Arthur Smith Defends Kyle Pitts Usage in Falcons Loss vs. Bengals

Kyle Pitts

Getty Kyle Pitts's lack of targets has been addressed by Falcons' head coach Arthur Smith.

Arthur Smith doesn’t see a problem with how the Atlanta Falcons use Kyle Pitts, but the numbers show otherwise. Pitts, the fourth player drafted in 2021 and a record-breaking tight end as a rookie, caught just three passes for nine yards during Week 7’s deflating 35-17 defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals.

The other supposed go-to target in the Falcons’ passing game hardly fared any better. Drake London was the first wide receiver taken in this year’s draft, but he made only one catch in Cincinnati.

Smith Offers Defiant Response to Pitts/London’s Lack of Targets

Pitts’ paltry yardage came from only three catches on five targets, while London was targeted just once, according to Pro Football Reference. It doesn’t look like the Falcons are doing all they can to get two walking coverage mismatches involved, but Smith doesn’t see it that way.

The head coach said Pitts “is targeted plenty in our offense,” per Josh Kendall of The Athletic. On the subject of London, Smith also said “those guys continue to be a big part of our offense like they always are.”

Smith can be bullish in the face of criticism all he wants, but the numbers just don’t support his view Pitts and London “always are” big parts of the passing game. Even a cursory glance at Pitts’ statistics this season, courtesy of StatMuse, reveals how little he’s being used:

London’s early-season emergence as a legitimate NFL playmaker contributed to Pitts’ reduced workload. Yet, as Kendall pointed out, London’s involvement has decreased sharply the last five weeks: “Drake London had 13 catches for 160 yards in the first two games. He has 13 catches for 155 yards in the last five games.”

No matter how Smith chooses to frame it, the Falcons aren’t making the most of two big-play targets. Smith’s scheme is one reason why, but the bigger issue concerns inconsistent performances from football’s most important position.

Scheme, QB Not Helping Pitts and London

It’s no secret Smith likes to see his offense run the ball. The Falcons have run 231 times, second only to the New York Giants in the entire league.

Smith’s commitment to the ground game has served the Falcons well this season, but his rigid fidelity to the run can be a problem when his team is trailing. The Falcons were 21-7 down late in the second quarter, but that didn’t stop Smith from keeping the ball on the deck, per RotoBaller’s Adam Koffler:

Any time a team runs the ball as often as the Falcons, receivers are going to need to be patient waiting for opportunities. The success of those opportunities depends on efficiency from the quarterback position, something the Falcons didn’t get from Marcus Mariota in Week 7.

Atlanta’s starter completed just eight of his 13 passes for a mere 124 yards. Mariota compiled 75 of those yards on his lone touchdown pass to Damiere Byrd:

It’s a play Smith credited to “the defensive attention paid to Pitts,” according to Kendall. While it’s true Pitts can take coverage away from Mariota’s other receivers, that doesn’t fully explain how little he’s seeing of the ball.

The explanation doesn’t stand up when Mariota has admitted he needs to look Pitts’ way even if No. 8 is covered, per Falcons beat reporter Tori McElhaney:

Both Mariota and Smith are talking a big game about keeping Pitts in the loop, but that’s not how things are playing out on the field. Instead, Pitts’ lack of usage is becoming a worrying theme of the Falcons’ season.

This is the second time Smith has spoken out against criticism of Pitts’ role. He called Pitts “a huge part of our offense” after the 22-year-old made just two catches for 19 yards during a defeat to the Los Angeles Rams.

Smith is getting good at swatting these questions aside, but the issue isn’t going to go away until the Falcons find ways to make the best athlete in their receiving corps more of a factor.