Over the first five games of this season, 49ers tight end Vernon Davis was one of the team’s biggest offensive weapons, catching 20 passes for four touchdowns and 303 yards.
Going into San Francisco’s game against the Jets in Week No. 4, in fact, New York coach Rex Ryan called Davis the NFL’s best tight end.
Yet over the past two weeks, in victories over the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals, Davis essentially has disappeared from the Niners offense.
Against Seattle, Alex Smith didn’t throw once to Davis; against Arizona, Davis had two catches.
Opposing defenses started to concentrate on shutting down Davis. According to a story by Alex Espinoza of 49ers.com, beginning with the game against the Giants, Davis has been constantly double-teamed and banged on by defensive ends as he tries to get off the line of scrimmage.
“That’s something that is affecting him getting the ball,” 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh said this week. “But it’s also opened up other options.”
Specifically to wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who had five catches and two touchdown receptions vs. Arizona Monday night.
The fact he’s been a forgotten man in the offense doesn’t seem to bother Davis. He knows that, eventually, Alex Smith will find him again and he’ll be off and running through secondaries.
“I just wait for my opportunities,” Davis told Espinoza. “I know what I can do. I know the ability that I have and the things I can do in this game, but I don’t talk about it. The coaches know. I just let them call the shots and I just sit back and play my role and try to be a team guy.”
Even though he didn’t have a single catch against the Seahawks – the first time in 88 games he hadn’t caught at least one ball – Davis made an impact. On Delanie Walker’s 12-yard TD catch, Davis made a big block near the goal line to help his fellow tight end score.
After that Seattle game, Davis acknowledged that the Seahawks defense had focused on shutting down his opportunities.
“I don’t know what to do,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I run my routes hard to get open, but there’s nothing there.”
Added Davis: “Some of the routes I usually run, they are taking them away. The (routes) up the sideline, it’s not there. Nothing’s there. When I run my corner routes, the cornerback is dropping to the corner. They are just taking that stuff away, some of my explosive routes and stuff.”
Through eight games, Davis has 25 catches for 374 yards and four TDs, and a 15-yard average per catch. Obviously, he’s a big part of the Niners’ offensive success. So, as the 6-2 Niners enjoy their bye week – and some extra days off, courtesy of head coach Jim Harbaugh – the coaching staff will be looking for ways to get the ball to Davis in the coming weeks, beginning with the team’s next game against the Rams at Candlestick Park on Sunday, Nov. 11.
“We will definitely work hard at making sure Vernon makes an impact in the game, which ever game that is,” 49ers offensive Greg Roman told Espinoza. “He’s been doing it (blocking) in the running game, big time. His time will come. There will be a couple of those games where he just explodes. They’ll come.
“In the meantime, he’s got a lot of responsibilities elsewhere – run game, pass protection and making plays.”