If you followed along with us here last year, you know this space was basically a Kyle Pitts fan blog. How could it not be in 2021? Big games and highlight catches helped Pitts became only the second rookie tight end ever with over 1,000 yards and the first to pair it with over 65 receptions. He made the Pro Bowl as a 21-year-old and appeared destined for even bigger and better things in 2022.
Cue the record scratch sound effect. After 68 catches for 1,026 yards in that rookie campaign, Pitts has 10 grabs for 150 yards through the first month of 2022 — projected over 17 games, that would amount to 42 for 637.
There are many reasons for the lackluster numbers so far.
The Falcons have gone from a pass-first team with Matt Ryan at quarterback to a run-first team with Marcus Mariota. Last year, Atlanta ran the ball on 39 percent of offensive plays; this season, they are running it 55 percent of the time.
Pitts is averaging one less target per game this year than he did in 2021, and the throws that are coming his way are not as accurate as they were last year. Ryan completed 67 percent of his passes last year; Mariota’s at 58 percent.
And when Pitts is on the field, his usage is often baffling. Here, we see him used as an inline blocker while a fullback and backup tight end run routes.
Wonder why Kyle Pitts isn't producing? Part of it's on Arthur Smith. Here you have back to back plays where the Falcons are in heavy personnel and they keep #8 in protection while deploying FB Keith Smith or "TE" Parkers Hesse on vertical routes. Why tf not switch roles? pic.twitter.com/ABmWK6TiPb— Alberto Cantù (@belloe_belloe) October 4, 2022
After only one score last season, Pitts said producing in the red zone was a priority. Instead, he has one target in the red zone this year. He’s been on the sidelines for too many red zone snaps — and on the field, he’s often running routes that aren’t a threat to score at all.
What's even more maddening at times is his usage in clear dropback situations. Why is he running a flat route out of the backfield on third and goal? pic.twitter.com/i95TRiMt8s— Alberto Cantù (@belloe_belloe) October 4, 2022
One bright spot, theoretically? Mariota has been aggressive in targeting Pitts has been vertically. It’s a great idea given his not-of-this-Earth combination of size and speed.
NFL Air Yards Leaders:— Michael Leone (@2Hats1Mike) October 4, 2022
1) Chris Olave 673
2) Tyreek Hill 453
3) CeeDee Lamb 440
4) Davante Adams 438
5) AJ Brown 425
1) Mark Andrews 414
2) Kyle Pitts 346
3) Darren Waller 273
4) Travis Kelce 269
5) Pat Freiermuth 246
But again, Mariota’s inaccuracy really hinders this approach. We’re seeing a lot of this.
Kyle Pitts goes for 162 and a tuddy if Mariota doesn’t sail this pass into northern Saskatchewan.— Kyle Lindemann (@LuckIsMadeFF) September 26, 2022
Stick with me on Pitts. Arthur Smith has heard our call. The monster game is coming. pic.twitter.com/3RKY3u4qkQ
Mariota should keep trying the deep targets. They’ll hit on enough of them to make it worthwhile to try two or three every game. But the Falcons also have to get Pitts involved in the short passing attack, where he’s been basically invisible.
Kyle Pitts still has more targets 20+ yards downfield (7) than he does in the 0-9 yard range (6)— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) October 4, 2022
Arthur Smith has repeatedly said he doesn’t care about stats and is instead focused on wins. The Falcons have exceeded rather low expectations so far by going 2-2. But over the past two seasons, Atlanta is 4-0 when Pitts has 80 or more receiving yards. Common sense tells you that featuring your generational offensive talent more in the passing game will lead to good things.
There is still time for Pitts to turn it on and break out of this early season funk, of course — and historical precedent for doing so. In his first four games last season, Pitts only had 15 catches for 189 yards, not that far ahead of this year’s totals. And in Week 5 in 2021, Pitts broke out with nine grabs for 119 yards and his only touchdown.
But with Mariota and an offense dedicated to running the ball, it’s uncertain if we’ll see the same explosion from Pitts this year.
Keanu Neal had his best game of the season Sunday night despite the Buccaneers getting routed by the Chiefs. He had six tackles and was making plays around the line of scrimmage and in the backfield.
Carlos Dunlap didn’t have anything in the box score from that game, but he had some pressures on Tom Brady and might have been held a couple times with no calls.
Nice piece by the Chiefs on Dunlap below. It hits on career goals and accomplishments including what getting his 100th sack — he’s at 98 — would mean to him.
Dante Fowler had another sack and two tackles for loss in just a handful of snaps for the Cowboys. Fowler and Dunlap both have two sacks this season to lead all former Gators — Jon Greenard is right behind with 1.5.
Ed-dy! Piñeiro is up to 27 made field goals in a row dating back to 2019. He’s also perfect on extra points so far this season. The all-time field goal streak is 44, set by Adam Vinatieri.
Zach Carter earned the first start of his professional career last week. He was credited with only one tackle but did a nice job holding the point of attack and limiting space for Miami’s run game. The Bengals lost D.J. Reader to injured reserve, so Carter should see increased playing time the next few weeks.
Marcell Harris saw his most significant action of 2022 and delivered seven tackles.
David Sharpe was elevated by the Ravens from the practice squad to the active roster, but did not see game action.
Player of the Week
For the second straight season, Florida has one of the most exciting offensive rookies in the league.
While the Texans may be 0-3-1 They still have a top 10 RB in the NFL on their team:— Drew (@IndepthTexans) October 4, 2022
Dameon Pierce. pic.twitter.com/U0Qi3cGytb
Dameon Pierce has staked an early claim to Offensive Rookie of the Year by improving his yardage totals every week and scoring TDs in two straight. He’s 10th in the league in rushing with 313 yards on a healthy 5.2 yards per carry. Incredibly per Next Gen Stats, Pierce is third in the league with 301 yards after contact.
Maybe the biggest knock on Pierce coming out of Florida was a perceived lack of breakaway speed.
Dameon Pierce breakout game pic.twitter.com/J8l29sidWH— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) October 4, 2022
Let’s just say I think he’s fast enough.
Play of the Week
My rule is always no double dipping on the player of the week and the play of the week so Pierce’s 75-yard house call is out. Instead, how about some pancakes courtesy of Trent Brown?
Trent Brown on the frontside of outside zone has been a monster this year, whether widening & creating a lane inside or hooking and creating a lane outside. pic.twitter.com/bpBGMEoIhN— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) October 5, 2022
Here are all of the Week 4 stats (ranked and tiered in order of performance):
- Dameon Pierce, HOU, RB
Week 4: 14 rush, 131 yards, 1 TD, 6 rec, 8 yards, 39 snaps (68%)
- Dante Fowler, Jr., DAL, OLB
Week 4: 1.0 sacks, 2 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 QB hits, 26 snaps (35%)
- Keanu Neal, TB, S
Week 4: 6 tackles, 1 QB hit, 46 snaps (57%), 7 ST snaps (23%)
- Marcell Harris, NYJ, LB/S
Week 4: 7 tackles, 28 snaps (44%), 9 ST snaps (35%)
- Trent Brown, NE, RT
Week 4: 58 snaps (100%)
- Alex Anzalone, DET, LB
Week 4: 6 tackles, 1 TFL, 70 snaps (100%)
- Jonathan Greenard, HOU, DE
Week 4: 2 tackles, 1 TFL, 38 snaps (54%)
- Jawaan Taylor, JAX, RT
Week 4: 1 tackle, 47 snaps (100%)
- Evan McPherson, CIN, K
Week 4: 2/2 FG, Long 57, 3/3 XP
- Demarcus Robinson, KC, WR
Week 3: 2 rec, 10 yards, 39 snaps (56%)
- Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, PHI, S
Week 4: 2 tackles, 47 snaps (100%)
- D.J. Humphries, ARI, LT
Week 4: 76 snaps (100%)
- Kaiir Elam, BUF, CB
Week 4: 4 tackles, 69 snaps (99%)
- Kyle Pitts, ATL, TE
Week 4: 1 rec, 4 targets, 25 yards, 34 snaps (62%)
- C.J. Henderson, CAR, CB
Week 4: 4 tackles, 1 TFL, 32 snaps (42%)
- Eddy Piñeiro, CAR, K
Week 4: 1/1 FG, Long 54, 1/1 XP
- Marco Wilson, ARI, CB
Week 4: 2 tackles, 51 snaps (98%)
- Max Garcia, ARI, G
Week 4: 63 snaps (83%), 4 ST snaps (17%)
- Tommy Townsend, KC, P
Week 4: 1 punt, 43.0 avg
- Brandon Powell, LAR, WR
Week 4: 1 rush, 11 yards, 3 KR, 19.3 avg, 6 snaps (8%), 14 ST snaps (56%)
- Zach Carter, CIN, DT
Week 4: 1 tackle, 24 snaps (38%), 5 ST snaps (18%)
- Jonathan Bullard, MIN, DT
Week 4: 1 tackle, 17 snaps (28%)
- T.J. Slaton, GB, DT
Week 4: 1 tackle, 14 snaps (24%), 9 ST snaps (28%)
- Carlos Dunlap, KC, DE
Week 4: no stats, 28 snaps (44%)
- Teez Tabor, SEA, S
Week 4: 1 tackle, 18 ST snaps (55%)
- Jon Bostic, WAS, LB
Week 4: no stats, 22 ST snaps (73%)
- Feleipe Franks, ATL, TE
Week 3: 5 snaps (9%), 3 ST snaps (12%)
- Stone Forsythe, SEA, T
Week 4: 9 ST snaps (27%)
- Fred Johnson, TB, G/T
Week 4: 5 ST snaps (17%)
- David Sharpe, BAL, T
Week 4: Active but did not play
- Marcus Maye, NO, S: Inactive (Ribs)
- Kadarius Toney, NYG, WR: Inactive (Hamstring)
- Taven Bryan, CLE, DT: Inactive (Hamstring)
- Tyrie Cleveland, DEN, WR: Inactive (Hamstring)
- Kyle Trask, TB, QB: Inactive
- Van Jefferson, LAR, WR: Injured Reserve (Knee)
The Practice Squad
- Freddie Swain, MIA, WR
- Malik Davis, DAL, RB
- Jarrad Davis, DET, LB
- Jeff Driskel, QB, HOU
- Jeremiah Moon, BAL, LB
- Jabari Zuniga, SEA, DE
- Quincy Wilson, PIT, DB