The Falcons have one of the most efficient passing offenses in the league so far this season. They rank 8th in passing EPA/play, ahead of the Bengals and Chargers.
Despite this, Atlanta has the lowest neutral-script pass rate at 48.1% and their Pass Rate Over Expected (PROE) is the third lowest in the league at -8.3%.
Yet, the Falcons are facing the most men in the box, 7.05, of any team in the league and they still have a 63.1% neutral script run rate on first down.
The Falcons also run the ball 34.5% of the time on 2nd and long, eighth highest in the league. This matters because first-down passing has proven to be the most efficient down to pass the ball.
They are also the fifth slowest-paced team in the league and only use play action on 8.3% of their plays. League-wide, teams average more passing yards per play when using play action.
This is clearly a different philosophical approach than what Arthur Smith showed us last year and coaches’ philosophies tend to be very similar year to year in terms of run/pass ratio.
In 2021, the Falcons were 11th in neutral-script pass rate and ran the ball on 2nd and long on only 21.4% of plays in a neutral script.
We should be encouraged (I say this lightly) that last year’s Falcons had the 6th highest play action rate in neutral situations. It’s likely they will positively regress closer to that number this season.
Marcus Mariota has changed how Arthur Smith has structured this offense. The Falcons are running an RPO (run/pass option) at the highest frequency in the NFL at 18.3%. That’s up from 5.8% last season.
What might be most concerning is that Arthur Smith does not care who he has at running back. He will continue to feed them instead of Kyle Pitts and Drake London.
It’s a philosophy that is unlikely to change as long as he is in charge of play calling. 5th-round rookie Tyler Allgeier and undrafted rookie Caleb Huntley combined for 20 carries last week. They had combined for 18 career carries before this game.
This is obviously not ideal for Kyle Pitts. However, we knew a situation like this was at least possible.
There are a few things that have hindered Pitts: low volume, poor variance, and the Falcons exceeding expectations from a win/loss perspective.
The Falcons came into the season tied with the Texans for the lowest expected win total at 4.5. They now sit 2-2 with both of their losses coming by a total of five points. They’re also the only team to cover the spread in all four games this season.
One of two things is likely true here: that the Falcons are much better than expected or they’ve just had a very good run (pun intended) through four games.
FanDuel has moved their win total line to 6.5 on the season, a clear sign that they expect them to regress closer to their initial expectation the rest of the season.
This matters because the Falcons had a 73.4% pass rate last season when their in-game win probability was between 0-20%. There are going to be plenty of game scripts that force the Falcons to throw the ball for the rest of the season.
Yes, Pitts has seen low volume, but this is due to the offense that he is in. He’s currently seeing a target on 25.3% of his routes run - a very strong number.
This is actually up from his 21.1% mark last year!
Now, this doesn’t matter if Kyle Pitts isn’t on the field seeing snaps and running enough routes.
Pitts has played under 70% of the snaps in his last two games. This isn’t completely abnormal as he saw six games under this mark last year.
That being said, it’s inexcusable to have your best offensive player on the field for these few snaps.
It’s only a two-game sample and he had snap shares of 84% and 93% in the first two games along with generally strong usage during his rookie year. It’s best to treat this as noise.
If this became a trend over the next couple of games it will be something to take note of and adjust to accordingly.
Knowing that the Falcons’ pass rate has cratered it’s natural to see why Pitts is running eight less routes per game.
A couple of things that can give us hope: he is seeing more targets with fewer routes and has not fully taken advantage of all the opportunities presented to him.
Now, that’s not all his fault. Pitts has 365 air yards through four games showing the trust in him as a deep threat, but Mariota has overthrown him on a few of those.
We’ve basically seen the rock bottom of Pitts’s production.
If any of the following happen, then Pitts is not only going to see massive improvement, but likely outperform his rookie stats on a per-game basis
Falcons play worse and wind up in more pass-heavy situations
Smith regresses back to last year’s philosophical style and uses a more pass-heavy approach. This may be a Mariota thing (probably is) in which a switch to Desmond Ridder would help.
Pitts begins to cash in on more of his opportunities.
It’s very likely that at least one if not all of these regress closer to normal.
Pitts’ 22.2% target share is higher than his 20% target share last season.
He is being utilized more in this offense than he was last year on a per target and per route basis.
These are all very positive signs despite what his current statistical output has shown us.
It’s very unlikely that this winning trend for the Falcons continues and Pitts is able to capitalize on more negative game scripts.
It’s very natural to be concerned about Pitts’ lack of production through four games, but we have a 17 game sample from a 20 year old Pitts showing that he is elite.
We also have seen Pitts dominate in college at a young age and was drafted fourth overall in the NFL draft.
Basically everything we have seen up to this point in his career (minus these four games) scream a generational type of player.
At the end of the day, this is the perfect opportunity to buy Pitts on Mojo at $15.58. When these things start clicking this is likely the lowest his price will ever be.