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Kittle key to 49ers' offense in Week 14 matchup vs. Bengals

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The 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals currently are among the seven postseason qualifiers in their respective conferences.

But neither team has a whole lot of margin for error.

The 49ers are in the seventh and final spot in the NFC with a 6-6 record, while the Bengals are currently the sixth seed at 7-5.

The teams meet Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium in an important game for both teams.

Here are five 49ers who figure to have key roles in the team’s Week 14 game:

5. RB Jeff Wilson Jr.

Starting running back Elijah Mitchell will miss his fourth game of the season, so Jeff Wilson Jr. gets the call.

That’s assuming, of course, Wilson can hold up after he was limited to just two snaps on offense and 11 plays of special teams last week when his surgically repaired knee flared up on him in Seattle. Coach Kyle Shanahan said Wilson looked good during the week of practices.

Wilson has appeared in four games this season with one start. He has 83 yards rushing on 31 carries.

The 49ers, of course, will want to get their run game going against the Bengals’ defense, which allows 4.1 yards per rushing attempt.

Reserve running back JaMycal Hasty also will see playing time, and the 49ers are likely to elevate newly signed Brian Hill from the practice squad for insurance.

4. FS Jimmie Ward

The 49ers face three very good wide receivers: Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. And with the 49ers’ issues at cornerback, they are likely to play almost exclusively zone coverage.


Free safety Jimmie Ward will be the key for the 49ers to keep things together in the defensive backfield and not allow game-changing plays in the passing game.

Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow is having a fine season, but he has thrown a league-worst 14 interceptions. He will give the 49ers’ defensive backs an opportunity for takeaways.

When Burrow has thrown one or no interceptions, the Bengals are 7-1. His team is 0-4 when he throws two or more picks.

Starting cornerback Emmanuel Moseley will miss at least three games with a high-ankle sprain. Also, veteran Dontae Johnson will not be available due to a personal matter. The 49ers will have to rely on rookies Deommodore Lenoir and Ambry Thomas.

3. QB Jimmy Garoppolo

Like Burrow and the Bengals, Jimmy Garoppolo has to take care of the football in order to give his team a chance to win.

Garoppolo threw two interceptions in Week 13 against the Seattle Seahawks, and the 49ers saw their three-game win streak snapped.

Burrow and Garoppolo are having similar seasons. Both players have been prone to make costly mistakes.

Burrow has completed 68.3 percent of his pass attempts with 23 touchdowns and 14 interceptions and a passer rating of 98.3.

Garoppolo has a 66.8 completion rate with 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions and a passer rating of 98.6.

2. NT D.J. Jones

The 49ers are getting a lot of production from nose tackle D.J. Jones, who might be the team’s top priority to re-sign this offseason as an unrestricted free agent.

The goal for the defense will be to shut down the Cincinnati running game. If the 49ers can make the Bengals one-dimensional, that should lead to more opportunities for Nick Bosa and Co. to get after Burrow and, perhaps, create some turnovers.

Jones should be able to handle the interior of the Bengals offensive line to clog up the middle and allow linebackers Fred Warner and Azeez Al-Shaair to make stops in the run game.

1. TE George Kittle

The 49ers expect wide receiver Deebo Samuel to play on Sunday, and that is good news for tight end George Kittle.

Kittle, coming off a nine-catch, 181-yard performance against Seattle, will be the central figure of the 49ers’ game plan. But because of Samuel's presence, the Bengals will not be able to focus all their attention on him as the Seahawks did at the end of the game when the 49ers had a chance inside the 5-yard line to tie the game.

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Because the Bengals play a lot of zone coverage, Kittle should be able to find openings in the defense and get up the field for yards after the catch.

The middle of the Bengals’ defense is weakened with linebacker Logan Wilson out with a shoulder injury. Wilson is the Bengals’ leader in tackles (92) and interceptions (four). Shanahan should be able to exploit Cincinnati in the middle of the field.


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