If the Dallas Cowboys are going to pull out their first playoff win in years against the San Francisco 49ers, Mike McCarthy will need to come up with a plan to take star tight end George Kittle out of the game. Strong safety Jayron Kearse may have a big hand in accomplishing that goal.
After bouncing around as a backup between teams like the Vikings and Lions for five seasons, the former 244th overall pick has quickly become a mainstay of the Dallas defense. Quick enough cover ground in zone and big enough at 6-4 and 215 pounds to clamp tight ends, Kearse is a weapon for a very talented Dallas secondary.
Kittle is a whole different beast, as he combines the physicality of an in-line blocker with the speed and route-running intuition of a receiver. Kearse doesn’t seem that worried about how he will match up against a player of Kittle’s stature. In fact, he thinks Kittle should be worried about him.
Kearse said that he was “ticked off” at the constant coverage and analysis of this game that makes it seem like Kittle is poised to romp all over the Cowboys. Kearse noted that Kittle “has to go against me, too.” These are bold words right before a playoff game against a team that has made Kittle the foundation of the passing game.
Jayron Kearse and the Dallas Cowboys must neutralize George Kittle.
While Kittle missed three games this season due to injury, he still amassed over 900 receiving yards and was named a Pro Bowler. Kyle Shanahan will likely try to get the ball out of Jimmy Garoppolo’s hands as quickly as possible in order to neutralize Dallas’ pass rush.
Kearse is not just going to sit back and take it, however. With a pair of interceptions and a career-high 101 tackles (he came into this season with 138 in five years), Kearse has enough success against elite tight ends like Travis Kelce for Dallas not to worry about this matchup too much.
Kelce was limited to just five catches and 74 yards against Kearse, with one broken play helping him get most of those yards. Kittle might be a bit more physical, but a player like Kearse and a football mind with the acumen of Dan Quinn should be more than adept at slowing Kittle down just a tad.
Even though the 49ers have names like Deebo Samuel and Elijah Mitchell on that offense, Kittle is the guy they look for when it’s third down and you need a conversion. Kearse will have a ton on his plate, but he should be able to perform.