George Kittle vs. Budda Baker a key matchup to watch in Week 9

San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle (85) knocks over Arizona Cardinals safety Budda Baker (32) Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle (85) knocks over Arizona Cardinals safety Budda Baker (32) Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports /

7-1. 32. Fox. 49ers -3. 4:25 p.m. ET. Sunday, Nov. 7. 3-4. 42

With the 49ers hosting the Cardinals in Week 9, tight end George Kittle will look to extend his prowess over safety Budda Baker.

The San Francisco 49ers didn’t have the luxury of fielding tight end George Kittle back in Week 5 when they faced off on the road against the Arizona Cardinals.

Kittle, after all, was shelved on injured reserve with a calf injury aggravated the previous week, meaning what could have been a highly anticipated matchup between him and Cardinals safety Budda Baker never materialized.

It’s a matchup Niners fans should know well.

Two years earlier, during San Francisco’s magical run to the Super Bowl, a banged-up Kittle still managed to score an improbable touchdown with Baker in coverage, stiff-arming him in the process. This, after Baker had broken up a number of passes intended for the All-Pro tight end:

The score prompted to yell out “I’m still here, Budda,” from the sidelines, which went down as quite the moment.

Granted, Kittle later acknowledged how good a player Baker is, telling NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco the following:

"He’s a guy that, honestly, does not get enough recognition. He’s an incredible football player. We’re going to have a great matchup. We compete at a very high level. We have a lot of intensity and we both love the game of football. I mean, what more do you want in a matchup?"

And while fans weren’t treated to this mini rivalry earlier this season, they should be in Week 9 when these two teams square off again.

George Kittle looks to return from a slow, injury-plagued start to 2021

Kittle’s injury is the latest setback in what has been a relatively sluggish start for the 49ers’ primary offensive threat.

Before landing on a three-game IR list, Kittle had mustered only 19 receptions for 227 yards and zero touchdowns, which would have equated to 965 yards over a full 17-game season. Not bad, at least when lined up against an average tight end. But considering Kittle is currently ranked among the NFL’s elite at this position, one would hope for a bit more production.

Granted, the Niners have had all kinds of offensive challenges this season, including quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo‘s inconsistencies and head coach Kyle Shanahan having a relatively disjointed offensive attack en route to his team’s 3-4 start to the year.

If there was ever a game to get Kittle back on track, though, Week 9 should be it.

49ers George Kittle vs. Cardinals Budda Baker should be a matchup to watch

Over his career, Kittle has 29 receptions for 417 yards over seven games played against Arizona, numbers which are second most against any opponent behind only the Los Angeles Rams.

Even if Kittle is having something of a down year, at least in terms of catches, yards and touchdowns, he’s still a primary threat the Cardinals have to deal with. With Baker, they certainly feel they have the best defensive weapon possible to do so.

Related Story: 4 advantages 49ers now have over Cardinals in Week 9

On the year, Baker currently has 47 tackles, two pass breakups and an interception over eight games played. Opposing quarterbacks are also posting an 89.6 passer rating when targeting him in coverage, the lowest rating he’s allowed thus far over his four-year career.

San Francisco is expected to be at relatively full-strength on Sunday, including Kittle’s return, which means Kittle doesn’t automatically have to shoulder the entire offensive load. However, as a decoy, blocker and potential yards-after-the-catch threat, the 49ers nevertheless will want to get the upper hand on this highly anticipated matchup between two prolific players.

The Niners and Cardinals kick off on Sunday, Nov. 7 at 4:25 p.m. ET from Levi’s Stadium.

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