NFL

Vikings’ Defense Will Focus on Stopping 49ers’ Kittle

Niners’ All-Pro will go against NFL’s best unit at limiting damage by opposing tight ends in Saturday’s playoff game

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George Kittle is the 49ers’ best offensive weapon. So, expect the Vikings to make a huge effort to neutralize him Saturday.

And, Minnesota has been very good at stopping opposing tight ends this season, allowing just a passer rating of 60.3 on throws to opposing tight ends. That’s the lowest in the NFL according to the analytic website Pro Football Focus.

As Matthew Asher of 49ers.com noted this week, that’s in large part due to the schemes of head coach Mike Zimmer – who has a reputation as a successful defensive coach – and the performance of All-Pro middle linebacker Eric Kendricks. Kendricks is a force in coverage against tight ends, having the seventh-best grade among all NFL linebackers in pass coverage in 2019, while also earning Pro Football Focus’ top overall grade for linebackers this year. Kendricks has 12 passes defensed.

Kendricks and the Vikings defense will have to be at the top of their games, because Kittle right now may be the most effective tight end in pro football. In his third season, Kittle caught 85 passes for 1,053 yards and five touchdowns and was selected first-team All-Pro. He’s used in the slot, in motion, in the backfield or spread out wide, and he consistently gets big yardage after the catch.

Zimmer told the Minnesota media this week that his defense will “have to do a good job on him.”
Vikings safety Anthony Harris, who’ll also chip in against Kittle, says “it’ll be a challenge” to stop Kittle but believes he and his teammates can do it.

"I believe in my talent," Harris said. "We believe in our talent as a team. It’s just about going out and competing. Regardless if you’re playing against one of the best tight ends everybody knows or against whoever is in the game, it’s still competition."

Saturday’s divisional-round playoff game at Levi’s Stadium is set for a 1:35 p.m. kickoff. The No. 1 seeded 49ers were 13-3 in winning the NFC West and had a bye last week. The Vikings were 10-6 in the regular season, then advanced by beating the Saints last weekend. The 49ers are 7-point favorites.

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