George Kittle was racking his brain, trying to think of the right answer.
He pulled out his iPad, began sifting through coaches’ film through a series of plays he knew by memory. He swiped and swiped until it came to him.
“Green Bay,” the 49ers tight end said, having an ah-ha moment. “That’s 100 percent my favorite one.”
The assignment: Kittle was asked to identify the favorite block of his career. He couldn’t think of just one when he was first asked following another impressive blocking performance in Week 2’s victory over the Bengals. There have been so many, Kittle needed another day to think about it. And it didn’t come to him until he pulled out his iPad for a reminder.
It was a 26-yard running play during the second-quarter of the Monday night loss to the Packers last October. Kittle was lined up on the line of scrimmage next to right tackle Mike McGlinchey. The play was an inside zone run to the left, away from Kittle. Raheem Mostert broke a tackle and sprinted into the secondary, getting to the Packers’ 30-yard line before going down. Marquise Goodwin scored his second touchdown of the game on the next play.
The television broadcast didn’t catch Kittle’s block on linebacker Antonio Morrison because he took him off screen. Neither did the all-22 coaches film on NFL Game Pass, which is why the block didn’t go viral on social media like some of his others.
Kittle went to block Morrison, who tried side-stepping to his left. But he was already in Kittle’s grasp. And his move to avoid the block allowed Kittle to get all the leverage and drive him right into the turf. It was a textbook takedown.
“I caught him, he tried to wheel me out,” Kittle said. “I put my head down, I got underneath him. I planted him so hard.”
The video copy on Kittle’s iPad caught the whole thing. Kittle howled toward the 49ers sideline, celebrating like he just caught a touchdown pass while cameras were focused on Mostert downfield.
Kittle, a true tight end heart, would rather throw a dominant block than make a reception.
“That was one of my favorite,” he said. “Also, that was my favorite for where it was, being in Green Bay. ... In college my celebration after pancakes, I’d roll the dice. That’s what I did.”
Kittle’s third season is off to another impressive start, though his pass-catching numbers aren’t matching his historic 2018 campaign. The former fifth-round draft pick had 54 yards in each of the first two weeks. He had six catches for 57 yards in Week 3. He averaged 86.1 yards while setting the single-season records for tight ends with 1,377 receiving yards last year.
Kittle served as a decoy on San Francisco’s first touchdown of the 41-17 win. Cincinnati’s safety sprinted up from the deep middle as Kittle broke free after Jimmy Garoppolo’s play fake. Goodwin leaked out to the left, where the safety should have been, wide open for the easy score to cap the first possession.
Kittle doesn’t mind if his production numbers aren’t the same. He said he judges his performances by the way he blocks. Scouting service Pro Footballl Focus has Kittle graded as the best run-blocking tight end in the NFL through two games.
Tight ends coach Jon Embree from the Cincinnati victory tallied six knockdowns for Kittle, the most of his career (a knockdown can come on a block, a stiff arm, or just running through someone).
One of Kittle’s knockdowns came on his 36-yard reception in the third quarter, stiff-arming safety Dre Kirkpatrick to the ground on a familiar crossing route following play action.
“I literally said to myself, ‘If I score right here, I’m going to look like Marshawn Lynch,’” Kittle recalled. “And I got tackled from behind, so it was pretty disappointing.”
Added Kyle Shanahan: “The way he acts when the ball is in his hands is the way he blocks, which is very physical and it’s very fun to watch and very excited he’s on our team.”
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s favorite Kittle block happened in the second quarter of that game. It came on a screen pass to running back Matt Breida, who lined up wide to the left. Kittle was in the slot, and rode cornerback William Jackson III right into the sideline, squashing him right in front of the 49ers bench. Breida went 11 yards and got a first down.
“He planted the dude out of bounds,” Garoppolo said.
Fullback Kyle Juszczyk said his favorite block of Kittle’s came last season in a home loss to the Arizona Cardinals. It was the play that made its rounds on the internet, with Kittle pushing a defensive back 15 yards into the end zone. It was when Kittle’s blocking first went mainstream.
“It was totally unnecessary,” Juszczyk said, “but awesome. ... I told him this week that those blocks of his have inspired me. And that’s why I was a little chippy this week and trying to finish guys into the ground. ”
Said Kittle: “I took him for a ride, but he finished on top, so I wasn’t too happy about that one.”