George Kittle Critical To San Francisco 49ers In Deebo Samuel’s Absence

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George Kittle Critical To San Francisco 49ers In Deebo Samuel’s Absence

Lumen Field, perhaps better known by its previous CenturyLink Field guise, has long since been a house of horrors for the San Francisco 49ers, who head into Week 13 hoping to claim only their third win in 16 meetings with the Seattle Seahawks.

On the surface, the odds are stacked firmly in the favor of the Niners, whose offense has been among the most efficient and productive in the NFL across the course of a three-game winning streak that has improved their record to 6-5 and made San Francisco a favorite to secure a Wild Card berth.

In stark contrast to the 49ers’ winning run, the Seahawks have lost their last three games and appear all but dead in the water in terms of the playoffs at 3-8, Seattle ranked 29th in Expected Points Added per play on offense, per rbsdm.com, over that run as Russell Wilson has looked a shadow of his usual self since returning from a finger injury.

Yet, even with the Seahawks at the lowest ebb in the Pete Carroll-Wilson era, 49ers tight end George Kittle is refusing to take Seattle lightly.

“I think it’s going to be our toughest game of the year, and I think they would say the same thing,” Kittle said after practice on Thursday, per 49ersWebzone.

That Kittle is going into the game with such a mindset is no surprise and he may have a more significant role than usual to play in maintaining San Francisco’s offensive dominance given the 49ers’ attack will be missing the catalyst for their three-game winning streak, Deebo Samuel ruled out with a groin injury.

With his success as a wide receiver and as a runner out of the backfield, no player has been more crucial to San Francisco’s turnaround than Samuel, who has 305 yards and five touchdowns from scrimmage over the last three weeks.

But the Niners must now adapt and attempt to maintain their proficiency on offense minus his ability to consistently turn his touches in the backfield into game-changing plays, a trait that has made San Francisco’s rushing attack near-impossible to defend.

How will the 49ers account for the loss of that string to their bow? Kittle may be a part of the solution.

It is unlikely the Niners will line Kittle up in the backfield on a regular basis. However, he ranks 12th in yards after catch per reception with 6.8, according to the NFL’s NextGen Stats.

Having been used on a tight end screen in the red zone on a scoring drive against the Minnesota Vikings last week, the 49ers may look to rely heavily on short targets to Kittle as an extension of the running game and use his speed and power in the open field to their advantage.

Though he has a touchdown in three of the last four games, this has been a quiet season by Kittle’s standards.

His cause was not helped by a three-game absence due to injury, but his less impressive numbers are also partially a result of the emphasis on Samuel and the run game, with Kittle asked to use his exceptional blocking ability more often than his skills as a receiver.

But, alongside Samuel, Kittle is the most versatile weapon on the Niners’ offense, able to serve both as an extension of the running game with what he can do after the catch and as a dynamic pass catcher on intermediate and deep routes.

With Samuel on the shelf, expect Kittle to be tasked with fulfilling each of those roles to ensure the Niners’ offense continues to excel against Seattle.

Elijah Mitchell will still be pivotal to the running game while the Niners will surely look for wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk to continue his own surge with his difficult start to the year a distant memory.

Yet in the game he acknowledges will be the Niners’ most challenging of the season, there is no player more critical to their hopes of coming through that test than Kittle.

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