Cover 9@9: What teams are doing to slow the Falcons’ Kyle Pitts

Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts (8) makes a catch as Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard (25) defends during the second half Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (Hans Deryk/AP)
caption arrowCaption
Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts (8) makes a catch as Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard (25) defends during the second half Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (Hans Deryk/AP)

Credit: AP

(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: Like the old Isaac Hayes classic “I stand accused,” some of us in the media have been accused of making the bust for Kyle Pitts and sending it to Canton, Ohio, after he had back-to-back 100-yard games and flashed his one-handed playmaking ability.

But since, defenses have been able to slow Pitts’ march to Canton. He caught only two of six targets for 29 yards in his past outing against the Jaguars.

Falcons coach Arthur Smith wants everyone to calm down.

“First season, long career,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of plays where you’re the primary and you can try to force the ball into him.”

We all know that Matt Ryan doesn’t force passes. He moves the ball around to the open receiver. Pitts is getting a lot of attention. Teams haven’t been shy about sending double teams and then also have a third guy lurking around his routes.

“Coverage dictates and opens things up for other guys,” Smith said. “Russell (Gage) had a productive day (against Jacksonville). Kyle’s a rookie, week to week, (there’s) a lot of attention on him.”

Smith, who calls the plays, is not worried about Pitts, who was the highest drafted tight end in the history of mankind (modern-era NFL).

“Great,” Smith said. “He’ll make his plays.”

I love when Smith starts chatting about “narratives.” He called some of them BS after the game.

“You can live in the week-to-week narratives,” Smith said. “I know they already wanted to get his bust ready after Miami or New Orleans, whatever week it was. I’m sure somebody’s ready to get his Hall of Fame speech ready.”

Who’s guilty? Raise your hand. You stand accused.

“It’s a long career,” Smith said. “Long season. We got six big games left for us. Very, very pleased with Kyle. I wouldn’t get overly concerned. I think at the end of day, you can probably ask Kyle, whether he catches two balls or 10 balls, the objective is to win and to play better. I think that’s why he’s got the right mind-set.”

Pitts has had a few drops, but Smith is not concerned. He appeared to drop one his targets against Jacksonville. (Aside: Regular listeners to The Bow Tie Chronicles podcast already know I’m from the Albert D. Ledbetter Jr. school of “if you touch it, you’re supposed to catch it.” Had to run home from practice alongside his car as a youth after dropping a pass in practice. Mother later fired him from coaching.)

“We’ll mark him down for a drop,” Smith said. “I’ll tell (Justin) Peelle to make sure he gives him a drop on that. ... There’s no concern. Kyle is a good player; he’s going to be just fine. You can be concerned. We’re not concerned. He’s going to continue to work, he’s had the right mind-set.”

For the record, the Falcons have 13 drops, according to profootballreference.com’s 2021 advanced receiving stats. Calvin Ridley leads the team with three drops. Kyle Pitts and Olamide Zaccheaus are second with two drops. Cordarrelle Patterson, Mike Davis, Russell Gage, Keith Smith, Christian Blake and Frank Darby all have one drop each.

The Falcons are pleased with his production, although fantasy folks will beg to differ. Since the mega game of seven catches for 163 yards against the Dolphins on Oct. 24, Pitts held been held to 62 yards or less for five consecutive games with no touchdowns.

“He’s had a pretty productive year,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of football left to be played. So, I guess if somebody got him on his fantasy team (against Jacksonville), I’m sure they’re upset about the stats. All we care about is winning here and can we get better. So, we don’t look at it as a concern. Kyle’s a good player. Got great hands.”

THOMAS MORSTEAD named NFC special teams player of the week

2. Fournette showing out: Tampa Bay, powered by running back Leonard Fournette and tight end Rob Gronkowski, is coming off its most impressive road win of the season. The Bucs got hot at the right time last season on their way to the Super Bowl run title.

After consecutive losses to the Saints and Washington to drop to 7-3, the Bucs bounced back with a win over the Giants and a thrilling come-from-behind 38-31 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.

Down 10 at the half, the Bucs stormed back behind Fournette, who rushed 17 times for 100 yards and three touchdowns and caught seven passes for 31 yards and a touchdown and Gronkowski, who had seven catches for 123 yards.

“Our blocking units did a helluva job,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said to Tampa media members Monday. “He found some holes. He’s a 240-pound back that can run.”

3. Dependable check-down guy. Fournette’s reliability in the passing game allowed quarterback Tom Brady not to force the deep shots down the field.

“Then usually he’s coming out the backside of Mike Evans’ side and you know he’s getting doubled,” Arians said. “You’re going to have soft coverage and those 4- or 5-yard check-downs turn into 11 yards real quick. If he breaks a tackle like he did in the two-minute drill, then it’s 13. So, don’t force it down the field.”

What happened to “no risk it, no biscuit?”

Fournette has 51 catches for 354 yards this season, he’s ahead of Evans, who has 50 catches. Wide receiver Chris Godwin leads the team with 67 catches.

“He’s doing a heck of a job in the passing game,” Arians said. “He’s (had) a catch and run on the touchdown, really good throw by Tom. He’s really just playing at a high and consistent level. He’s doing a good job as a pass protector also.”

Fournette’s four touchdowns tied a team-record which was held by Jimmie Giles (1985) and Doug Martin (2012) for most touchdowns in a game.

4. Bucs Injury report: The Bucs have depth along their offensive line. Guard Ali Marpet (abdomen injury) was out against the Colts, and Aaron Stinnie, his replacement, went down with a knee injury in the first quarter. Nick Leverett, who was active for the first time in 2021, finished the game.

The patch-work offensive line gave up only one sack to the Colts.

Also, linebacker Devin White, cornerback Jamel Dean and safety/nickel back Mike Edwards were injured against the Colts.

“Devin we’ll see,” said Arians, who’s comfortable giving Monday injury reports. “We’ll limit him Wednesday and Thursday and see what he can do. He did finish the game. He wasn’t (the usual) Devin, but he gutted it out. Dean, again, he’s a wait-and-see guy with a bruised shoulder. It doesn’t look like there’s any structural damage. It’s a pain-tolerance thing. That’s pretty much it. Mike Edwards bruised his knee on that kickoff-return tackle, we’ll wait and see on him.”

5. Falcons injury report: The Falcons generally are pretty healthy, with only linebacker Deion Jones (shoulder), cornerback Kendall Sheffield (hamstring) and defensive tackle Jonathan Bullard (ankle) missing the last game because of injury. There is no update on Calvin Ridley’s status as he’s on the non-football injury list to deal with his mental well-being.

6. Series history: This will be the 57th meeting between the two franchises. The series is tied 28-28.

Brady is 3-0 against the Falcons since joining the Bucs, who have won four of the past five matchups.

“We’ve got to be ready to go,” Smith said. “Guys should be excited. It’s a big divisional game for us on Sunday here. So, looking forward to the challenge. Good opportunity for us.”

7. Betting line: The Falcons opened as double-digit underdogs of 10-points in their rematch with the Buccaneers in the early betting line set by betonline.ag Sunday.

The line has since gone up to 11.5 points.

The over/under was set at 50.5 points. The Bucs defeated the Falcons 48-25 on Sept. 19.

caption arrowCaption
Devin Hester pays tribute to Deion Sanders as he avoids a tackle attempt by punter Michael Koenen on his way to returning a punt for a touchdown during a game Sept. 18, 2014, at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

Credit: Scott Cunningham

Devin Hester pays tribute to Deion Sanders as he avoids a tackle attempt by punter Michael Koenen on his way to returning a punt for a touchdown during a game Sept. 18, 2014, at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
caption arrowCaption
Devin Hester pays tribute to Deion Sanders as he avoids a tackle attempt by punter Michael Koenen on his way to returning a punt for a touchdown during a game Sept. 18, 2014, at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

Credit: Scott Cunningham

Credit: Scott Cunningham

8. PFHOF semifinalists: Returner Devin Hester (Falcons 2014-15) and defensive end Robert Mathis (McNair High) were among the seven first-year eligible players of the 26 modern-era semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2022.

Defensive lineman Richard Seymour and wide receiver Hines Ward, who both played at the University of Georgia, also are semifinalists. Ward played at Forest Park High.

Former Falcons assistant coach Bryant Young is a semifinalist.

The list includes 17 players who were semifinalist for the Class of 2021.

The other modern-era players making the cut to semifinalist in their first year of eligibility are wide receiver Anquan Boldin, wide receiver Andre Johnson, wide receiver Steve Smith, wide receiver DeMarcus Ware and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. Each last played in the 2016 season.

To be considered for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a nominated individual must not have participated as an active player for five consecutive seasons.

Running back Eddie George, who retired following the 2004 season, reached the semifinalist stage for the first time. Running back Ricky Watters, who retired in 2001, made the list for a second time.

The 26 semifinalists will be reduced again – to 15 finalists – before the final voting process for the Class of 2022.

The following is the list of 2022 modern-era player semifinalists, including their positions, years and teams. Also listed are the number of times and years the candidate has been named a semifinalist since this reduction vote was added to the Bylaws for the Selection Committee in 2004.

· Eric Allen, CB – 1988-1994 Philadelphia Eagles, 1995-97 New Orleans Saints, 1998-2001 Oakland Raiders | (Times as a Semifinalist: 2 – 2021-22)

· Jared Allen, DE – 2004-07 Kansas City Chiefs, 2008-2013 Minnesota Vikings, 2014-15 Chicago Bears, 2015 Carolina Panthers | (Times as a Semifinalist: 2 – 2021-22)

· Willie Anderson, T – 1996-2007 Cincinnati Bengals, 2008 Baltimore Ravens | (Times as a Semifinalist: 2 – 2021-22)

· Ronde Barber, CB-S – 1997-2012 Tampa Bay Buccaneers | (Times as a Semifinalist: 5 – 2018-2022)

· Anquan Boldin, WR – 2003-09 Arizona Cardinals, 2010-12 Baltimore Ravens, 2013-15 San Francisco 49ers, 2016 Detroit Lions | (Times as a Semifinalist: 1 – 2022)

· Tony Boselli, T – 1995-2001 Jacksonville Jaguars, 2002 Houston Texans (injured reserve) | (Times as a Semifinalist: 7 – 2016-2022)

· LeRoy Butler, S – 1990-2001 Green Bay Packers | (Times as a Semifinalist: 5 – 2018-2022)

· Eddie George, RB – 1996-2003 Houston Oilers/Tennessee Oilers-Titans, 2004 Dallas Cowboys | (Times as a Semifinalist: 1 – 2022)

· Devin Hester, PR-KR-WR – 2006-2013 Chicago Bears, 2014-15 Atlanta Falcons, 2016 Baltimore Ravens | (Times as a Semifinalist: 1 – 2022)

· Torry Holt, WR – 1999-2008 St. Louis Rams, 2009 Jacksonville Jaguars | (Times as a Semifinalist: 8 – 2015-2022)

· Andre Johnson, WR – 2003-2014 Houston Texans, 2015 Indianapolis Colts, 2016, Tennessee Titans | (Times as a Semifinalist: 1 – 2022)

· Robert Mathis, DE-LB – 2003-2016 Indianapolis Colts | (Times as a Semifinalist: 1 – 2022)

· Sam Mills, LB – 1986-1994 New Orleans Saints, 1995-97 Carolina Panthers | (Times as a Semifinalist: 5 – 2016, 2019-2022)

· Richard Seymour, DE-DT – 2001-08 New England Patriots, 2009-2012 Oakland Raiders | (Times as a Semifinalist: 5 – 2018-2022)

· Steve Smith, WR – 2001-2013 Carolina Panthers, 2014-16 Baltimore Ravens | (Times as a Semifinalist: 1 – 2022)

· Steve Tasker, ST-WR – 1985-86 Houston Oilers, 1986-1997 Buffalo Bills | (Times as a Semifinalist: 9 – 2004, 2008-2010, 2012-13, 2020-22)

· Fred Taylor, RB – 1998-2008 Jacksonville Jaguars, 2009-2010 New England Patriots | (Times as a Semifinalist: 3 – 2020-22)

· Zach Thomas, LB – 1996-2007 Miami Dolphins, 2008 Dallas Cowboys | (Times as a Semifinalist: 4 – 2019-2022)

· Hines Ward, WR – 1998-2011 Pittsburgh Steelers | (Times as a Semifinalist: 6 – 2017-2022)

· DeMarcus Ware, LB-DE – 2005-2013 Dallas Cowboys, 2014-16 Denver Broncos | (Times as a Semifinalist: 1 – 2022)

· Ricky Watters, RB – 1992-94 San Francisco 49ers, 1995-97 Philadelphia Eagles, 1998-2001 Seattle Seahawks | (Times as a Semifinalist: 2 – 2020, 2022)

· Reggie Wayne, WR – 2001-2014 Indianapolis Colts | (Times as a Semifinalist: 3 – 2020-22)

· Vince Wilfork, DT – 2004-2014 New England Patriots, 2015-16 Houston Texans | (Times as a Semifinalist: 1 – 2022)

· Patrick Willis, LB – 2007-2014 San Francisco 49ers | (Times as a Semifinalist: 3 – 2020-22)

· Darren Woodson, S – 1992-2003 Dallas Cowboys | (Times as a Semifinalist: 6 – 2015, 2017, 2019-2022)

· Bryant Young, DT – 1994-2007 San Francisco 49ers | (Times as a Semifinalist: 3 – 2020-22)

The list of semifinalists was reduced from an initial group of 123 nominees announced in September. The next step in the selection process comes when the Semifinalists are trimmed to 15 modern-era player finalists.

That list increases to 18 finalists with the inclusion of the recommended nominees of the Hall of Fame’s Coach, Contributor and Senior Committees: Dick Vermeil, Art McNally and Cliff Branch, respectively.

The Hall of Fame’s 49-person selection committee will select the Class of 2022 in advance of Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles. The class will be announced live on the “NFL Honors” telecast scheduled to air at 9 p.m. Feb. 10.

While there is no set number for any class of enshrinees, the Bylaws for the Selection Committee provide that between four and eight new members will be selected.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2022 will be enshrined in August (anticipated date: Aug. 6) in Canton as part of the 2022 Enshrinement Week.

9. Depth chart: After Cordarrelle Patterson rushed for 108 yards and two touchdowns against the Jaguars, it’s pretty safe to move him ahead of Mike Davis and declare him the RB1.

The team’s official depth chart was released on Tuesday with Davis still as the RB1.

The Falcons also activated offensive guard Josh Andrews and released cornerback Chris Williamson.

Punter Dustin Colquitt remains on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Here’s the Falcons’ official depth chart for the Bucs’ game:

OFFENSE

WR - Tajae Sharpe, Christian Blake, (Calvin Ridley on the NFI list)

TE - Kyle Pitts, Parker Hesse

LT - Jake Matthews, Jason Spriggs

LG - Jaylen Mayfield, Josh Andrews

C - Matt Hennessy, Drew Dalman

RG - Chris Lindstrom, Drew Dalman

RT – Kaleb McGarry, Jason Spriggs, Colby Gossett

TE – Lee Smith, *Keith Smith (Has not lined up as traditional TE), *Feleipe Franks (was part of TE/QB package)

WR - Russell Gage, Olamide Zaccheaus, Frank Darby

RB - Cordarrelle Patterson, Mike Davis, Wayne Gallman (The team still list Davis is No. 1, but we all know the real deal)

*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, *Anthony Rush, Ta’Quon Graham

L - Jonathan Bullard, Mike Pennel, John Cominsky

OLB - Dante Fowler, Brandon Copeland

ILB - Deion Jones, Mykal Walker

ILB - Foyesade Oluokun, Emmanuel Ellerbee

OLB – Adetokunbo Ogundeji, James Vaughters, Steven Means (designated to return, 21 practice window is open)

LCB - A.J. Terrell, Darren Hall

FS - Erik Harris, Jaylinn Hawkins, Cordarrelle Patterson

SS - Duron Harmon, Richie Grant

RCB - Fabian Moreau, Avery Williams, Kendall Sheffield

SPECIAL TEAMS

K - Younghoe Koo

P – Thomas Morstead, Dustin Colquitt (On COVID-19 list)

LS - Josh Harris

H - Thomas Morstead, Dustin Colquitt (On COVID-19 list

PR - Avery Williams, Olamide Zaccheaus

KOR - Avery Williams, Cordarrelle Patterson

The Bow Tie Chronicles

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Falcons’ 2021 schedule features trip to London, January trip to Buffalo

Atlanta Falcons schedule and scores

Eagles 32, Falcons 6

Buccaneers 48, Falcons 25

Falcons 17, Giants 14

Washington 34, Falcons 30

Falcons 27, Jets 20

Bye Week

Falcons 30, Dolphins 28

Panthers 19, Falcons 13

Falcons 27, Saints 25

Cowboys 43, Falcons 3

Patriots 25, Falcons 0

Falcons 21, Jaguars 14

Next four games

Tampa Bay at Falcons, 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 5

Falcons at Carolina, 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 12

Falcons at San Francisco, 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 19

Detroit Lions at Falcons, 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 26

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