Instead of using the 4th overall pick on the 4th best quarterback in the Draft, the Falcons made the wise decision to select a special talent that can help them right now – Florida tight end Kyle Pitts.
The small likelihood of being able to move Matt Ryan due to his contract was probably a key factor in the decision not to start a new era at quarterback. But the fact that Ryan can still play at a high level also had to play a significant role.
Ryan likes to attack at the intermediate levels and downfield. And he still has the ability to do so effectively, largely due to his great anticipation skills.
He has been one of the best in the NFL in this area for a while now.
Ryan is not without his faults. When he gets in trouble it’s often BECAUSE he likes to attack downfield. He sometimes forces passes, leading to unnecessary turnovers. Or, he holds the ball too long in an effort to wait for something to break open instead of checking it down. This leads to more sacks.
However, adding a talent like Kyle Pitts to Calvin Ridley (and Julio Jones if the Falcons aren’t able to move him) will give Ryan multiple threats that can win consistently at the intermediate levels. That translates to Ryan finding open receivers more often, forcing fewer contested throws, and taking fewer sacks.
Even if the Falcons don’t hold on to Jones, Ryan’s new assortment of weapons will be extremely good.
Calvin Ridley can align all across the formation, and he provides the ability to create explosive plays in the middle of the field. He was aligned at the bottom of the screen here:
Adding Pitts to Ridley gives Atlanta the 1-2 combo they’ve had at times with Ridley and Jones. However, Pitts adds a special element because of the position he plays. He is a 6’6” tight end with the athleticism of a receiver. He can make plays in-line like a traditional tight end, but his greatest value might be in his ability to align on the perimeter.
Below, you can see a few examples. Here he is on the back side of a 3×1 set snatching the ball out of the air:
The below play came against the #9 overall pick in this year’s Draft, cornerback Patrick Surtain II.
Here is Pitts making a contested catch to the backside of another 3×1 formation.
And here he is flipping the hips of another DB on the perimeter.
How the defense matches up to Pitts when he’s aligned on the perimeter, and especially when he’s aligned as the X-receiver in a 3×1 formation, will help define the coverage for Matt Ryan pre-snap. He’ll then be able to choose his best 1-on-1 matchup.
How many defenses in the NFL can you think of that have the personnel to match up with both Ridley and Pitts (let alone Ridley, Pitts, and Jones)? Not many. And if defenses treat Pitts as a tight end by using a safety or linebacker to cover him, Ryan will have a field day.
Another benefit of adding Pitts is that defenses will be more hesitant to sacrifice men in coverage against Atlanta’s assortment of weapons. This means Ryan will likely see fewer blitzes.
The good complementary players the Falcons have on offense, like wide receiver Russell Gage and tight end Hayden Hurst, will give the Falcons lots of options even if they do part ways with Jones. From a personnel package and formation standpoint, Atlanta will have the ability to be as versatile as any offense in the league.
New Falcons Head Coach Arthur Smith wants to operate from under center, keeping the running game and play-action a factor. In his two seasons as Offensive Coordinator for the Titans, Smith was relentless with his usage of play-action. There’s no question he’ll look to feature it as a big part of his offense in Atlanta. And with that play-action drawing linebackers and safeties to the line of scrimmage, there will be plenty of advantageous 1-on-1’s at the intermediate level for Atlanta.
This won’t require a big adjustment for Matt Ryan. He has been among the league leaders in snaps under center throughout his career. He’s comfortable there, whether off of play-action or regular drop backs. This is a good fit.
While Julio Jones’ departure from Atlanta looks increasingly likely, let’s hope the Falcons decide to hang on to him. It would be fun to watch that trio operate. Even without Jones, this offense is good enough to make the Falcons a playoff team again. Their defense will remain the big question mark.