San Francisco 49ers

49ers snap counts: Miller watches; Lynch prolific; where’s Crabtree?

Fullback Bruce Miller (49), opening a hole for Frank Gore last season against the Arizona Cardinals, has been a key to the 49ers’ offensive success. In Sunday night’s loss to the Denver Broncos, he participated in a low percentage of the team’s offensive plays.
Fullback Bruce Miller (49), opening a hole for Frank Gore last season against the Arizona Cardinals, has been a key to the 49ers’ offensive success. In Sunday night’s loss to the Denver Broncos, he participated in a low percentage of the team’s offensive plays. Associated Press file

See if you can find the pattern here. The following are the three games this season in which fullback Bruce Miller has played the fewest percent of snaps for the 49ers:

▪ Week 3 vs. Cardinals: 14 percent (nine snaps)

▪ Week 7 vs. Broncos: 16 percent (12 snaps)

▪ Week 2 vs. Bears: 36 percent (24 snaps)

Right now you’re probably arguing that the 49ers fell behind by such a wide margin in those games that they had no choice but pass the ball. That’s incorrect. They were up at the half against Chicago and Arizona. And while they fell behind against the Broncos, it was clear that the game plan was to lean heavily on multiple wide-receiver sets and not as much on the running game. Miller was in on only four of the team’s first 11 snaps, and only two of those were runs. The 49ers trailed 7-0 at that point.

It’s easy to poke holes after a 42-17 defeat. But engaging in an air battle with Peyton Manning is a curious choice as far as game plans, especially with a defense that was as banged up as the 49ers’. It would seem that a ground-and-pound approach, as boring as it is, would have been the right call in that it would keep the ball out of Manning’s hands and keep the patch-work defense on the sideline for long stretches.

Instead, the 49ers went Hearns vs. Hagler with Manning and ended up like Michael Spinks.

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One of the rare defensive highlights for the 49ers was Aaron Lynch’s first NFL sack. The rookie outside linebacker also had a tackle for loss and a quarterback hit, and he played a higher percentage of the team’s plays than he had all season. Here’s a week-by-week look at Lynch’s growing playing time.

▪ Week 1 vs. Dallas: 29 percent (20 snaps)

▪ Week 2 vs. Bears: 29 percent (17 snaps)

▪ Week 3 vs. Cardinals: 18 percent (12 snaps)

▪ Week 4 vs. Eagles: 42 percent (25 snaps)

▪ Week 5 vs. Chiefs: 50 percent (25 snaps)

▪ Week 6 vs. Rams: 64 percent (47 snaps)

▪ Week 7 vs. Broncos: 73 percent (44 snaps)

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At wide receiver, Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin again got the lion’s share of the snaps, 61 and 62 respectively, but the Nos. 2 and 3 receivers continue to steal the spotlight. In the two previous weeks, it was Brandon Lloyd who made pivotal plays.

Against the Broncos, Stevie Johnson led all 49ers receivers with five catches for 79 yards and a touchdown. Lloyd had three catches for 63 yards and was the target on the only passes that Kaepernick threw deep. Lloyd played 43 snaps, Johnson 25.

Boldin leads the team with 447 receiving yards. Next is Crabtree with 322 yards, but right behind him is Johnson with 315 yards. This despite the fact that Crabtree has played more than double the number of snaps as Johnson, 352 to 147.

Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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