In the phraseology often used by the coaching staff, the 49ers need George Kittle and Nick Bosa to be “the best version of themselves” on Sunday. If that happens, the Houston Texans will go home with their twelfth loss of the season and the 49ers (8-7) will be one step closer to the playoffs.
That makes sense, because Kittle and Bosa aren’t complicated types. Kittle’s strength, will, and athleticism set him apart from any tight end in the NFL. He enjoys every one-on-one match with genuine enthusiasm that comes from the world of false enthusiasm and the WWE.
Bosa limits his entertainment to Sunday damage and focuses the rest of the time on making himself a weapon of mass destruction. He has a crooked smile, speaks softly, and looks like he’s not telling you everything he knows, while making his point clear.
As much as the focus for the 49ers against Houston is on whether Jimmy Garoppolo or Trey Lance will quarterback, it doesn’t matter if Kittle and Bosa perform at an elite level that they are both familiar with.
The 49ers knew that Lance, who played essentially one season and one game of college ball in North Dakota state, might not be an option for some time, if at all, to # 3 in 2021 without understanding that he wouldn’t their future was.
This enables the 49ers to rely on players other than the quarterback to deliver the goods in a quarterback-focused league.
The 49ers supporting cast includes jack-of-all-trades Deebo Samuel, middle linebacker Fred Warner and left tackle Trent Williams, but their heartbeat comes from Kittle on offense and Bosa on defensive as they can change swing with every snap.
Neither player did the damage they did in other games in a 20-17 loss to Tennessee. Kittle, who caught 28 passes for 425 yards in the last three games, had two catches for 21 yards.
He has 65 receptions for 875 yards despite missing three games due to injury. The Pro Football Hall of Fame then demanded (and received) his cleats and gloves.
Bosa has had a streak of six games with a sack caught against the Titans and has 15 after missing the 2020 season with a cruciate ligament rupture.
Kittle and Bosa are transcendent players when it comes to explosiveness and physicality. Whatever the reasons for keeping silent against Tennessee, it can’t happen on Sunday or week 18 against the Rams.
To be fair, it’s not that tight ends or edge rushers can dictate things at the quarterback level. Tennessee went out of their way to make sure Kittle was included, and Bosa faced a tight end and chip blocks from running backs to the extreme.
It could also be argued that if things are properly planned by the coaching staff and they win their individual matches, it shouldn’t happen often at their respective elite level positions.
Kittle was the target of Garppolo’s end zone intercept early on, which slowed the 49ers’ swing. Bosa was the focus of the opposing blockade programs all season, but maybe not as extreme as against Tennessee.
Speaking to reporters on a conference call Thursday, Kittle shrugged off the lack of goals as part of the normal football rhythm.
“There are games that I have been attacked 15 times on. There have been games where I’ve been targeted, “Kittle said on a conference call Thursday.” Would I prefer to be targeted? Sure. I love to pick up the ball. I love it to rumble and stumble and stumble. ”
Nick Bosa faces Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford at Levi’s Stadium this season. Jose Carlos Fajardo / Bay Area News Group
Bosa made a frightening concession for the coaching staff about preparing the 49ers for Tennesee lockdown plans. The Titans basically held as many people as they could to block, then took long third-down throws to keep the drives alive.
“I think we were a little ill prepared last week,” said Bosa. “We didn’t quite expect that. But we will be ready for that. ”
While assuming that the Titans wouldn’t do anything to ruin Kittle and Bosa adds credibility to the coaching strategy, it doesn’t matter at this point.
There is an element of randomness associated with the positions of Kittle and Bosa. It’s not like focusing on a quarterback who has the ball every snap. It’s not uncommon for even the best players other than the quarterback to go unnoticed for a game or two.
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However, the 49ers are running out of time and unsure who their quarterback will be for the rest of 2021.
It is time to rely on players for excellence that they know they can deliver. The loss to the Titans serves as a warning about what will happen if Kittle and Bosa don’t perform well in the final eight quarters of the season.
And while the receptions and sacks made by Kittle and Bosa are not completely under their control, it is up to the coaching staff and the game plan to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.
Otherwise, it’s an off-season to ponder how and why an alleged contender fades into mediocrity.