Following up on the ongoing story
. ... As Associated Press sports writer Josh Dubow noted this week, George Kittle
’s absence was evident in almost every aspect of the offense for two weeks.
The running game missed his dominant blocking on the edge, the passing game missed the threat he poses as one of the most dangerous players after the catch and the huddle missed his energy.
Kittle’s return last Sunday night got San Francisco off to a resounding start as the 49ers began a tough three-game stretch, and the Niners know they will need him even more the next two weeks with road games against first-place Baltimore and New Orleans.
“You can’t replace a player like George Kittle
,” right tackle Mike McGlinchey said. “I think he’s one of the best, if not the best player in the league. He’s somebody that I’ll be able to tell my kids about someday, that I played with that guy. ... Our offense goes through him as much as anybody else. He’s a special player, a special leader, and we’re very, very lucky to have 85 back.”
Kittle initially got hurt when he broke his ankle on the first play at Arizona on Oct. 31. Coach Kyle Shanahan described the injury as being akin to having bark coming off a tree and Kittle dealt with the pain and stayed in the game until a knee injury finally forced him to the sideline.
He missed two games with the injury before returning despite still feeling significant pain in his ankle. He took Wednesday off from practice but should be good to go again this week.
“It’s football,” Kittle said. “It’s fine. It’s a mindset. You just go out and play football. That’s all it is.”
The Niners offense dipped a bit in Kittle’s absence, struggling to move the ball at all in a loss to Seattle and generating no running game the following week against Arizona.
San Francisco averaged only 2.9 yards per carry in the three games with Kittle either sidelined or limited but hit on all cylinders in the 37-8 victory over Green Bay on Sunday.
The 49ers averaged 5.1 yards per carry and Jimmy Garoppolo
set career bests with 12.7 yards per attempt and a 145.8 passer rating. He completed all six of his throws to Kittle for 129 yards, with the biggest highlight coming on a 61-yard TD pass in the third quarter.
“George, he’s awesome,” Garoppolo said. “The energy he brings on the sideline, getting guys involved, getting guys talking in the huddle even, it’s little things like that. Obviously, you guys see what he does on the field. I throw him a 2-yard route and he takes it for whatever, 20-30 yards, runs a great route, scores a touchdown. It’s all the little things that he does, though, that goes so unnoticed.”
Kittle is such a big part of an offense that relies so heavily on play-action passes because his blocking helps key success on the ground and he is one of the most dangerous receivers, especially when he gets in open space.
Kittle set a record for tight ends last season with 1,377 yards receiving, with a staggering 870 coming after the catch.
He hasn’t been as prolific this year with 52 catches for 670 yards but he’s still as important.
“When he’s out there we just can stretch the defense more, which helps us get outside,” Shanahan said. “It also helps us cut back, so it gets our run game going. And when it gets our run game going, everyone knows what he can do in the pass game. I think a lot of his catches today were off of run actions, especially the 60-yarder.
"They came up on the run, cut the crosser and got him over the top. It kind of opens up everything just like all good players do.”
And fantasy owners appreciate the certainty of his workload when Kittle is on the field.
Because it's been tough beyond that.
Yes, rookie receiver Deebo Samuel
is delivering. While last Sunday wasn't a massive night for Samuel, he cashed in one of his two catches for a touchdown, helping him finish with double-digit fantasy points for the third straight game.
Beyond that, it gets dicier.
needs to prove he's healthy enough to regain the workload he enjoyed upon arrival in San Francisco, before suffering rib injury that's slowed him since Week 10.
And running back is even more difficult.
As ESPN's Mike Clay notes, Tevin Coleman
found the end zone early against Green Bay on Sunday night and has now scored seven touchdowns in nine games this season. Coleman is averaging 13.6 carries and 3.0 targets per game in eight outings since returning from injury in Week 5.
The veteran back has benefited from a 49ers offense that is run-heaviest in the league (49.8 percent run), sits fifth in snaps (66.5 per game) and ranks second in touchdowns
(3.2 per game).
Coleman also happens to be the team's go-to weapon near the goal line.
The problem will be overall workload, especially with Matt Breida
apparently on track to return from the ankle injury that's sidelined him the last two weeks. For Coleman owners, the TD upside is the most attractive aspect, especially with Raheem Mostert