In part, that may explain why his production was off from last season, when he had more than 1,000 yards receiving.
“I’ll never put substance into that,” Mariota said when asked about Pitts’ injuries and the production. “Everyone is dealing with something. It’s kind of the nature of playing football. Unfortunately, with the injury that he has now, first and foremost, the thing is to get him healthy and get him right. Then we’ll get back at it.”
Pitts has caught 28 of 59 targets (47.5%) for 356 yards and two touchdowns this season. He dropped three passes, according to Pro Football Reference. Pitts caught 68 passes for 1,026 yards last season as a rookie with Matt Ryan at quarterback.
The Falcons will turn to Parker Hesse and MyCole Pruitt to help replace Pitts in the lineup. Anthony Firkser and Feleipe Franks also are on the roster. Franks missed the past two games with a calf injury, but returned to practice Wednesday.
“I’m going to take the same approach,” Pruitt said. “I’ve been ready this whole time to take on whatever is thrown at me, so it’s going to be that same approach. ... That’s just going to be the game plan.”
The Falcons also will use different personnel groupings to replace Pitts.
“It’s our job as coaches to adapt and evolve,” Smith said. “Our team is dealing with something. We got the right guys out there and guys that can play multiple roles for us and have done it.”
None of the options will replace Pitts’ pass-catching ability.
“There are a lot of things we can do to manufacture things in the different personnel groups,” Smith said. “All of our wideouts, and we have (running backs Cordarrelle Patterson) and Avery (Williams).”
The Falcons had to replace Patterson for four games earlier this season. Tyler Allgeier, Caleb Huntley and Williams stepped up and played well.
“It’s kind of a similar situation with Kyle,” Mariota said. “He turned into one of our better blocking tight ends. He’s such a force in the passing game. So, to fill that void you got to have a couple of guys step up.”
Mariota is not sure if teams will play the Falcons differently with Pitts out. Perhaps rookie wide receiver Drake London will get more attention.
“We’ll have to see,” Mariota said. “We’ll see starting Sunday, but the way we run the football and those types of things, it’s hard to say.”
The Falcons are a half-game back of Tampa Bay (5-5) in the NFC South. The Bucs play at the Browns on Sunday. A Falcons win and a Bucs loss, and the Falcons are back in first place.
The Falcons, who have not been over the .500 mark since the end of the 2017 season, would improve to 6-6 with a win over the Commanders.
“We talk about it all the time,” Mariota said of the playoffs. “When you’re playing meaningful football in this part of the year, you’re doing some things right.”
The Falcons play the Steelers (3-7) a week from Sunday and then head into the bye week.
“What’s cool about us is that we can continue to improve, and with this young group of guys that we have, there’s no complacency. Everyone’s trying to get better,” Mariota said. “If you can continue to grow and continue to stack days up on each other as you get later in the year, you’ll kind of like where you’re at.”
After the bye, the Falcons close out with four games – at the Saints on Dec. 18, at the Ravens on Dec. 24, at home against the Cardinals on Jan. 1 and the season finale against the Bucs on Jan. 8.
“If we can string these together, I think when we get to the point when the season is done, we’ll be excited about it,” Mariota said.
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Atlanta Falcons 2022 schedule
Sept. 11: Saints 27, Falcons 26
Sept. 18: Rams 31, Falcons 27
Sept. 25 Falcons 27, Seahawks 23
Oct. 2 Falcons 23, Browns 20
Oct. 9 Buccaneers 21, Falcons 15
Oct. 16 Falcons 28, 49ers 14
Oct. 23 Bengals 35, Falcons 17
Oct. 30 Falcons 37, Panthers 34 OT
Nov. 6 Chargers 20, Falcons 17
Nov. 10 Panthers 25, Falcons 15
Nov. 20 Falcons 27, Bears 24
Nov. 27 at Washington, 1 p.m.
Dec. 4 vs. Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.
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