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Stopping 49ers TE George Kittle Key For Minnesota Defense

SANTA CLARA (CBS SF) -- If there was an equivalent of a Swiss Army knife in the National Football League it would be San Francisco 49ers multifaceted tight end George Kittle.

49er head coach Kyle Shanahan has masterfully used Kittle's unique skill set all season to add wrinkles to similar looking offensive sets, keeping opposing defenses guessing.

Will it be a sweep with Kittle applying a jolting outside block to wall off a defender and give speedsters Raheem Mostert or Matt Breida the small opening they need to pick up a big gain?

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George Kittle (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Will it be as a ball carrier on the jet sweep? Kittle has had a career-high 5 carries for 22 yards so far this season.

Or will it be in a pass pattern where Kittle's yardage after the catch and pounding running style strikes fear deep into the heart of defensive backs. Just ask the New Orleans Saints.

In the regular season's most iconic play, on 4th-and-2 with the clock ticking down and the 49ers trailing on the scoreboard, Kittle caught a short pass, shook free from the Saints defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson and raced up the sideline.

New Orleans safety Marcus Williams attempted to stop him, holding onto his face mask as Kittle carried him down the sideline. It was a mano-a-mano fight, neither player refusing to yield.

For nearly 15 yards, Kittle battled with Williams, who continued to yank on his face mask. Finally two other Saints joined in to bring Kittle to the turf. The play covered 39 yards plus an additional 15-yard penalty and set up Robbie Gould's game-winning field goal as time ran out.

"Everyone knows how great a player he is, but when one of your best players has the mentality he has that changes everything," Shanahan said of Kittle earlier this season. "I always say that O (offensive) linemen don't have a choice. They've got to be tough...But the mentality of your offense -- how tough a team you are -- has to do with your skill positions."

Kittle thrives on physical play and his often emotional response has jolted the offense to life all season.

"My tight end coach always says don't let one guy tackle you," Kittle told reporters earlier this year. "That's my mindset, just try to run through them. Try to carry them (the defenders) as far as I can...My mindset is to run though people, but have a good time doing it."

Kittle's impact on the game is not lost on Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer.

"He's great with run after the catch," Zimmer told Bay Area reporters during a Tuesday morning conference call. "They use him on a lot of screens, a lot of rockets. They use him in different ways."

"He's very nifty in the pass game," Zimmer continued. "He'll give you a head fake and a shake and break the other way. He's got great speed. You combine those things with his run after the catch ability and the way he can get open on routes -- it makes it very difficult."

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