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The return of George Kittle and why he is the engine that makes the 49ers offense go

Oct 2, 2020 at 9:12 AM


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In a year already filled with heartbreak, the last thing San Francisco 49ers fans wanted to see was star tight end George Kittle hobbling off the field with an injury. Unfortunately, late in the second quarter of Week 1, that nightmare scenario became a reality.

The injury Kittle sustained was diagnosed as a knee sprain, which forced Kittle to miss the next two games, and as a result, the offense was noticeably stagnant at times. Despite scoring over 30 points in each contest he was out, the absence of the offense's best player loomed large. All signs point to Kittle returning to the field for the 49ers' Week 4 matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles, and I'll tell you why him being on the field is more important than you think.

Last year, the 49ers' success was largely built on their ability to run the football, and Kittle was a driving force behind that. In 2019, the 49ers averaged 5.0 yards per carry when Kittle was on the field compared to 3.5 yards per carry when he was not. When Kittle missed Weeks 10 and 11, the 49ers averaged 60.5 rushing yards per game, compared to the 156 yards per game they averaged in the 14 regular-season games in which he appeared.

Per Pro Football Focus, Kittle had a 76.2 run-blocking grade, which was good for fifth among the league's tight ends. That number looks even more impressive when you factor in that Kittle was the only tight end with a top-five run-blocking grade who also finished top five in run-blocking snaps. The efficiency, coupled with the volume, shows how vital Kittle's ability to set the edge as a run blocker is to the team's overall success. Look for the run game to take a big step forward this week with Kittle returning to the lineup.

Since his record-breaking season in 2018, Kittle has been the clear-cut number one option in the 49ers' passing game. It's no secret that the 49ers passing scheme thrives on its ability to create open looks between the numbers and generate yards after the catch as a result. Kittle's explosive skill with the ball in his hands has always been one of his greatest strengths, as evidenced by his 8.0 yards after the catch average since being drafted in 2017. Over the last two seasons, Kittle only trails Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey for the NFL lead in yards after the catch.

Along with his YAC ability, he has been a safety net for 49ers quarterbacks. Since 2018, Kittle has led the team with 245 targets, with the next closest in that span being Kendrick Bourne with 113. The sizable gap in targets paints a clear picture of Kittle's role as the primary receiver and the value he possesses as a pass-catcher. Expect Kittle to take advantage of his matchup this week with Philadelphia's linebackers, who have been among the worst in the league in pass coverage to this point.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


2 Comments

  • Kevin the Dude
    Great article ! Would really enjoy more of these reports from Jordan Elliot ????
    Oct 2, 2020 at 2:46 PM
    0
  • Roo
    Great article, and definitely in agreement!
    Oct 2, 2020 at 2:26 PM
    0


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