Crabtree smaller part of downfield offense

San Francisco 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree is averaging 4.9 receptions per game this season.

That figure is up slightly from 4.8 last season.

The nature of those receptions -- and the nature of Crabtree's targets overall -- has changed quite a bit, however.

Crabtree: Passes Thrown 15+ Yards

Last season, Crabtree led the team with 29 targets on passes traveling at least 15 yards past the line of scrimmage, as determined by Elias Sports Bureau. He caught 11 such passes for 340 yards and a touchdown. Only tight end Vernon Davis (13 receptions, 24 targets, 341 yards) put up comparable numbers for the 49ers on those throws. No other player on the roster finished with more than five such targets.

The 49ers are attempting slightly more 15-plus throws per game this season (4.7 per game, up from 4.5). The distribution has changed dramatically, however. Davis has 10 such targets. Mario Manningham (seven) and Randy Moss (five) are next. Then comes Crabtree and Kyle Williams with four apiece.

Overall, the 49ers have completed 19 of 33 passes (57.6 percent) for 520 yards with three touchdowns on these throws. That is up from 47.2 percent completions with five touchdowns all last season. Diversification of targets appears to be a good thing unless you've got Crabtree on your fantasy team or are responsible for negotiating his next contract.

The team has other options for downfield throws, one reason Crabtree is averaging 10.8 yards per catch, a career low. He already has eight receptions over the middle, matching his total for last season. But his overall target depth has fallen from 9.4 last season to 6.9 this season. He has one reception covering 30-plus yards after finishing last season with five.

I'm not seeing any significant gains for Crabtree in other situations. He's on pace for about the same number of third-down receptions on a similar number of targets. He's on pace to make about the same number of third-down conversions.

These trends could change. For now, though, this is where Crabtree and the 49ers stand.

Note: I went into this item wanting to look at the potential Week 8 matchup between Crabtree and Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson. Crabtree had fared well against Peterson in their first matchup last season. Peterson fared well in the rematch.

I'm not sure if they'll match up as frequently this time. The 49ers have other receivers to consider this time.

"I feel at the end of the day he gave me [the] toughest challenge (last season) because no one else had over 100 yards," Peterson said of Crabtree during training camp. "That is not the standard. … Second time around, I buckled up and went out there and played football."

Crabtree had seven catches for 120 yards in their first matchup. He had seven catches for 63 yards in the rematch. Peterson wasn't defending Crabtree in man coverage on every one of those receptions, of course. But those were the final numbers.