How Kit­tle, San­ders’ ab­sences im­pact 49ers

Lodi News-Sentinel - - SPORTS - By Chris Bi­der­man

SANTA CLARA — The 8-1 San Fran­cisco 49ers haven’t had their two most im­por­tant weapons in the pass­ing game dur­ing the first two prac­tices of the week ahead of Sun­day’s game against the Ari­zona Car­di­nals.

How­ever, if there’s a sliver of good news to take away from Thurs­day, it’s re­ceiver Em­manuel San­ders was on hand for the early walk through por­tion of prac­tice as he con­tin­ues to deal with a rib car­ti­lage in­jury.

Star tight end Ge­orge Kit­tle, who con­tin­ues to work back from left knee and an­kle in­juries, was nowhere to be seen and is un­likely to play for the sec­ond straight week. He made his first cameo since the in­jury dur­ing the open locker room pe­riod Wed­nes­day but de­clined to speak with re­porters un­til he re­sumed prac­tic­ing. San­ders ap­pears more likely to play against Ari­zona than Kit­tle.

How vi­tal are those two to the 49ers’ of­fense?

Mon­day night’s loss to the Seat­tle Seahawks of­fers proof.

Quar­ter­back Jimmy Garop­polo after San­ders left the game in the sec­ond quar­ter com­pleted just 14 of 31 for 133 yards with an in­ter­cep­tion for a passer rat­ing of 44.2, down dras­ti­cally from his 100.6 mark in the sea­son’s first eight games.

San Fran­cisco’s only of­fen­sive touch­down came on its sec­ond pos­ses­sion, which in­cluded a first-down catch from San­ders that set things up at Seat­tle’s 12yard line three plays be­fore

Ken­drick Bourne’s 10-yard touch­down grab. The 49ers had 13 pos­ses­sions there­after that re­sulted in just six points, in­clud­ing the missed field goal in over­time.

San­ders caught 11 of 14 tar­gets dur­ing his first two games after be­ing ac­quired in the trade with the Broncos, in­clud­ing a 112-yard per­for­mance on Hal­loween against the Car­di­nals in just his sec­ond game with the team.

“It was im­pres­sive to watch. I hate that he did it against us,” Car­di­nals coach Kliff Kings­bury said in a con­fer­ence call. “Com­ing in there, tak­ing that vol­ume of of­fense and then ex­e­cut­ing at that level. He’s a con­sum­mate pro. He’s been do­ing it at a high level for a long time.”

The drop in ef­fec­tive­ness of the pass­ing of­fense Mon­day was stark, with San­ders ab­sent for nearly three quar­ters and Kit­tle through­out the en­tire game. Garop­polo came into the week com­plet­ing over 70 per­cent of his throws. His com­pleted just 52 per­cent Mon­day while his pass catch­ers dropped at least six catch­able balls, in­clud­ing some from Ken­drick Bourne and Dante Pet­tis in key mo­ments.

Ad­di­tion­ally, the team’s 87 rush­ing yards was the fewest of the sea­son after en­ter­ing the week with the sec­ond-ranked ground game in the league.

It’s no co­in­ci­dence that dreary per­for­mance came with Kit­tle in a lux­ury suite high above the field. He’s widely re­garded as the best block­ing tight end in the NFL.

“Ge­orge does a lot for us, not just in the stats that you guys see in the yards and ev­ery­thing with catch­ing the ball, but he is as big of a part of our run game as any­one also,” Kyle Shana­han said.

Kit­tle leads San Fran­cisco in re­cep­tions (46), yards (541) and is tied for the team lead with two touch­down re­cep­tions. He’s caught 81 per­cent of the passes thrown his way and has more yards after the catch (281) than any­one else on Shana­han’s of­fense.

“Any­time you lose your best player, you need guys in both phases to step it up,” Shana­han said. “Ge­orge, you re­ally miss on those check downs, guys play­ing zone and a nor­mal guy gets seven yards and Ge­orge has a chance to go 60 yards. You al­ways miss that a lit­tle bit, kind of the ex­plo­sive play you’re not re­ally ex­pect­ing (that) he sur­prises every­body at.”

The 49ers say Shana­han mis­spoke Wed­nes­day when he told Car­di­nals re­porters dur­ing a con­fer­ence call, “We won’t have Ge­orge” when talk­ing about his tight ends in a ques­tion about the im­por­tance of full­back Kyle Juszczyk. Kit­tle’s hasn’t of­fi­cially been ruled out, given the high pain tol­er­ance he’s shown dur­ing his ca­reer. But the team re­it­er­ated he’s un­likely to re­turn Sun­day.

“It’s im­pos­si­ble to re­place a player like Ge­orge Kit­tle,” right tackle Mike McGlinchey said. “Not only is he the best at his po­si­tion, but he’s ar­guably a top three to five player in this league. When you lose a guy like that, it makes it re­ally dif­fi­cult to do what you’re com­fort­able with with him in the game.”

DAR­RYL SMITH/TRI­BUNE NEWS SER­VICE FILE PHO­TO­GRAPH

San Fran­cisco 49ers quar­ter­back Jimmy Garop­polo avoids de­fend­ers while play­ing the Wash­ing­ton Red­skins at FedExField on Oct. 20 in Landover, Md.

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