Despite a terrible fourth quarter in Tampa Sunday, there were positive signs of improvement for the Atlanta Falcons. One of the most encouraging was the play of rookie tight end Kyle Pitts.
Like a vast majority of the Falcons, the 2021 No. 4 overall pick was a disappointment in the season-opening blowout loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. He caught only four passes for 31 yards and committed a penalty inside the Eagles' 10-yard line. His highlight was a fourth-and-one conversion, where he made a reception for ... one yard.
Against the Buccaneers in Week 2, Pitts showed flashes why he is the highest selected tight end in NFL history. Leading the Falcons in receiving, Pitts caught five of six passes thrown his way for 73 yards. His highlight was a beautiful catch on third-and-seven, where he had to contort his body to haul in a ball thrown behind him.
Pitts made the catch three yards from the first-down line. But not only did he make the catch, he kept his balance, picked up the first down and ran another 20 yards.
The play tied for Atlanta's longest of the game. Atlanta's other play from scrimmage that went 24 yards was another Pitts reception.
"I thought Kyle did a nice job for us," Falcons' quarterback Matt Ryan said. "Made a couple good, explosive plays for us, caught contested balls. I thought his effort was awesome. I thought his route running was really good. I really think as he moves forward during the year, he’s going to continue getting better and better the more comfortable and more experienced he gets."
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It helped that Pitts was on the field more in his second game. He played 68.1% of the team's offensive snaps in Week 1. That's a significant amount, but his snap count percentage went up to 79.2% on Sunday.
Pitts wasn't on the field at all during Atlanta's first red-zone possession of the season in the first quarter against Philadelphia. In Week 2, he made his first red-zone catch - a seven-yard pass to the Tampa Bay 3-yard line.
The Falcons must use Pitts on all areas of the field, but the red zone is where he can help the most. Atlanta's offense greatly improved near the goal line in Week 2, scoring on three of its four red-zone possessions. The only occasion the Falcons didn't score a touchdown in the red zone Sunday was at the end of the first half when they ran out of time.
As Pitts gets more involved, the Falcons should become even more efficient near the goal line. The tight end's 6-foot-6 and 240-pound frame make him an excellent target in the end zone but also a decoy that will allow other Falcons playmakers to score.
It's always a work in progress for NFL rookies, but the Falcons drafted Pitts in part because he could make an immediate impact. He did a much better job of doing that in Week 2.
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