Two games into what was supposed to be a breakout season, 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree looks like an afterthought. He had one catch against the Saints. Only two other passes went his way.
Heading into Sunday's game against Kansas City, Crabtree ranks fifth on the team in catches, with three.
He was supposed to be the 49ers' go-to guy.
Where did he go?
Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye said Thursday several reasons combined to keep Crabtree in check over the first two games. The biggest factor, Raye said, was a game plan against the Saints that stressed ball control and manageable third downs.
That meant lots of running back Frank Gore.
"To keep (the Saints) offense on the sideline watching, and I don't think we say, 'Well, we've got to get Michael Crabtree 15 balls,' " Raye said. "I wanted the ball in the hands of No. 21."
Quarterback Alex Smith said that the Saints played "a very unique" defense that made it difficult to get the ball to the wideouts for big gains.
"In the secondary, the safeties were playing deep. The corners playing outside-in and they were taking away a lot of the 'free-access cuts' as we call it -- single cuts for the receivers," Smith said. "So I think that kind of dictated a little bit of where the ball was going."
His final season was his high-water mark as coordinator. Kansas City finished eighth in yardage that season behind quarterback Elvis Grbac (4,169 passing yards) and tight end Tony Gonzalez (1,203 receiving yards, nine touchdowns).
Raye said the 49ers current roster has echoes of those Chiefs teams, starting with comparisons between Gonzalez and tight end Vernon Davis.
He also said Gore is "similar" to former Chiefs running back Marcus Allen.
The biggest difference between those Chiefs and these 49ers, Raye said, is the maturity of the offensive line. Kansas City had veterans such as guard Will Shields (12 Pro Bowls) and center Tim Grunhard (one).
"That's not to take anything away from this team, but we had a solid offensive line that had been together for a long time," Raye said.
But Spikes has yet to practice in team drills this week and was hobbling in the locker room. If he can't go, rookie NaVorro Bowman will start in his place.