George Kittle ended last season as the single-season record-holder in receiving yards for a tight end. Many fans expected Kittle to soar to even greater heights this season after, what appeared on his social media, to be an off-season filled with hard work. His unique blend of speed and strength, as well as his hard-finishing running style, make him a concern for opposing defensive coordinators.

While Kittle's numbers haven't matched the expectations this year, he has nevertheless still had a significant impact on the team's offensive performance.

Kittle is gaining the same kind of attention from opposing teams that top wide receivers typically get. This has opened up opportunities for other players and allowed head coach Kyle Shanahan the ability to utilize role players to field one of the league's best offenses this season.

Just compare the offensive statistics from 2018 to 2019, and you can see Kittle's impact on the offense. In 2018, San Francisco averaged 21.4 points per game. This season, it is averaging 32. The 49ers averaged 21.5 first downs per game in 2018 compared to 23.3 this season. They have increased from 360 yards per game to 421 and are ranked top 5 in the league in points per game, yards per game and rushing yards per game.

Let's take a look at two examples of plays where the attention Kittle receives opens up opportunities for others.


Here, the 49ers come out in 21 personnel with Kittle lined up to what is called the "boundary" side of the field. Lining up in this formation helps to sell what they are about to run.


Kyle Shanahan then calls a double misdirection play where they will show their often-seen slide concept, where they fake an outside zone to one side and then flood the opposite side of the field with receivers. This is how lining Kittle up on the boundary side of the field helps to sell the fake. It gives the illusion that Shanahan is trying to provide Kittle more running room by having his route run to what's called the "field" side.


As Kittle beat his man across the field, it grabbed the attention of the free safety in deep coverage. This will open up wide receiver Marquise Goodwin on a wheel route coming across the other side of the field.

The threat of Kittle caused the free safety to vacate the deep middle of the field. This is why Goodwin ended up with absolutely no one around him for one of the easiest touchdowns this season.



The next week against the Steelers, the 49ers came out in 11 personnel and lined Kittle up to the boundary side.


Pittsburgh came with a very blitz-heavy strategy, so Shanahan dialed up several short passing concepts to allow for quick outlets from quick pressure.


They are going to run a curl/flat concept. Pittsburgh came with a fire zone blitz with three deep and three underneath defenders. This allowed the defense to have an unblocked blitzer off the edge.


After the snap, the curl route from Kittle grabs the attention of three Steelers defenders. This allows running back Matt Breida's flat route to go uncovered and provides a quick outlet for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.



So, while George Kittle's receiving numbers may be down, somewhat, this year compared to last year, he is still making a significant impact on the field. This is why it becomes difficult to take him off the field. As the offense continues to grow and other role players continue to step up and make more and more plays, look for Kittle to begin to receive less attention and for Shanahan to put the ball in his hands more often.