Welcome to the final installment in the Green Bay Packers key 2020 matchup series. This Thursday night game has the Packers heading to the West Coast to dance with the team that has been dotting their eyes of late. The NFC favorite San Francisco 49ers will look to stay the thorn in Green Bay’s side. Super-weapon George Kittle will try to impose his will on the Pack. Standing in his way is the young and hungry free safety, Darnell Savage. How will this Savage vs Kittle matchup play out?
In 2019 the Packers traded up into the first round and grab their free safety of the future. Darnell Savage is a Maryland product who just turned 23 years old going into his sophomore campaign. Green Bay has been looking to get faster and more athletic on the back end of their defense. With 4.36 speed and explosiveness (39.5″ vertical and 126″ broad jump) Savage checks all those boxes.
He had an up-and-down rookie season, but he did flash some special abilities at times. Savage hit the ground running as a week 1 starting safety. He flashed talent that Green Bay hasn’t seen at free safety since the great Nick Collins. An ankle injury against the Cowboys sidelined him for two weeks and he never looked the same after. His struggles really showed in the NFC Championship Game against the 49ers. Savage took awful angles that turned into monster running lanes. He looked to be struggling to process plays making him a few steps behind his opponents.
Going into his second year he should see growth and a huge jump into being the player Green Bay saw when they drafted him. Mike Pettine gushes about Savage and his ability to move around the defense. He has the sideline-to-sideline speed to play center field in a single high formation. They also want to use Savage more in slot coverage. If he can clean up his angles and tackling the sky is the limit for this young player.
Unless you have been living under a rock, the NFL universe knows George Kittle. Kittle is on the shortlist for the best tight end in football. In 2019, he was the best football player in the league bar none. PFF gave him the best score of any tight end ever. He has stacked success each and every season.
Kittle is entering his fourth year in the NFL and is 26 years old (27 in October). He has the size 6′ 4″ 250 lb and ability that teams drool over. In Kyle Shanahan‘s system, Kittle is an absolute mismatch. They are able to move him all around to find the best match in their favor. In 2018 Kittle broke the tight end receiving yard record with 1,377 yards. He went over a thousand yards again in 2019 with 1,053. Kittle also has 12 career touchdowns to his credit.
What’s even more impressive is Kittle’s dominance when blocking. The dude is an animal and is by far the best blocking tight end in football. Heck, he might be better than some tackles. It is a thing of beauty watching him drive guys into the ground and playing to the whistle.
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With Kittle being a tight end and the 49ers number one passing option, Savage will be tasked in covering him plenty. In any defense, the Packers deploy Savage will have to know where Kittle is and not allow the All-Pro to get behind him. Even in the running game, Savage might be in Kittle’s headlights. Perhaps Adrian Amos will also cover the tight end position at times. However, the assumption at this time is that Savage will be the primary player to cover Kittle.
Savage Wins if:
He can use his speed to keep the passing windows small. If he is able to defend a few balls and maybe grab an interception, it could force Jimmy Garoppolo to look in another direction. Savage also needs to take good angles and be a willing tackler that is able to put Kittle down quickly. Kittle will get his targets but limiting yards after the catch is a win for Savage and the Packers.
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Kittle Wins if:
He does what he does. His size and speed is a handful for any defensive back. The 49ers will scheme to get the ball in his hands every week. Kittle responds well to those targets by constantly raking up the yards. Every time he touches the ball the threat of chunk plays looms large. Also Kittle plays a major role in the 49ers gashing run attack. If Kittle gets his hands into Savage’s body he could manage to take the safety out of the run defense. If that happens, it will be a long night for Savage.
Who Has the Edge?
This one unfortunately has to go to Kittle. He is the elite of the elite and with the 49ers offensive system, Savage has a huge challenge in front of him. Stopping or expecting one player to contain Kittle is a recipe for disaster. This isn’t to say Savage can’t do enough to help Green Bay sneak a win. A key turn over or pass breakup could be just enough.
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