“You’ll have different guys guarding him,” Quinn said. “When you have a good player like that, it’s not usually one-man assignment.”
Normally, in man-to-man coverage, the strongside linebacker or strong safety would handle the tight end.
“In zones you better make sure that your tackling is on point,” Quinn said. “In the pass game, you always have to beat the zone. There isn’t somebody guarding you like in man-to-man.”
Kittle, who is 6-feet-4 and 250 pounds, is in his third season from Iowa.
The Falcons have been playing Ricardo Allen at strong safety, but at 5-feet-9 and 186 pounds, he’ll be giving up 64 pounds to Kittle.
Backup strong safety Jamal Carter, at 6-feet-1 and 215 pounds or strongside linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, who’s 6-feet-3 and 232 pounds, would be a better matchup.
The Falcons also have played speedy middle linebacker Deion Jones, who’s 6-feet-1 and 222 pounds, on tight ends.
“They have a tight end that is playing as well as any tight end in the NFL right now,” linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich said. “He’s a matchup problem for the small athletic guys. A matchup problem for the big, but not as fast guys.”
The 49ers, who are on a march to the playoffs and seeking to claim the No. 1 seed in the NFC, seem to thrive out Kittle’s brute force style of play.
“It’s a challenge that in a season that hasn’t gone as well as we liked, it’s one where we covet these opportunities to show people what you should have been and could have been,” Ulbrich said.
After dealing with Kittle, the Falcons must stop a trio of running backs, including former teammate Tevin Coleman. Raheem Mostert and Matt Breida, who played at Georgia Southern, also are having fine seasons.
“They have some really explosive guys,” defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. “They do well in the run game and pass game. They stay fresh. It’s three of them. We just have to really be on our stuff.”
Jarrett will also go against two former Falcons players: right guard Mike Person and center Ben Garland of the 49ers.
“Former teammates, but super highly competitive guys,” Jarrett said. “That’s why they are still having success in the league. It will be fun to go against. I’m looking forward to it.
“Garland played some on the defensive line with me. He’s a tough competitor. He’s a guy in this organization that we have a lot of respect for.”
After dealing with Kittle and the running backs, the 49ers are one of the few teams that still feature a fullback in Kyle Juszczk, who’s mostly a lead blocker, but has caught 16 passes and averages 10.1 yards per catch.
“They have a lot of ways to attack a defense,” Oluokun said. “There are a lot of plays out of that one formation. Whatever formation they line up in, they can run a lot of plays from it. There is a lot of assignment stuff. They have really good athletes.”
After Kittle, the running backs and the fullback, the Falcons then have to worry about Kyle Shanahan’s razzle-dazzle play calling.
In the 49ers’ 48-46 win over the Saints on Sunday, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders tossed a touchdown pass.
“Kyle makes it extremely difficult,” Ulbrich said. “He is a very talented play-caller. He does a great job with their personnel.”
The Falcons’ defense, which has played well in the second half of the season, seem to be preparing for a big final exam.
“It’s one of those games where you’d like to say trust your reads, trust your keys, trust your eyes and your rules, but (Shanahan) is going to test them in every way,” Ulbrich said. “It’s going to take discipline from beginning to end.”
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