Cover 9@9: Kyle Pitts putting his own flavor on the game

(Here’s our weekly nine items at 9 a.m. Wednesday on the Atlanta Falcons, otherwise known as the Cover 9@9 blog!)

1. The no-spin zone. Falcons rookie tight end Kyle Pitts is looking to build on his strong performance in the second game of the season.

He played 57 of 72 offensive snaps (79%) against the Bucs on Sunday, which was up from 49 of 72 against the Eagles (68%) the Sunday before. He caught five passes for 73 yards after catching for four for 31 in his NFL debut.

The rookie is not comfortable talking about himself yet. When asked how the second game went for him, he started talking about the team.

“We didn’t come out with the win,” Pitts said. “We fought hard. It’s still early in the season. I think our team is going in the right direction.”

Pitts made a spectacular catch on a third-and-7, that he turned into a 24-yard gain. He made a acrobatic catch in coverage and then split two defenders to pick up the first down on the long gainer.

“It was kind of just instincts,” Pitts said. “Trying to make a play on the ball. When the ball comes my way, I try to make something of it. I just … it came and stuck in my hands, and I just turned up field.”

Pitts knows that every pass won’t be exactly on target.

“You kind of can’t train for bad balls, but you have your things where your body torques certain ways and you do the small drills where you are offsetting the ball and turning your body around,” Pitts said. “But for the most part you just know when the ball comes (your) way, it could be a bad ball, but just make a play on the ball.”

Pitts knows the plays will start coming his way.

“It was just a confidence booster for me,” Pitts said. “It kind of gets me going knowing that I can sustain in the NFL and I can make plays against the best of the best. That’s pretty much it.”

Pitts, who played only two plays in the exhibition season, felt a little more comfortable against the Bucs.

“Just being able to recognize coverages a little better,” Pitts said. “Trying to figure out the small details to make my game better each week. I know there is something that I can improve on. Something from each game, so just small things like that.”

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Falcons coach Arthur Smith has moved Pitts around the offense. He’s lined up as a traditional tight end and in the slot as a receiver mostly.

“It makes me more flexible, being able to do more things,” Pitts said. “It has kind of put the challenge on me mentally to know everything and kind of learn the whole offense. That’s something that I’ve kind of embraced.”

Pitts said he studies the offense every day. He tries to work through the plays and goes over the coverages with the coaching staff. Then he’ll go home and watch film.

“It’s a challenge that I love to embrace,” Pitts said. “It’s something that each day in practice (tight ends coach Justin Peelle) may throw out something new to be able try to get it right the first time, if not get it right the second time. Don’t make multiple mistakes on it. So, that he can trust me to do multiple things.”

Coach Arthur Smith, who’s a former tight ends coach, also is helping with Pitts’ development.

“It’s kind of half and half,” Pitts said. “He’s hands on, on the field. When we are in the classroom, he’s showing me other tight ends who he’s coached before. It might be great to try and do it like them. So, it’s kind of like mixing the two together and trying put my own flavor on it.”

Pitts tries to soak up all of the information.

“I love it because he was a past tight end coach, so he has knowledge of the position, and he has a great offensive mind,” Pitts said. “He helps me and it makes things easier. I like learning from someone like that.”

Pitts sees the progress that he’s made in the offense and figures by learning how to read coverages better will help him more.

“Matt (Ryan) does a great job of holding the team accountable,” Pitts said. “We all are starting to gel together. We are starting to go in the right direction. It was fun, but like I said, we didn’t have the outcome we wanted. Small details will help us win next week.”

2. Coach of the week: Each winning head coach of the Falcons Coach of the Week, presented by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, receives a $1,000 grant for their program, a commemorative Falcons item and recognition from the Falcons and AJC at a game this season. Vote now for the nominees and visit the AJC on Wednesdays for final results.

3. Series history: This will be the 25th regular-season meeting between the Falcons and the New York Giants. The Falcons lead the series, 13-11.

4. Betting line: The Falcons opened as 2.5-point underdogs to the Giants on sportsbettingdime.com. The over-under was set at 47.5 points.

5. Drama in New York: The Giants have some early-season football drama.

They lost a game after appearing to have won it, their $72 million wide receiver was seen yelling at the franchise quarterback on the sidelines and the prized rookie receiver took to social media to call for the ball.

The Falcons (0-2) are set to face the Giants (0-2) and all of their drama at 1 p.m. Sunday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

“(Coach) Joe (Judge) will have those guys ready to go,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said.

The Giants were up 29-27 when Washington’s Dustin Hopkins missed a field-goal attempt Thursday. But New York’s Dexter Lawrence was called for an offside penalty with no time left on the clock. Hopkins made the second attempt for the 30-29 win.

The penalty moved the ball five yards closer and wiped out the miss that would have ended the game.

Wide receiver Kenny Golladay, who signed a four-year contract with $40 million guaranteed in free agency, was seen yelling in the direction of quarterback Daniel Jones during the game. He told the media that he was really yelling at offensive coordinator Jason Garrett.

On top of the win that turned into a loss and Golladay’s antics, rookie wide receiver Kadarius Toney took to social media to complain about not getting any touches over 19 offensive snaps.

“I’ve already spoken to all parties involved about all that stuff you guys (reporters) are referencing,” Judge told the New York media Monday. “You guys asked me the other night about Kenny, there was no argument on the sideline. There was no him versus Daniel or anything of that nature.”

The coach described the outburst as Golladay being passionate about the game and not about being under-used.

“There was no blowup or anything that has to be made of it,” Judge said. “I understand sometimes the perceptions will be what they are, but like I said the other day, there’s no issue there.”

6. Giants top receiver: Sterling Shepard is the Giants’ top receiver, with 16 catches for 207 yards and two touchdowns. Golladay has seven catches for 102 yards and no touchdowns.

Golladay caught three passes for 38 yards in the loss to Washington. The former Detroit Lions standout had two 1,000-yard seasons and led the NFL with 11 touchdowns in 2019.

Both teams are 0-2 and trying find their way early in the league’s first 17-game season.

7. Engram back at practice: The Giants have several players with local ties, including tight end Evan Engram, who played Hillgrove High. He missed the first two games with a calf injury, but returned to practice Monday and could make his debut against the Falcons.

“He’s making consistent improvement,” Judge said. “It’s moving in the right redirection.”

Left tackle Andrew Thomas (Pace Academy/Georgia), linebacker Lorenzo Carter (Norcross High/Georgia), wide receiver Darius Slayton (Greater Atlanta Christian/Auburn) and defensive end Azeez Ojulari (Marietta High/ Georgia) also play key roles for the Giants.

8. Punter tryouts: Falcons punter Cameron Nizialek’s future with the team is murky after shanking two punts in the 48-25 loss to the Buccaneers on Sunday.

“Like every position, we’ll continue to churn the roster if we feel that’s best for us,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said Monday. “Same thing, we have to evaluate, same thing, no different than (Jalen) Mayfield last week. There are some things, Cam will probably be the first one to tell you, a couple kicks he’d like back.”

The Falcons had punters in for workouts Tuesday.

“We’ll assess that throughout the week,” Smith said. “But that’s every spot. If there are ways that we think we can upgrade this roster, we will.”

The Falcons could also look to open some spots on the practice squad like they did last week to bring in some offensive linemen.

9. Depth chart: With A.J. Terrell in the league’s concussion protocol, cornerbacks T.J. Green and Isaiah Oliver could spend some time outside against the Giants.

“All options are on the table,” Smith said. “We’ll have to adapt. We’ll have to see where A.J. (Terrell) is at. We got guys that can fill and play multiple roles. So, whether that’s T.J. (Green), Darren Hall, Isaiah (Oliver). We’ll know more as we keep playing and see the health of the team, getting into Wednesday.”

Here’s the Falcons’ official depth heading into the second road game of the season against the New York Giants on Sunday:

OFFENSE

WR - Calvin Ridley, Tajae Sharpe or Christian Blake

TE - Kyle Pitts, Lee Smith

LT - Jake Matthews, Jason Spriggs

LG - Jaylen Mayfield, Drew Dalman, Colby Gossett

C - Matt Hennessy, Drew Dalman

RG - Chris Lindstrom, Drew Dalman

RT - Kaleb McGary, Jason Spriggs

TE - Hayden Hurst, Keith Smith, Parker Hesse

WR - Russell Gage, Olamide Zaccheaus, Frank Darby

RB - Mike Davis, Cordarrelle Patterson, Wayne Gallman

*FB -- Keith Smith, Cordarrelle Patterson (Added to reflect that they played the position in the opener.)

QB - Matt Ryan, Josh Rosen, Feleipe Franks

DEFENSE

DL - Grady Jarrett, Marlon Davidson

NT - Tyeler Davison, Ta’Quon Graham

DL - Jonathan Bullard, John Cominsky

OLB - Steven Means, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner or Brandon Copeland

ILB - Deion Jones, Mykal Walker

ILB - Foyesade Oluokun, Dorian Etheridge

OLB – Dante Fowler, Adetokunbo Ogundeji

LCB - A.J. Terrell, T.J. Green, Avery Williams or Darren Hall

FS - Erik Harris, Jaylinn Hawkins

SS - Duron Harmon, Richie Grant

RCB - Fabian Moreau, Isaiah Oliver, Kendall Sheffield

SPECIAL TEAMS

K - Younghoe Koo

P - Cameron Nizialek

LS - Josh Harris

H - Cameron Nizialek

PR - Avery Williams

KOR - Cordarrelle Patterson

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