George Kittle Is Nightmare For Eagles
By Rob Maaddi
George Kittle is coming back a week too soon for the Eagles.
The All-Pro tight end is expected to play when the winless Eagles (0-2-1) face the San Franciso 49ers (2-1) on Sunday night. Kittle missed the previous two games with an ankle injury.
Linebacker Nate Gerry has struggled terribly in pass coverage and less talented tight ends have torched the Eagles this season. Tyler Higbee caught three touchdown passes against them in Week 2. Kittle could do that in a quarter.
“He’s one of the rare tight ends who could do it all,” Gerry said of Kittle. “He’s good at run-blocking, pass-catching, running routes. He’s fast, he’s quick. I think we have a pretty good scheme for him. We have to stick to what we do best and get a lot of bodies to the ball when he catches it.”
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will have to be creative with his game plan. Expect to see safety Jalen Mills, cornerback Darius Slay and other defensive backs matched up on Kittle because the linebackers can’t handle him.
“He gives you a lot of different things,” Mills said. “He plays a finesse game. He plays a physical game. You have to pick and choose your battles with him. The biggest thing is knowing where he is on the field. He’s their biggest threat in the pass game. Everybody knows that. Whether it’s me, a linebacker or a corner, you have to know where he is and key in on him.”
Here are three more matchups to watch:
1. Schwartz vs. 49ers QB Nick Mullens
San Francisco will likely will be starting backup quarterback Nick Mullens for the second straight game because Jimmy Garoppolo has an ankle injury. Mullens is no pushover. He threw for 343 yards and a touchdown in a rout over the Giants last week, and has 2,620 yards passing in his nine starts. Only Patrick Mahomes (2,810) and Andrew Luck (2,631) had more at that point.
Schwartz was outcoached by Sean McVay two weeks ago and couldn’t come up with a scheme to shut down rookie Joe Burrow last Sunday. Burrow got sacked eight times but didn’t turn the ball over, completed 70.5% of his passes for 305 yards and two TDs in a 23-23 tie.
The Niners love to run but are down to third-stringer Jerick McKinnon at running back so the ball should be in Mullens’ hands quite often. It’s up to Schwartz to devise the right game plan and force Mullens to beat them.
2. Eagles WRs vs. 49ers CBs
Both units are depleted by injuries so this could come down to a battle of reserves. Greg Ward was the only healthy wide receiver on the active roster at Thursday’s practice. DeSean Jackson and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside are uncertain with injuries. John Hightower is likely going to play after missing practice with an illness. Practice squad wideouts Deontay Burnett and Travis Fulgham may end up getting plenty of snaps.
The Niners are missing cornerback Richard Sherman and Emmanuel Moseley has to clear concussion protocol. K’Waun Williams and Ahkello Witherspoon were limited in Thursday’s practice because of injuries.
Carson Wentz is the difference-maker with both sides battling injuries. He found a way to lead the no-name group of receivers down the stretch last season and has to do it again regardless of who is catching his passes.
3. Eagles DTs vs. 49ers interior linemen
Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson and Javon Hargrave have a big edge against backup center Ben Garland and guards Laken Tomlinson and Daniel Brunskill. Cox was battling an abdomen injury and still had his best game of the season against the Bengals. Pressure up the middle should make Mullens uncomfortable in the pocket and may lead to the defense’s first takeaway this season. The trio of tackles also will be key to stopping San Francisco’s run with all of coach Kyle Shanahan’s exotic formations. McKinnon averaged just 2.7 yards per carry last week though rookie receiver Brandon Aiyuk ran for 31 yards on three carries.