Patrick from Alameda, Calif., sees a parallel between the 2013 San Francisco 49ers and the 1995 Green Bay Packers. Both teams featured young, strong-armed quarterbacks. Both teams lost their leading receivers to injury.
Packers Receptions by Position
The Packers would have to play without Sterling Sharpe, who was coming off a 94-catch, 18-touchdown season when he suffered a career-ending neck injury. The current 49ers will be without Michael Crabtree, who suffered a torn Achilles' tendon after setting career highs with 85 receptions for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns last season.
The Packers went 11-5 in their first season without Sharpe, a two-game improvement. Quarterback Brett Favre won MVP honors. How did they do it? That was the question Patrick raised through the NFC West mailbag as he sought to chart a course for quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers without Crabtree.
"Can you analyze how Favre diversified who he passed to after losing his favorite target," Patrick asked, "and how that compares to what Colin Kaepernick needs to do for the 49ers this year?"
Sharpe was such a dominant player physically. Mike Holmgren called Sharpe one of the three best receivers he'd ever seen, labeling him "virtually unstoppable" over a three-year span in which Sharpe caught 314 passes.
Packers TD Receptions by Position
Crabtree isn't in that category and there are other differences between the teams. However, I think the 49ers can come out OK because they have what the Packers had back then: a very capable quarterback.
Just as Favre was the key for the Packers, who got 102 receptions from Robert Brooks in 1995, Kaepernick will be the key for the 49ers. Anquan Boldin will fill some of the receiving void. Vernon Davis will probably have a greater number of receptions. LaMichael James could factor out of the backfield. Receivers A.J. Jenkins and Mario Manningham are wild cards.
The 1995 Packers got 131 additional receptions from running back Dorsey Levens (plus-47), Brooks (plus-44) and tight end Mark Chmura (plus-40) relative to what those players provided one season earlier. Sharpe, running back Reggie Cobb and tight end Ed West were no longer part of the offense. They had combined for 160 receptions in 1994.
As the first chart shows, the positional distribution for receptions remained pretty similar, especially at wide receiver.
Looking back on 1995, Favre did surprise himself by surpassing what he'd accomplished the year before.
"I really thought it was going to be hard to top what I did, especially without Sterling and a couple of changes with our offensive line," Favre said then. "It's hard to go out and throw 38 touchdowns. You got to start from scratch on offense. We had a new flanker, a new 'X' receiver, a new tight end. That's tough."