Falcons: Marcus Mariota addresses the Unicorn in the room

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The Falcons’ offense is one-dimensional. Atlanta relies heavily on the run game, powered by Marcus Mariota and a running backs by committee in Cordarrelle Patterson, Tyler Allgeier, and Caleb Huntley. It’s quite productive. Arthur Smith’s scheme is diverse, marrying play action with an extensive run game. However, Mariota’s arm is undoubtedly holding this offense back and, in particular, Kyle Pitts.

In his first professional season, the unicorn eclipsed a bevy of franchise and league records, including crossing the 1,000-yard mark en route to a Pro Bowl appearance. By all accounts, Pitts had a very successful rookie campaign with Matt Ryan as the signal caller. This season can’t be considered in the same breath.

Through eight games, the highest-drafted tight end in history has hauled in just 23 receptions for 285 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Compare those numbers to last year, and it’s clear the offensive philosophy isn’t catered to Pitts. Through eight games last season, Pitts logged 36 receptions for 546 yards and one touchdown.

Arthur Smith isn’t asking Mariota to drop back as he did with Ryan. They have completely different skill sets, and the Falcons’ offensive tendencies reflect that. The team is third and fourth in rushing attempts and yards, respectively; compare that to 30th in passing attempts and yards. Still, it’s a crime to draft a high-profile pass catcher fourth overall and use him as a blocker and decoy.

Mariota knows that, addressing the elephant — or should I say unicorn — in the room.

“First and foremost, I can do a better job of giving Kyle more opportunities with the ball,” Mariota said in his press conference. “I think sometimes I’ve been a little too safe, a little too conservative where I’m putting the football, so giving him a chance to go get it. I think that’ll help some of his target numbers.”

Most recently, Mariota connected on a vast majority of his attempts less than 10 yards down the field and nearly none of his passes 15+ yards. Against the Chargers, the veteran signal caller missed a wide-open Pitts down the field for a walk-in touchdown, and it’s not the first time either.

“I think it comes down to me, I just got to give those guys a chance,” Mariota said. “Guys are finding a way to get open and sometimes it’s not necessarily the perfect throw. I think coming back in this season I’ve kind of tried to flush that perfectionist in me, that’s probably what my last hurdle is.

“I think some of those deep shots have always been — the kind of guy that wants the guy to just kind of catch it on the run, but with the guys that we have, the players that we have sometimes it’s giving those guys just a chance to go up and get it. I’m working on those things, those are things that we go out there and practice, so hopefully, that will transcend onto the field.”

Mariota is very clearly a backup-caliber quarterback in this league, but it’s the Falcons’ situation. At some point, you have to start force-feeding a player like Pitts. You don’t want to stray from the game plan too much, but Arthur Smith’s offense needs to find a way to manufacture touches for Kyle Pitts.

Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire

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