49ers-Panthers matchup No. 4: Crabtree vs. Munnerlyn

49ers-Panthers matchup No. 4: Michael Crabtree vs. Captain

49ers-Panthers matchup No. 4: Crabtree vs. Munnerlyn
January 9, 2014, 5:00 pm
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There’s not too many people that can catch the football like him. He has very strong hands. His catch radius is huge.
Colin Kaepernick on Michael Crabtree

Programming note: For comprehensive 49ers-Panthers coverage tune in to 49ers Central tonight at 6:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

Editor's note: This is the first part in a series that spotlights four 49ers-Panthers matchups to watch Sunday, 10 a.m., in Charlotte, N.C.

49ers WR Michael Crabtree vs. Panthers CB Captain Munnerlyn

Tale of the tape
Crabtree (15): 6 foot 1, 214 pounds, fifth season, Texas Tech
Munnerlyn (41): 5 foot 8, 195 pounds, fifth season, South Carolina

When the Carolina Panthers defeated the 49ers at Candlestick Park in November, Michael Crabtree was watching from the sideline.

He is back on the field now, and he look as good as ever on Sunday while catching eight passes for 125 yards in a 23-20 victory over the Green Bay Packers.

Coach Jim Harbaugh reiterated after the game, which was played with a wind-chill factor reaching 20-below zero, that he believes Crabtree has the best hands he has ever seen.

[RELATED: Crabtree's return makes 49ers a different team]

“The greatest catcher of all time, Michael Crabtree catches everything,” Harbaugh said. “It’s unbelievable. In the northern snow lands, down the tropics sunny scenes, he’s catching the football. Wherever they throw a football, he’ll be catching it.

“If my life depended on it, and somebody had to catch a ball, I’d enlist Michael Crabtree to do it.”

Said 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, “There’s not too many people that can catch the football like him. He has very strong hands. His catch radius is huge.”

The addition of Crabtree, who missed the first 11 games of the season while recovering from surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon, should change a lot about how the Panthers’ defense approaches the 49ers on Sunday.

Potentially, the Panthers could find themselves in a matchup problem with Crabtree in the slot against Captain Munnerlyn, who has been the Carolina’s best and most versatile cornerback this season. Crabtree will have a 5-inch advantage.

“Cap plays bigger than his height,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said of Munnerlyn. “He really does. He plays with good vision. He has good quickness and he’s got tremendous leaping ability. He’s been able to hold his own, and he’s done a great job for us.

“We move him around and he’s been a big part of what we’ve done here the last three seasons.”

Crabtree picked up Sunday in Green Bay where he left off. He caught 20 passes for 285 yards and three touchdowns in three postseason games a year ago.

Munnerlyn had two interceptions this season, both of which he returned for touchdowns, and recorded a team-high 13 passes defensed.