yards in last week’s win against
Seattle — the only catch he’s had in the past seven quarters dating
back to start of the second quarter against Green Bay on Dec. 5.

The 10th overall pick in the 2009 draft, Crabtree appeared ticketed for
certain stardom after he missed training camp and the season’s first
five games last year and — voila! — had 48 catches for 625 yards and
collected at least three receptions in every game.

This season, he’s had three one-catch games and two two-catch games — evidence that The Natural needs some work.

FOX analyst and former Ravens coach Brian Billick observed that
Crabtree’s route running left something to be desired during last week’s
broadcast. And offensive coordinator Mike Johnson didn’t protest
Tuesday when asked about Billick’s assessment.

“That’s something that a lot of the young wide receivers have to go
through, they have to go through a progression of understanding how to
run routes the way true route runners run them,” Johnson said. “That’s
not a knock against Crabtree, that’s just a fact of him being a young
football player and still learning and developing. But I think he’s
working hard at his craft.”

In fairness to Crabtree, he hasn’t had Marino and Montana chucking him the ball this season.

Against Green Bay, he was open for a likely touchdown but Troy Smith
airmailed a pass while rolling right. Alex Smith acknowledged he
misfired twice while targeting Crabtree against Seattle.

But Smith also suggested, delicately, that Crabtree wasn’t exactly
roaming free when asked why he wasn’t clicking with his young receiver.

“I think if I hit him on the two sprint-outs, we’re probably not talking
about this,” Smith said. “But in a sense, I’m making my reads and
taking where the reads take me and I’m going to throw to the guys that
are open. And not to say that he wasn’t, but that’s how it goes
week-to-week. You’re not guaranteed anything. The reads were taking me
other places.”

Crabtree has had his moments this season. He has five touchdowns and has
flashed tremendous run-after-the-catch ability despite not possessing
breakaway speed.

Johnson said he’s not concerned.

“I think Michael Crabtree is going to be a very good football player in
this league,” he said. “But he’s still trying to find his way to
get all the potential that he has inside of him out.”

Given tonight’s opponent, however, that potential might remained bottled up for at least another week.

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