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How do you stop Kyle Pitts? Coaches sound off on ways defenses can slow the Falcons tight end (Hint: They can’t) - The Athletic


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by Tori McElhaney

 

One of the very first calls Tim Brewster made when he took over as the tight ends coach at Florida in 2020 was to Arthur Smith. The two go way back, having met years ago at a Duke-UNC basketball game. Tight ends coaches have a way of sticking together, so even though Smith has since found himself as the newest head coach and offensive play-caller of the Atlanta Falcons, he can’t forget his roots.

“I guess I do have a little bias towards tight ends,” Smith said. 

So, when Brewster made it to Gainesville and met the tight end he was inheriting, he knew Smith would be interested.

Kyle Pitts, Brewster told Smith, is the type of player you feel as much as you see.

“This is the thing I told Arthur: I have been doing this a long time. We’re in the indoor facility at Florida and we’re working and Pitts is running and I feel — I literally feel — his speed,” Brewster said. “When a thoroughbred runs by you, you feel them. That’s exactly how I felt with Pitts. I was like, ‘****. This guy can absolutely run.’ And when you look at his size, 6-6, 245 pounds, he’s a big man but he doesn’t run like one. I was like, ‘Oh Lord, aren’t we going to have some fun.’”

That surely has to be what Smith is thinking now after the Falcons selected Pitts with the No. 4 pick in this year’s draft. Pitts comes to Atlanta with a belief he will be the best to ever do it.

“I’ll put the money in the pot on myself,” Pitts said after being taken at No. 4.

We know what makes Pitts so good: how differently he’s built. Put on his tape, and you can’t ignore he’s a matchup nightmare. But what did this mean for opposing teams? The more I studied Pitts’ tape, the more I realized it was hard to spot trends in the ways teams tried to defend him.

So, I asked around, and pulled old quotes to help paint a clearer picture. From coaches new and old and some input from writers at The Athletic, here’s a comprehensive look at the answer to the question: How do you game plan for Kyle Pitts?

Brewster: “First off, the thought-process has got to be: ‘Somebody else will beat us. It will not be Pitts.’ That’s gotta be the thought-process from the defense every game: ‘We’re going to make them beat us left-handed. We’re not going to allow them just to boost the ball to Pitts.’ There’s nobody in college football that I believe does a better job than Dan Mullen by way of formation, motion and shift. By formation, motion and shift, he creates the identifiable matchups that we want, that we have to have.”

Pitts: “I think Coach Mullen did a great job in moving me around, making it easy for me to get mismatched with the guys that can’t guard me. It came with repetition, practice, great game planning. I appreciate Coach Mullen for dialing it up, making sure when I do go out into that lineup, I’m winning my matchups.”

G. Allan Taylor, The Athletic’s Florida beat writer: The versatility Pitts afforded Florida’s play-calling in 2019 was noticeable, but last season he truly developed into an anywhere/anytime weapon.”

Dan Mullen, Florida head coach: “When you’re in the meeting room and you’re designing a game plan, he’s awful fun to have. To have that little spot that you can go put up on the board and say, ‘How are we going to move him around?’”

Taylor: Elite SEC cornerbacks couldn’t handle him split wide, linebackers were helpless to keep up when he was attached, and Pitts frustrated double coverage with a knack for high-pointing 50/50 balls.”

Brewster: “But this is the thing with Kyle Pitts: If he’s on the backside of a three-by-one and he’s out there by himself, detached, most people would say: ‘Oh, here’s a 50/50 ball.’ With Kyle Pitts it’s not 50/50. It’s 80/20.

“The other thing that is just flat out amazing is teams tried to, and they really thought they could, press Kyle. I have never ever seen a big man work against press coverage like him. … I believe in this draft, Pitts was not only the best tight end but he was also the best wide receiver. The combination of the two of them is really striking.”

Justin Peelle, Falcons tight ends coach: “You saw a couple times where he would get the No. 1 defender. Against Alabama, there were a couple times (Patrick) Surtain was out there on him. Against South Carolina, (Jaycee Horn) lined up against him. Then, they’d roll coverage to him here and there. Teams were definitely, very much aware of where he was and what he was able to do.” 

Dane Brugler, The Athletic’s draft analyst: He should be evaluated more as a weapon than a traditional tight end.”

Brewster: “Defensively, they’re going to play us over the top. They’re going to play us underneath. They’re going to bracket him. We saw everything that you could see. Playing press-man, playing him over the top. The whole key towards this was staying patient and not letting the defense get in our heads.”

Taylor: “As a kid who grew up idolizing hard-hitting safeties and fire-snorting linebackers, watching Kyle Pitts put them in blender last season was nostalgically traumatic. His totals against the top half of SEC pass defenses? Six games, eight touchdowns, 28 catches, 462 yards. The times he outjumped double-coverage or snatched throws through impossibly tight windows made you wonder what more defensive coordinators could do. None of the tactics worked, because with Pitts shifting formations sideline to sideline, defenses couldn’t dictate.

“The only sure way to stop Pitts? Bury the quarterback before the ball comes out.” 

Smith: “We think we can play him in multiple spots. We view him as an offensive weapon. … He’s different. Usually, when you’re taking a tight end, they’ve been more of a receiver, or they’re an in-line guy. They’re going to be deficient. It’s hard the way offenses are playing now. You’re either taking an oversized receiver, trying to put him in-line, or you have an in-line guy that you hope to develop enough skill set that you hope he can do something in the passing game. But Kyle is unique.”

Brewster: “You know Arthur, he’s going to try to be laid back. He’s in his first (draft) press conference as the head coach. But inside? This dude knows what he’s got. He knows he’s got an amazing guy that he’s going to be scripting up plays for, getting touches for. God dang, it makes the game so much fun. It’s so exciting when you have somebody like that.”

Peelle: “(Dave) Brock’s got a decent (wide receivers) room already. He doesn’t need Kyle. Kyle is a tight end.”

Brewster: “I heard all the talk about him being a finesse guy, a big wide receiver type guy. He didn’t win the Mackey award as a sophomore because he didn’t have his hand down in the dirt enough. Those type of things. But here’s the thing, if I had to define him with one word it would be tough. I don’t think there are very many people who would say that because nobody knows him like I know him, probably his old tight ends coach would. But this guy is an absolute tough guy.

“There’s not going to be any talk about him being a finesse guy, a slot receiver, all this BS. He’s a tight end. And he’s a tight end, period.”

Pitts: “Just like Coach Mullen, Coach Smith, they love their tight ends. I’m eager to see how they make motions and mismatches in the offense. I’m eager to see how also he uses his all-stars, and to kind of throw me in the fire.”

Smith: “We anticipate he’ll have a huge role here.”

 

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Credit to Tori for finally putting in Solid work, other than peddling Jeff Schultz garbage. 

Who is going to cover Julio or Ridley? 

Quote

You saw a couple times where he would get the No. 1 defender. Against Alabama, there were a couple times (Patrick) Surtain was out there on him. Against South Carolina, (Jaycee Horn) lined up against him. Then, they’d roll coverage to him here and there. Teams were definitely, very much aware of where he was and what he was able to do.

 

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1 minute ago, falcons007 said:

Credit to Tori for finally putting in Solid work, other than peddling Jeff Schultz garbage. 

Who is going to cover Julio or Ridley? 

 

In 2012 when the Falcons had Julio, Roddy in his Prime, and the greatest TE in NFL history they said teams couldn’t double all three of them.

But as we saw before Julio got here teams could double Roddy and Tony and Jenkins couldn’t beat one on one coverage.

Julio will get doubled. The question is can Ridley consistently beat single coverage and force them to double him every snap?

Because if he can do that and Pitts can be as good as advertised then defenses will have a real problem.

Of course this is assuming the oline can pass protect Ryan

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4 minutes ago, Sun Tzu 7 said:

In 2012 when the Falcons had Julio, Roddy in his Prime, and the greatest TE in NFL history they said teams couldn’t double all three of them.

But as we saw before Julio got here teams could double Roddy and Tony and Jenkins couldn’t beat one on one coverage.

Julio will get doubled. The question is can Ridley consistently beat single coverage and force them to double him every snap?

Because if he can do that and Pitts can be as good as advertised then defenses will have a real problem.

Of course this is assuming the oline can pass protect Ryan

Falcons also have Hurst, compared to 2012. Ridley is a good route runner and he has shown ability to beat coverages in 2020. Falcons could run the ball down the opposing defenses if they go Nickle against 1-2 sets. What is AS going to call? 

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10 minutes ago, Sun Tzu 7 said:

In 2012 when the Falcons had Julio, Roddy in his Prime, and the greatest TE in NFL history they said teams couldn’t double all three of them.

But as we saw before Julio got here teams could double Roddy and Tony and Jenkins couldn’t beat one on one coverage.

Julio will get doubled. The question is can Ridley consistently beat single coverage and force them to double him every snap?

Because if he can do that and Pitts can be as good as advertised then defenses will have a real problem.

Of course this is assuming the oline can pass protect Ryan

LOL, Ridley already does smoke most Corners already.  Where you been bro?  This is before Pitts.  

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19 minutes ago, Sun Tzu 7 said:

Interesting.

Id really like to see the kid play before putting him in the HOF.

Is he basically Julio?

Time will tell…

One thing is for sure is the NFL isn’t college and at some point teams will be able to defend/match up with him. Might not be many but there will be teams that do.

 

 

Dog GIFs | Tenor

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16 minutes ago, Sun Tzu 7 said:

In 2012 when the Falcons had Julio, Roddy in his Prime, and the greatest TE in NFL history they said teams couldn’t double all three of them.

But as we saw before Julio got here teams could double Roddy and Tony and Jenkins couldn’t beat one on one coverage.

Julio will get doubled. The question is can Ridley consistently beat single coverage and force them to double him every snap?

Because if he can do that and Pitts can be as good as advertised then defenses will have a real problem.

Of course this is assuming the oline can pass protect Ryan

You're comparing Roddy, Tony and Jenkins with JJ, Rid and Pitts? Um bro. That's like comparing Mount Fuji to Stone Mountain. Something's just off about that. I think JJ, Rid and Hurst might even be better than Roddy, Tony and Jenks.

Rid is already manhandling single coverage when he's playing WR1, even without Julio.

I think JJ is actually going to be the benefactor in this deal and put up TD numbers like we've been waiting for him to do.

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I think the best thing is even if a defense decides to double Julio, Ridley and Pitts, Hurst and Gage may not be pro bowlers but they have shown they can make plays.

The question isn’t what we can achieve with all our options in the passing game. The question is can we run the rock and pass block just enough to let this thing really get going. If we are middle of the pack in running and pass protection, this offense will eat..... well as long as we have a defense that doesn’t allow other teams to ground and pound and keep our offense on the sidelines.

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By the time we had Roddy, Tony and Julio, sadly Michael Turner was in decline.  When we were unable to consistently move the ball in the run game, defenses were able to design better coverage against our passing game.  So I think the key difference will be Arthur Smith's ability to resurrect the run game to set up the pass

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I'll be the first one to admit I was a little underwhelmed by Hurst last year but he showed some really nice flashes when he was actually targeted. The one thing that stood out to me the most was how quick he was. Even if he becomes a decoy to pull LB's out of their zones and/or holds a safety for an extra second to allow Pitts to run free off of him is something we haven't had in a long while and is a 100% pick your poison type of situation. That doesnt even factor in our insane WR group. If L. Tololio could break free in the west coast - Shanny offense; Pitts and Hurst are going to run wild.

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Just now, Falcanuck said:

Everyone loves to forget that we also have Mike Davis. A serious receiving threat out of the backfield. Look how many catches he had with CMC out. He's going to have A LOT of space.

I think he was one of the best FA signings across the league.  Sneaky nice move & you said it, he is an excellent receiving threat.  With Pitts added, there will be some massive room for him to kill it on dump offs!!

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1 hour ago, Sun Tzu 7 said:

Interesting.

Id really like to see the kid play before putting him in the HOF.

Is he basically Julio?

Time will tell…

One thing is for sure is the NFL isn’t college and at some point teams will be able to defend/match up with him. Might not be many but there will be teams that do.

 

I recall another high draft pick unicorn named Aundray Bruce. We even tried him at TE some. Never lived up to all the hype. I wish Pitts the best, but sometimes it just doesn't work out at the next level.

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I personally would like to see some place where Pitts and Julio are lined up on the outside with Ridley is in the slot and Hurst either inline or as a wing.

The formational flexibility that Pitts gives is pretty spectacular to think about.

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1 hour ago, Sun Tzu 7 said:

In 2012 when the Falcons had Julio, Roddy in his Prime, and the greatest TE in NFL history they said teams couldn’t double all three of them.

But as we saw before Julio got here teams could double Roddy and Tony and Jenkins couldn’t beat one on one coverage.

Julio will get doubled. The question is can Ridley consistently beat single coverage and force them to double him every snap?

Because if he can do that and Pitts can be as good as advertised then defenses will have a real problem.

Of course this is assuming the oline can pass protect Ryan

 

The counter to doubling two of the three is a dangerous running game, and the ability to run and/or pass out of your formations, which I have no doubt Arthur will build.  That is when defenses truly have no answer.  

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Thats funny because thats the same thing ppl say about Julio (including TD during that draft year) .. Its rare but some guys are so big and fast you can feel something different when they run by you

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I almost wish Koetter was still here just to see how he could screw up an offense that had Pitts in it. 

Would he sit him on 1st and 2nd down, bring him in for 3rd (safe to say we always had one?) and then throw a 5-yard pass to him?

 

Nevertheless, the best trick to beating Pitts is being able to force him into a blocking role by stacking the DL (5-men?) his way and living with a 3 or 4-man secondary or bringing in a safety or corner to appear to blitz.

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Gonna be some busted coverages when defenses try to figure out responsibilities. AS and Ragone gonna have a lot of fun designing plays for this bunch of offensive skill players. It's almost Madden level unfair to have a healthy Julio, Ridley, Hurst, and Pitts. And if the offensive line is up to par, Ryan may have his most productive season ever, which is saying something considering 2016 was one of the most efficient seasons by a QB ever.

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