There are a lot of matchups to focus on this week with the Chiefs coming to town on Sunday afternoon. Patrick Mahomes versus DeMeco Ryans. Kyle Shanahan versus Steve Spagnuolo. And of course, Travis Kelce versus George Kittle.
Dre Greenlaw was asked about the difference between the two tight ends yesterday.
“George likes to block. George is a better blocker. I mean, I don’t care if [Travis Kelce] knows, but he’s still a great player. He’s one of the best tight ends to play this game. The way that he gets open, the way the he can move in and out of his routes. The way Andy Reid just calls up plays to get him open. He’s still, and George Kittle, are some of the best tight ends that we’ve seen in this league - but year I still think George is a better blocker.”
Kelce clearly has the statistical edge. Playing in pass-first system with the best offensive coach of his generation and (recently) the best quarterback in several generations, Kelce has put up at least 1,000 yards every season for almost a decade. This year, he leads the league in touchdown catches with seven.
Kittle, as Greenlaw referenced, has walked a different path. In a run-first system with a rotating cast of quarterbacks, he is often called to block rather than run a route down the field. As such, his statistics pale in comparison to his counterpart in Kansas City. When given something close to the 116 targets that Kelce averages per year, however, Kittle has risen to the occasion. In 2018 he received 136 targets and set the NFL single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end with 1,377. The following year, he earned 107 targets and turned them into 1,053 yards.
The question this week is whether Kittle will finally be called upon to help jump start a stagnant offense. The statistics say that San Francisco scores 20 points per game. In reality, Talanoa Hufanga and Emmanuel Moseley have each returned an interception for a touchdown, which pushes the 49ers’ true points per game down to a paltry 18.3, tied for 23rd in the NFL.
If the 49ers are going to beat the Chiefs on Sunday, Kyle Shanahan is going to have to use all of the weapons at his disposal. For all Kittle’s prowess as a blocker, it is still the second best skill in his toolbox. If Shanahan hasn’t realized that yet, it’s about time that Kittle make him realize it.
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