Detroit Lions should move Hockenson around
Doing the math on Kittle’s numbers, to get the production out of him that they do, they try to feed him the ball about ten times per game. The ways that the San Francisco 49ers’ coaching staff accomplishes the task, headed by Kyle Shanahan, is not much different than you’d expect.
George Kittle gets lined up in almost every conceivable spot in the 49’ers run-happy offense. The same needs to be true of Hockenson, who is in a run-first system with Bevell calling plays.
Hockenson can normally be the in-line tight end with a three-wide receiver set that includes one running back, what we’d call 11 personnel ( one running back paired with one tight end). The other players here would likely be Kenny Golladay out wide, Marvin Jones Jr. on the other side, and either Danny Amendola or Jamal Agnew in the slot position. Teams like the 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs use this grouping a lot because they have good talent at each of those spots.
It looks like a running formation. Having a one-back set with an in-line tight end is a conventional run formation but that’s a perfect time to do what quarterback Matthew Stafford does very well, pass out of play-action. The offense fakes a hand-off, which sucks in linebackers, and then Stafford throws into lanes the linebackers would’ve been in if they didn’t play the run for a couple of seconds.
Play-action is a great way to get a tight end involved over the middle, behind the linebackers, and in front of the safeties. The Detroit Lions do some of this but by only targeting Hockenson five times, they’re not using him to his full potential. He should get several targets from this position every game.
Although T.J. isn’t as fast as his former Iowa buddy, lining him up outside, where a wide receiver would normally be, poses a different threat to the defense. Most often defenses have cornerbacks covering outside receivers but in this case, it’s a huge mismatch to put a 5-foot-11, 200-pounds defensive back on a 6-foot-5, 251-pound tight end.
Not only would that likely force a safety to cover Hockenson but it also likely forces the defense to declare its coverage ahead of the snap. Once the ball gets snapped, Hockenson is often too big for a safety to stop or too quick for an outside linebacker to stay in phase with.
The 49ers often run screens for Kittle or use the slot receiver to run deep routes over top of the route Kittle runs. This is a strategy to give him space either at the perimeter of the defense; it gives Jimmy Garoppolo a big target back over the middle to exploit the mismatches he creates.