Falcons’ Kyle Pitts attracting heavy coverage early in season

INGELWOOD, Calif. – The Saints and Rams were obviously impressed with Kyle Pitts’ rookie season.

In the first two games of the season, both teams’ defensive signal callers – Dennis Allen and Raheem Morris – committed a great deal of resources to take the second-year tight end out of the Falcons’ offense.

Pitts was targeted seven times and caught two passes for 19 yards in the 27-26 loss to the Saints. He was targeted four times (counting a pass interference call) and caught two passes for 19 yards in the 31-27 loss to the Rams.

Pitts, who was the fourth player taken in the 2021 NFL draft by the Falcons, caught 68 passes for 1,028 yards and a touchdown last season as a rookie.

He’s on pace for 34 catches and 323 yards after two games.

Coming into the 2022 season, Pitts was the most potent known commodity on the Falcons’ offense along with running back/wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. So, it was no surprise that teams would focus on those two players early in the season.

Patterson had just one target against the Rams.

For the Falcons, its not a situation where they want to force passes into Pitts.

“Kyle is a huge part of our offense,” said Falcons coach Arthur Smith, who’s the offense’s play-caller. “The thing is that you have to take it with context. We’re trying to win and he has a huge impact on the game. So, that’s a really good front.”

The Rams defense was anchored by perennial All-Pro players in defensive tackle Aaron Donald and linebacker Bobby Wagner. Pitts had to help with some of the blocking. The Falcons did lose Wagner on a key third down on their open drive and he had a free run to a quarterback sack.

“(Donald is) probably the most dominant interior pass rusher in the last decade,” Smith said. “So, when you are sitting there and using different things and you’re trying to stay on track because the guy can be a nightmare, Kyle is such an important piece.”

With Pitts pulling the coverage in his direction, Falcons rookie wide receiver Drake London was the beneficiary of 12 targets. Also, KhaDarel Hodge caught two passes for 57 yards, including a 39-yarder.

“A perfect example is, you target him on one and if they cover him or account for him, then Hodge comes in there and makes a big play,” Smith said. “It happened a few times. Things like that.”

Quarterback Marcus Mariota agrees with Smith on how they have used Pitts.

“Week in and week out, it’s going to depend,” Mariota said. “They did a good job. There were a couple of moments where they were doubling him. There were a couple of moments with just the way the game flows.”

The Falcons are preaching patience.

“He’s going to get his targets,” Mariota said. “He’s going to find the ball. The ball will come to him. It’s just that these first couple of weeks that just hasn’t happened that way.”

By way of contrast, the Rams are force-feeding wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who was the offensive player of the year last season. He was targeted 15 times and caught 13 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown in the Rams’ 31-10 loss to the Bills. Kupp was targeted 14 times and had 11 catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns against the Falcons. He also had the big fumble late in the game while in coverage against cornerback Darren Hall.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford has been accused of locking in on Kupp, while Mariota has chosen to spread the passes arounid to nine different receivers in the Saints game and eight in the Rams game.

Mariota doesn’t plan to start forcing the ball to Pitts.

“We’ve got to continue to find ways to spread the ball around because I think we’ve got a great group,” Mariota said.

So why are the Falcons letting the defense dictate the flow of getting the ball to Pitts?

“It’s not fantasy football,” Smith said. “We are just trying to win. We’ll continue to look at everything and try to get better.”

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Atlanta Falcons 2022 NFL schedule

Sept. 11: Saints 27, Falcons 26

Sept. 18: Rams 31, Falcons 27

Sept. 25 at Seattle, 4:25 p.m.

Oct. 2 vs. Cleveland, 1 p.m.

Oct. 9 at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.

Oct. 16 vs. San Francisco, 1 p.m.

Oct. 23 at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.

Oct. 30 vs. Carolina, 1 p.m.

Nov. 6 vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 1 p.m.

Nov. 10 at Carolina, 8:15 p.m.

Nov. 20 vs. Chicago, 1 p.m.

Nov. 27 at Washington, 1 p.m.

Dec. 4 vs. Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.

BYE WEEK

Dec. 18 at New Orleans, TBD

Dec. 24 at Baltimore, 1 p.m.

Jan. 1 vs. Arizona, 1 p.m.

Jan. 8 vs. Tampa Bay, TBD

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