The San Francisco 49ers have been unable to get their passing game with any sort of consistency through the first five weeks. They convert some big plays, only to struggle with a bad throw, a drop, or bad pass protection the very next play. One player off to a strong start is rookie tight end George Kittle. He is coming off the biggest game of his young career, catching seven passes for 83 yards and his first career touchdown.
The 49ers face Washington this week, and Kittle faces one of the best matchups he might face all year. Washington’s defense is generally really solid, but they are struggling against tight ends. Football Outsiders ranks Washington No. 31 in defending tight ends, and they have given up the third most fantasy points to tight ends this season.
I took some time this week to talk 49ers-Washington with Hogs Haven writer Bill-in-Bangkok. I asked him about why they seem to be struggling against tight ends. Here’s what he had to say.
Washington fired Gregg Williams in 2010, and Mike Shanahan installed a 3-4 defense when he took over as Head Coach. In the seven years since, Washington has not been able to cover a tight end. One of the most reliable fantasy strategies available for the past several seasons has been to start whichever tight end was facing Washington in any given week.
That trend, unfortunately, continues in 2017.
Normally, I would suspect a scheme weakness, but Washington has had two different head coaches and three different defensive coordinators during that time, and none of them have fielded a defense that can stop a tight end.
In fact, most tight ends have career-defining performances when they face us. Larry Donnell of the Giants looked like he was launching a Hall of Fame career when he caught three touchdowns in a single game a couple of seasons ago. Truly talented tight end like Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce and Greg Olsen typically look unstoppable against us, often catching between 8 and 12 passes per game, and rambling for 80 or 90 yards and a touchdown or two.
The Skins have been hurting at inside linebacker since at least 2013, when it became obvious that London Fletcher had played one too many seasons. The team made a great decision when they signed Zach Brown to a free agent contract after his pro-bowl season with the Bills in 2016. Brown has given the defense what they’ve been lacking at ILB – he has speed and is a sure tackler. Through four weeks, he was the leading tackler in the entire NFL.
Along with safety DJ Swearinger, another good off season signing, Brown has been a huge part of the defensive turnaround in Washington. But the weakness in Brown’s game is pass defense
If George Kittle is available in your fantasy league, pick him up on waivers and start him on Sunday. He’ll likely have the performance of his career.