INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Kyle Pitts made it clear multiple times: No, the star tight end is not frustrated by his lack of production in the Atlanta Falcons offense. He understands what he’s being asked to do.
He understands, too, that not everything about what he has done — or not done — on the field this season is about him.
“It’s early. It’s a long season. It’s 17 games,” Pitts said. “Could go farther. So I’m not getting frustrated.”
Pitts said his production begins with winning his individual assignments and then converting the targets he is thrown. And those two things have been, well, part of the issue.
In Sunday’s 31-27 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, Atlanta targeted Pitts four times. He caught two passes for 19 yards. Even that is somewhat of a misnomer because one of those targets (it’s not a credited one in the official stat book) was nullified because of a defensive pass interference call. That gave the Falcons 36 yards on a spot foul.
Add those yards to Pitts’ total and perhaps there are not as many questions about his statistical usage so far. The Falcons are trying to scheme for Pitts – a source told ESPN that 13 of Atlanta’s passing plays Sunday had Pitts as the primary target – the production just hasn’t come yet.
Pitts, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2021 draft, has to win his matchups better. He openly admitted that Sunday, and according to NFL Next Gen Stats, his average yards of separation when the ball arrives is 2.11 yards – No. 27 among qualifying tight ends and No. 138 among all pass-catchers, between Baltimore wide receiver Devin Duvernay and Jacksonville receiver Zay Jones. Sometimes the quarterback, Marcus Mariota, sees something else. Defenses are paying attention to Pitts, too.
“A guy like that, you have to be conscious and aware of where he’s at and that was the main thing,” Rams linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “They move him all over the place. … They flex him out. They do a lot of things so just understanding what they like to do with him in certain situations, we were pretty much on him.”
So far, the Falcons have done what they did a season ago – moving Pitts everywhere. In the first two games, he has run 12 routes out of the tight end position on the left, 11 out of the slot on the left, nine out wide on the right, eight in the slot on the right, seven out wide on the left and four at tight end on the right.
Remember, too, that Pitts will sometimes have games like this. He had under 30 yards receiving in four games last season — although one, the season finale against New Orleans — was due to injury.
He had two receptions in five games last season, too, and had a back-to-back stretch against New England and Jacksonville similar to the start of his season now, where he had three catches for 29 yards and then two for 26 the following week.
He then had over 60 yards receiving in four of his next five games.
So there is some precedent for Pitts’ current production — and for him being able to bounce back. In Week 1, he was targeted seven times and only caught two passes … again, for 19 yards.
“I’m not going to coaches and yelling. I’m not going to Marcus and yelling,” Pitts said. “It is what it is. It’s a long season.”
Any frustration Pitts has, he says, is with himself because of his own expectations. And there are things Pitts is doing that aren’t obvious statistically. He’s blocking more and better than last year — important for tight ends — and the attention he’s getting from opposing defenses has helped open up rookie receiver Drake London to emerge with 13 catches for 160 yards.
With the Falcons facing a line with defensive linemanAaron Donald on it, Pitts had to pay a little more attention to blocking than in some other weeks. Falcons coach Arthur Smith specifically pointed to plays where the Rams paid so much attention to Pitts, it opened up plays for others, including receiver KhaDarel Hodge, who had two catches for 57 yards.
“It happened a few times, things like that. It’s not fantasy football,” Smith said. “We’re just trying to win, and we’ll continue to look at everything and try to get better.”