If the San Francisco 49ers have one more road upset in them, tight end George Kittle will be a big reason for that. Fresh off a win over the Dallas Cowboys on Super Wild Card Weekend, the 49ers will be looking to continue their recent streak of postseason dominance against the Green Bay Packers.
The Packers are the No. 1 seed and are getting healthy at the right time, which will make them tough to beat.
If Kittle has anything to say about it, though, the 49ers can come away from Lambeau Field with a win.
George Kittle is an elite tight end for the San Francisco 49ers
Kittle is one of the best tight ends in the NFL and he’s arguably right at the top of the list with Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs.
When he’s on, he’s tough to stop. Nearly impossible.
He has a unique blend of size, speed, strength, and versatility that makes him a bear to cover downfield. He has the speed to outrun linebackers and the size mismatch on the outside. Throw in the uncanny ability to also be an elite blocker, something he undoubtedly learned during his time with the Iowa Hawkeyes, and you’ve got yourself a top-shelf tight end.
Kittle finished the 2021 regular season with 71 catches for 910 yards and six touchdowns, though it’s worth noting that he has slowed down a bit as of late.
Including the Wild Card matchup with the Cowboys, he hasn’t found the end zone in five straight games. With that said, it doesn’t sound like head coach Kyle Shanahan is all that worried. Just having him on the field opens up the offense, and he’s bound to break out of this mini-slump sooner rather than later.
“We have to do a better job of finding other ways to get him the ball, but I also know when he is attracting coverages that makes it a hell of a lot easier to get other people in some good situations,” Shanahan said, according to NBC Sports.
How the San Francisco 49ers can use Kittle to beat the Green Bay Packers
The last time Aaron Rodgers, Matt LaFleur, and the Packers met up with San Francisco in the playoffs was in the 2019 NFC Championship Game. The 49ers won, 37-20, and made a statement.
They beat up on the Packers, proving to be far too physically dominant for Green Bay to handle. The 49ers rushed for 285 yards that night, with Raheem Mostert accounting for 220 yards and four touchdowns.
One would have to think the memory of that game is seared into LaFLeur’s memory, and he and defensive coordinator Joe Barry will do everything they can to stop the run on Saturday night.
The Packers aren’t known to stuff the box, but it wouldn’t be surprising if they brought an extra safety down in obvious running situations this weekend. Stopping Deebo Samuel will also be a key to victory for the Packers, and you can bet they’ll know where he is on every single play. Shanahan uses him in so many different ways and he’s so talented that he’s hard to completely stop, but Green Bay will focus on containing him.
With so much attention bound to be put on Samuel and rookie running back Elijah Mitchell, who rushed the ball 27 times against the Cowboys, this game is set up to be huge for Kittle.
No, the Packers won’t just forget about him. That would be malfeasance on the part of Barry. Keep in mind, Kittle went off for seven catches and 92 yards the last time these two teams played.
With the Packers undoubtedly keeping their eyes in the backfield, though, Kittle should be provided ample opportunities to leak downfield on play-action passes or even in the screen game, which is something Shanahan likes to do, especially in the red zone.
Kittle is the 49ers secret weapon against Green Bay
It’s tough to call an elite tight end a “secret” weapon, and as mentioned, Barry and the Packers would be foolish to completely forget about No. 85.
It just feels like Kittle is primed for a breakout game, though. He was targeted just three times against the Cowboys and came away with only one catch for 18 yards. It would be utterly shocking if he had a similar performance against Green Bay. As Shanahan alluded to, great players like Kittle don’t stay down for long.
“George usually comes around,” he said. “He’ll end up getting his balls.”
Last but not least, consider the fact that quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is dealing with a shoulder injury. He only had to throw the football eight times in the previous playoff meeting, and you can bet Shanahan will do everything he can to orchestrate a repeat performance in order to insulate his injured quarterback. If and when Garoppolo does throw, having a safety net like Kittle between the seams or on crossing routes into the flats could be a way to help him air the ball out without putting too much pressure on him while he’s banged up.
However you look at it, all signs point to Kittle being a major factor for San Francisco.
If the 49ers want to leave Lambeau with a win, he’ll have to be.