The Let Down Out Wide
This story originally published on NinersDigest.com
Kyle Williams (Getty Images)
Kyle Williams (Getty Images)
Editor in Chief
Posted Sep 23, 2013


The explosive 49ers offense that helped lead their run to the Super Bowl in 2012 has gone missing over the last two weeks, leading to back-to-back losses under Jim Harbaugh for the first time since taking over the job in 2011. The leading culprits have been the receivers, who have struggled to get open against the Colts and Seahawks.

Outside of Anquan Boldin, the 49ers have not gotten much production from the wide receiving corps.

After Sunday's 20-point loss to the Colts, there was very little offense to speak of from the passing game. Not having tight end Vernon Davis certainly contributed, but when San Francisco has needed another wideout to step up, it hasn't happened.

Colin Kaepernick had his worst two starts of his career over the last two weeks, and it's no coincidence they have come without Michael Crabtree, whom he relied on heavily in key situations during last season's Super Bowl run.

The passing game was anemic during the last two Sundays, with Kaepernick completing just 48 percent of his passes for 150 yards. With Boldin coming in as an unknown and Davis healthy in Week 1, he lit up the Packers for 412 yards and three scores with incredible efficiency. He completed 69 percent of his passes.

But over the last two weeks, Kaepernick's numbers have fallen back to earth. Opposing defensive coordinators have either figured him out, or perhaps he's easier to stop when his targets can't get open. Without the safety net in the form of a star tight end, Chuck Pagano and the Colts seemed to have Kaepernick solved.

When throwing to Boldin, Kaepernick has a 112.5 QB rating. To Moore, Patton and Williams, his ratings dip to 42.4, 39.6 and 24.3 respectively.

Kaepernick has attempted 55 passes in his last two games, completing just 26 for 277 yards, or 135 less than his total performance from the season opener.

"I have to be able to throw receivers open and give them a chance to make plays," Kaepernick said after Sunday's loss, pointing blame inward.

Kyle Williams was the only receiver not named Boldin to catch a pass Sunday. Neither Marlon Moore or Quinton came away with receptions on their respective targets, of which they each had just one. Wililams' two catches came on six targets for a total of 12 yards.

In Monday afternoon's presser, Jim Harbaugh wasn't willing to single out the receivers, putting the onus on the entire offense to improve.

"If we’re talking offensively, I thought the effort was very good by our offensive unit, precision needs to be better. That falls under everyone’s purview," he said.

Harbuagh's blanket assessment of precision likely includes the ability to get open, an area where Indianapolis was able to hinder the 49ers even without one of its starting safeties, LaRon Landry.

Is a three-game sample enough to consider a change in personnel? Is Jon Baldwin, a first-round talent, comfortable enough within the system to be ready for the Rams Thursday?

"Yeah, that’s possible," Harbaugh said. "He’s doing a good job. He had a real good week of practice last week. We’re all coming back today, back to work, working on fixing it."

Baldwin has yet to be active in the first three weeks since coming over in the trade with Kansas City for A.J. Jenkins. At 6-4, 230 pounds with a 40-inch vertical leap, he certainly has the potential to upgrade the group that's been struggling overall.

The 49ers could also dip into the free agent pool that includes training camp cuts Austin Collie and Lavelle Hawkins. Otherwise, their options will likely remain in-house, with Baldwin emerging as a real possibility to add some fresh legs to Thursday night's quick turnaround.

The best case scenario looks like mid to late-November for Crabtree's return, while Mario Manningham could come back as soon as he's eligible Oct. 20 when the team travels to play the Titans.

It won't get any easier in the meantime. The 49ers' next three games include the Rams, Texans and Cardinals, three teams with talented secondaries that could pose problems for Harbaugh's struggling offense.

*Statistics from Pro Football Focus were used in this report*

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