For every wide receiver the San Francisco 49ers get back in the lineup, the others will benefit. On Monday against Washington, we saw Anquan Boldin flash his skillset with an impressive game, helping the 49ers to a 27-6 victory.
Almost all of his catches were big catches, and in good coverage. The most important thing to note about the coverage, however, is the fact that Boldin was primarily facing single coverage. Ever since his breakout performance in Week 1, teams have placed double coverage on Boldin and done their best to contain Vernon Davis with specific matchups.
This has contributed to San Francisco having the worst passing offense in the league. Boldin is a wily veteran, but he can't beat double coverage on every play. On Monday, he didn't have to, and we might have Mario Manningham to thank for that.
Manningham didn't have a huge game, but he caught four passes for 45 yards, and was a factor early in the game. Manningham's three catches in the first quarter assured that Washington would need to account for him. Kaepernick would eventually target him seven times overall, though he only had the four receptions, as noted. Still, it shows that Washington shifted coverage to stop him.
Which led to Boldin catching five passes for 94 yards and two touchdowns, and Davis snagging four receptions for 70 yards and a touchdown. The coverage has to account for these guys. Even Vance McDonald snuck in a healthy 23-yard reception late in the game after being absent for much of the first half.
I can't rant enough about how much I love the form with which Boldin plays. He catches the football and he doesn't think about what happens next -- whether it be moving out of bounds, avoiding a hit, extending for the first down or extending for the touchdown -- he just does it, and I never feel like he's putting the ball in harm's way, either.
But my mancrush is another thing entirely. The point here is that Manningham caused Washington to change things up, and that benefited the 49ers greatly. Kaepernick still has a lot to prove, especially given the relatively poor nature of the Washington pass defense, but it was a great first step. When Michael Crabtree comes back, that's one more proven receiver who has to be accounted for.
Guys like Crabtree, Boldin and Davis and beat single coverage every day of the week. It will probably mean fewer All-22 personnel packages in the end (sorry, McDonald), which could hurt the running game, but given how mediocre the passing game has been, it's probably a worthy trade-off.