During the offseason, teams look to better match up with their division rivals at each position on the field. For teams facing the San Francisco 49ers, the offensive attack features one primary area of concern, tight end George Kittle. Ahead of the season opener against the Arizona Cardinals, we put a spotlight on one battle between the division rivals. Today we take a look at George Kittle versus Budda Baker.
There’s Some History Here
George Kittle enters his fourth season in the NFL. While Kittle missed the second meeting between the teams in 2019, he’s faced the Cardinals a total of five times in his career. Both Baker and Kittle entered the league in 2017, Baker as a second-round selection, Kittle as a fifth-round selection. Baker has faced the 49ers a total of six times thus far, neither player saw much of each other during their rookie seasons.
Kittle broke out in 2018 with 88 receptions for 1,377 receiving yards, including five touchdowns. As a second-year player, Kittle’s 2018 season set the tight end record for single-season receiving yards. He was just five yards shy of breaking the tight end single-game record as well. Likewise, Baker’s production increased in 2018. Baker finished with 102 total tackles including a pair of sacks.
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Fierce Battle Cut Short
The 2019 season featured two incredible battles between the 49ers and Cardinals. The first took place on a hot Halloween night in Arizona. While the 49ers offense struggled to get the ground game started, Kittle battled Baker as the duo matched up all over the field. Kittle became the primary target on that day, receiving eight total targets. Things got dicey after the first offensive play for the 49ers. Kittle took a helmet to the knee and immediately left the game. A few drives later, Kittle returned, followed closely by Baker.
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Just seconds remaining in the first quarter and with the 49ers trailing by a score, Kittle bullied Baker off the line and got free for a quick slant. Jimmy Garoppolo found his tight end and watch as Kittle broke an arm tackle then tossed Baker to the ground on his way to a 30-yard touchdown reception. Although Baker provided tough coverage throughout the night, Kittle finished with six receptions for 79 yards and a score. Unfortunately, the tight end would miss the rematch as he recovered from knee and ankle injuries.
Familiarity Builds Rivalry
Against a talented player such as Kittle, success is relative. Baker played the tight end tough, often forcing Garoppolo to look elsewhere. However, for every successful pass breakup by Baker, Kittle can point to a big play such as his catch and run on Halloween night. Baker does not have the size (5’10”, 195 pounds) to bully Kittle (6’4″, 250 pounds). However, Baker is a tough defender who excels at getting inside the body of the receiver he is covering. That will be the key for Baker when he faces off against Kittle.
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The tight end’s length is the best counter. Kittle’s route running is effective enough to create separation, provided he can get off the line cleanly. As we’ve seen throughout his career, it is difficult to slow down Kittle once the ball is in his hands. Although his testing time wasn’t anything to write home about (4.52 40-yd dash), Kittle clocked in at a max of 20 miles per hour last season. He has ample speed to break a long run off a short route. At the end of the day, it will be an intense and important matchup when Kittle and Baker take the field. Whichever player can come out victorious will likely swing the tide in favor of their respective team. September 13th can’t come quickly enough.
– Ryan Adverderada is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage 49ers. He also covered the Arizona Cardinals for Full Press Coverage. Like and follow on Follow @ryanadverderada