Pete Carroll couldn’t contain his glee immediately after his team’s 29-3 trouncing of the 49ers in Seattle in Week 2.
“They got nothing done,” the Seahawks coach chirped during his postgame news conference. “What were their numbers? What did Anquan do tonight? Their quarterback threw for (412 yards) last week. He threw for (127) tonight.”
Indeed, 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who had had 13 catches for 208 yards in Week 1 against Green Bay, was held to just one reception for 7 yards by Seattle’s talented and aggressive secondary. That catch didn’t come until the middle of the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach. It turned out to be Boldin’s lowest output of the season.
The Seahawks certainly could keep Boldin, the 49ers’ top receiver in 2013, down again in this Sunday’s NFC Championship Game. But if the pattern San Francisco has established in the past few weeks holds true, a quiet game from Boldin means that the receiver on the other side of the field, Michael Crabtree, will have a big performance.
Crabtree practiced in full Wednesday, and he appears to have no lingering effects from a shoulder injury suffered early in last Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers.
One of the themes of the 49ers’ past two visits to Seattle, both blowout losses, is that the 49ers were undermanned at wide receiver and tight end. Vernon Davis left last year’s game in Seattle in the first quarter because of a concussion, while receiver Mario Manningham was sent to the locker room – and eventually placed on injured reserve – because of an ACL injury.
In this season’s matchup, Davis again was forced from the game, this time because of a hamstring strain. Meanwhile, Crabtree still was recovering from an Achilles’ tear and did not play.
Having a full arsenal of pass catchers makes the 49ers better equipped to handle Seattle’s unique defense, which prefers to use one “single-high” safety, Earl Thomas, so that the second safety, Kam Chancellor, can creep closer to the line of scrimmage to help stop the run.
Crabtree and Davis were in the lineup when the Seahawks visited Candlestick Park in Week 14. The 49ers’ passing attack certainly wasn’t prolific that day – Colin Kaepernick threw for 175 yards in a 19-17 win for the 49ers – but Boldin finished with 93 receiving yards while Crabtree had 40.
“Yeah, you see a difference,” Boldin said of Seattle’s defensive approach in Week 2 from Week 14. “I think every team plays you differently as opposed to not having Crab out there. He’s definitely a weapon that you have to account for. So we get different looks now.”
Boldin and Crabtree also give the 49ers two feisty receivers capable of matching Seattle’s physical style. The Seahawks’ cornerbacks have a reputation for grabbing and holding their opponents – again, in order to free a safety from pass-coverage duties – but both Crabtree and Boldin have shown an ability to snatch contested passes.
Last season, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh complained during a day-after news conference about the Seahawks’ clingy style of defense. Boldin, however, sloughed off the issue Wednesday.
“For us, we play football and let the refs do what they do,” he said. “If you get called for it, it’s holding. If not, it’s not holding. So you just play football.”
The past few weeks have shown that defenses may be able to take away one 49ers receiver but that they have difficulty dealing with two quality pass catchers.
In the regular-season finale against Arizona, for example, Boldin caught nine passes for 149 yards. The next week, the Packers made sure Boldin wouldn’t thump them again, and he caught only three passes for 38 yards. But Crabtree finished with 125 receiving yards in that wild-card playoff game. A week after that, the Panthers’ attention was on Crabtree, and Boldin had eight catches for 136 yards.
Said offensive coordinator Greg Roman after the Panthers game: “Some (opponents) pick their poison. And we’re always very curious to see what that poison is, and then answer likewise.”