San Francisco, CA - San Francisco's Michael Crabtree isn't likely to make a major impact for a while after missing so much time. The 49ers can only hope he develops as fast as Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan did.
Though the Niners finally ended a long stalemate with their promising receiver, they will be focused on getting their struggling running game on track as they host Ryan and the Falcons on Sunday.
Oddsmakers from online sports book Sportsbook.com have made the 49ers –2.5 point spread favorites (View NFL odds) for Sunday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 58% of bets for this game have been placed on the 49ers –2.5 (View NFL bet percentages).
Rookie quarterbacks and wide receivers typically take longer to contribute than first-year players at other positions, but that was not the case with Ryan. His first NFL pass went for a 62-yard touchdown and he went on to lead the Falcons into the postseason in 2008.
He only seems to be improving with Atlanta off to a 2-1 start this year. Ryan has taken advantage of opponents focusing on shutting down the Falcons' formidable ground attack, posting a 100.4 passer rating and throwing five TDs while getting picked off once.
San Francisco (3-1) has also had a strong first month and has done so without Crabtree, the 10th overall pick in April's draft. After several months of negotiations, the 49ers agreed Wednesday to a six-year contract with the former Texas Tech star, the only draft pick who had yet to sign.
Crabtree could be the big-play threat San Francisco has been lacking, but it remains to be seen whether the team will attempt to incorporate him into the game plan Sunday. Crabtree has little knowledge of the offense due to his long holdout, and the problem is compounded by his sitting out minicamps while recovering from a foot injury.
Despite an offense that ranks 28th with 264.0 yards per game, the 49ers lead the NFC West and are off to their best start since winning four of their first five games in 2002. Coach Mike Singletary wants his team to play tough defense and have a strong running game, but San Francisco has had trouble gaining yards on the ground.
Top running back Frank Gore suffered an ankle injury in a 27-24 loss to Minnesota on Sept. 27 and won't be back until after next week's bye at the earliest. The 49ers averaged 77.0 yards rushing in two games after Gore was hurt.
"We have to take a step as an offense, and we need for it to happen pretty soon," quarterback Shaun Hill said. "We're obviously not to the point we need to be. But it's nice to come in after a win and have a film to look at where you can learn a lot."
Though it was shut out offensively in the first half, San Francisco got two TDs from its defense and another from special teams in a 35-0 victory over St. Louis last Sunday, its most lopsided victory in 87 games.
The 49ers will try to take advantage of a Falcons defense that has allowed a total of 312 yards rushing in its last two games.
While Ryan has played well in the early going, opponents have had success in limiting Atlanta's ground game. The Falcons come off their bye ranked 23rd in the league with 92.3 rushing yards per game after averaging 152.7 last season.
"I actually think we might be trying too hard," fullback Ovie Mughelli said. "Last year, we were more relaxed. It was us against the world. We didn't have anybody really worrying about us. This year, we knew we had expectations."
Michael Turner ranked second in the NFL with 1,699 yards while setting a team record with 17 rushing touchdowns in '08, but is averaging 75.3 yards this season.
Turner should get some help this week with Jerious Norwood expected to play after missing a 26-10 loss at New England on Sept. 27. Norwood suffered a concussion the previous week in a 28-20 win over Carolina, but Falcons coach Mike Smith said the running back is "a full go" for Sunday.
Norwood is an important part of Atlanta's offense, complementing the bruising Turner with his speed. He is also averaging more than 25 yards per kick return the past two seasons.
"We're a faster offense, we're much faster when we have Jerious in the game," Smith said. "He brings that speed element."
Atlanta needs more out of receiver Roddy White, who is among the highest paid in the league at his position but is averaging 7.9 yards on 15 receptions. Veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez has been solid, catching 13 passes for a team-high 160 yards, but the Falcons need White to give their passing game a more dynamic element.
There were four interceptions and no TDs thrown by Atlanta and San Francisco in their last meeting, with the Falcons winning 20-16 at home Nov. 4, 2007.
Posted: 10/7/09 4:20PM ET