Editor's note: This is the first part in a series that spotlights three 49ers-Seahawks matchups to watch Sunday, 5:20 p.m. (NBC-TV), at CenturyLink Field, Seattle.
49ers WR Michael Crabtree vs. Seattle CB Richard Sherman
Tale of the tape
Crabtree (15): 6-foot-1, 214 pounds, fourth season, Texas Tech
Sherman (25): 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, second season, Stanford
Michael Crabtree is closing in on becoming the first 49ers player to achieve 1,000 yards receiving in a season since Terrell Owens in 2003.
Crabtree is coming on strong late in the season as quarterback Colin Kaepernick's preferred target.
While tight end Vernon Davis cites chemistry issues with Kaepernick for his disappearance from the 49ers' offense, Crabtree has stepped into the spotlight. Crabtree has totaled 23 catches for 301 yards and two touchdowns in the past three games.
He goes up against one of his most difficult challenges on Sunday in Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, who will play while his appeal of a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs is pending. Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner will serve the third game of his four-game suspension for PEDs.
Sherman likes to get his hands on receivers and throw off the timing of routes. Crabtree, who enjoyed a breakout season in 2011, has taken his game to a higher level with an ability to pick up yards after the catch.
Crabtree had just four catches for 31 yards against Seattle when the teams met Oct. 18 at Candlestick Park with Alex Smith at quarterback.
"I think Crab matches up well against everybody," 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "Crab's a player who's ascending. He gets better and that's what this league is all about. It's improvement. He's a young player in this league and he's a guy that's showing up big time for us, regardless of the style of coverage."
Crabtree has a career-high 73 receptions for 868 yards and seven touchdowns, also the most of his career. The last time the 49ers had a 1,000-yard receiver was nine years ago. In 2003, Terrell Owens caught 80 passes for 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns during his final season with the club.
Crabtree came up with two big plays in the 49ers' 41-34 victory over the New England Patriots on Sunday night. He made a 27-yard touchdown catch on a well-thrown pass down the middle between two safeties early in the quarter. And after the 49ers squandered a 28-point lead, Kaepernick looked for Crabtree when the Patriots came with an all-out blitz. Crabtree caught a 5-yard hitch, made cornerback Kyle Arrington miss, and ran 38 yards to give the 49ers a fourth-quarter lead they would not relinquish.
"He catches the ball," Kaepernick said. "He catches the ball and makes plays after he catches it. . . I mean, Crabs is the kind of receiver if you throw it close to him, he's going to catch it."