Michael Crabtree chose an odd time to complain about use -- the moments after the frustrating end to a successful season.
But this wasnt a diva moment, not really. Just a mistaken one.
First, the word from Crabtree via Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee: "Sometimes, you've just got to move the ball. You've got to make plays. You've got to give people chances to make plays. You've got to make plays."
Crabtrees point: An offense that gets one catch from its wide receivers is half an offense, which is true. An offense that targets its wide receivers only nine times is kind of asking for it, which is also true. And finally, an offense that drafted a wide receiver 10th and still hasnt quite figured out how to use him may have wasted a pick. Which may very well be true.
But the problem here is that he picked the wrong team to make that point. He is asking for Alex Smith and Jim Harbaugh to treat him like Calvin Johnson, or to pick a fresher wound, Victor Cruz, when there is no evidence or even a generous projection that would ever put him in that class.
Crabtree is not a receiver of remarkable size and strength, and does not seem to be a deep threat. Hes not a guy you throw to and say, Its off line, but you can get it. Youre you.
Second, while he was targeted five times Sunday, he only really looked like a threat to break open a big gain once, when Smith, under some pressure, chose instead to look for Frank Gore on a pass that was ultimately tipped at the line.
Thats the other problem -- being open isnt the end of the process. Its being open when your quarterback has the time to find you, even if it takes finding you a second time. Its not an easy process, unless you are a quarterback with enough arm and enough receiver to make him a first read.
And there is yet a third -- the matter of whether Crabtree was open often enough for Smith not to lose confidence in his ability to separate from the Giant defenders. That much is unknowable, but it is a factor in any quarterback-receiver relationship.
But most salient of all, he is not on a team whose quarterback has that sort of freedom, even if Crabtree were the Stealth Megatron.
The 49ers built themselves on defense, special teams, and an offense that doesnt needlessly risk turnovers. Smith has been asked to be that quarterback before, albeit under other coaches and offensive coordinators, and has failed at it.
Maybe this is the transition year, to rebuild him as a quarterback so that he can be asked to be that guy again. But he is not that yet, and certainly wasnt in this, his renaissance year. He was what he was asked to be, and he succeeded at it.
If Harbaugh wants Smith to be a different quarterback in 2012, he will have to provide a more prominent receiving threat. Crabtree thinks that is him, and that is perfectly reasonable for him to believe it.
But he will not be Calvin Johnson or Victor Cruz. He will be, at least in San Francisco, a wideout who needs to get more noticeably open more often. He will have to make himself the player he already believes himself to be, a frustrating admission for any player, and he will have convince people who had success doing something one way to change it to accommodate his talents, an even more maddening process.
But thats the deal, take it because youre not contractually capable of leaving it. Michael Crabtree may have a point, but its on him too to drive it home. He has to make himself indispensable, and so few receivers ever get the chance, let alone seize it.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.