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Lowell Cohn: Michael Crabtree can make huge difference

He is a master of YAC. If you don't know from YAC, you get a demerit. YAC goes back to the Jerry Rice days and it means "yards after the catch." Crabtree is a YAC specialist even though he's not a speed burner. It comes down again to his attacking attitude. He grabs the ball and tears upfield with that sucker tucked in his arms daring defensive backs and linebackers to bring him down. Not so easy.

He would be the best wide receiver on almost every team in the NFL, the best even though some are faster.

With him back — if he is back — the equation changes for the 49ers. They are struggling to be a wild-card entry to the playoffs, the sixth and final wild-card entry, the entry that limps into the party. You know that. Crabtree makes the 49ers a Super Bowl contender. Forget limping. They could be sprinting.

Today's game is a good game for his return. The Rams can do some things well — special teams — but they are distinctly mediocre and with their crummy record, 5-6, they aren't playing for much. Call this a training-wheel game for Crabtree, a game to steady himself on the road and get the feel of things. (Do kids still learn bike riding on training wheels?)

PCR (Pre-Crabtree's return), the 49ers had two serious pass catchers, Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis. Both are very good, but quality defenses and some not-so-quality defenses could shut them down. Especially Boldin, who is old, slow and a YAC zilch.

Here's how it works with Crabtree on the field. Defenses no longer can double-team Boldin in their base packages. They must commit a quality defender to Crabtree, would be nuts not to. That frees up Boldin. And Crabtree's mere presence creates more room for Davis. That's obvious.

Even if the Niners don't throw to Crabtree, opponents have to respect him as a legitimate threat. The Niners have not had a threat at his position all season, although they pretended to.

Crabtree on the field means defenses can't load the box with eight defenders. Hey, I love using terms like "the box." They make me feel like a football guy. I bet they make you feel the same way. I'm not exactly sure where the box begins and ends — I mean, there's no actual box. For dummies like me, loading the box means the defense crowds a lot of guys near the line of scrimmage, sort of like a gang rumble.

So, what's the deal with this newly-unloaded box?

It means Frank Gore will have room to run.


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