The San Francisco 49ers return to action this weekend, facing the St. Louis Rams for the second time in three games. The last times these two faced off, the Rams were intent on stopping the run, and that resulted in Colin Kaeperninck having a bit of a field day against their secondary beginning late in the second quarter. Three weeks later, that secondary is struggling with injuries, and the Rams are likely to adjust after their Week 6 plans backfired.
While I expect more from the 49ers run game this week, I also imagine the passing game will look to follow up on some good things to come out of the Broncos game. It was not a pretty result, but early on the passing game was looking quite sharp. The 49ers offense is about as healthy as it is going to get the rest of the season, so maybe we see things get turned up a bit.
If that's the case, I do wonder if Stevie Johnson is a significant beneficiary. Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin are the big names in the wide receiver corps, and Brandon Lloyd has made some highlight reel catches. And yet, it is Stevie Johnson who has been the most effective performer in this group. Football Outsiders ranks Johnson 16th in DYAR, and 3rd in DVOA. As they describe it, "DYAR means a wide receiver with more total value. DVOA means a wide receiver with more value per play."
That explanation makes perfect sense given Johnson's relative lack of snaps compared to his production. You can see it further with Pro Football Focus's yards per route run stat. He has not run enough routes to qualify for the 50 percent of targets notch. Among those with at least 25 percent, he ranks second behind only Andre Johnson.
Over the first seven games, Johnson's snap counts were 19, 32, 38, 13, 5, 15 and 25. After Week 4's 13 snap game, Jim Harbaugh mentioned that Johnson was dealing with some kind of illness leading up to the game. It would seem like it carried over to Week 5 given that he only had the five snaps. In each game he had one reception, but both were for touchdowns.
We have seen an uptick in his snaps the last couple weeks, which has me wondering if this means we'll see even more moving forward. I don't know if this week against the Rams will be that game. After all, I would not be surprised if we saw a bit more of a run heavy performance. However, I do think Johnson could work his way into more of the third receiver role with Brandon Lloyd. Starting with Week 4, here are Brandon Lloyd's snap totals: 36, 24, 17, 43. Maybe the team simply views Lloyd as the better deep threat, and thus he gets more of the snaps to stretch the field a bit. I don't really know at this point, but given Johnson's production, I would hope we would see a bit more of him.