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Bair Mail: On Kyle Pitts, Desmond Ridder, Falcons critical mistakes, plus that 4th-and-1 play against Tampa Bay

Your questions get answers in this Wednesday mailbag.

Arthur Smith best described the state of the Falcons entering Week 15.

"It's crunch time."

Yessir, it is. The Falcons head coach was speaking generally about all NFL teams, but that phrase applies to his Falcons heading down the stretch in a three-way tie atop the NFC South, especially after losing an important game to Tampa Bay at Mercedes-Benz Stadium this past Sunday.

It's go time, and the Falcons know it. Their heads are in the right place despite a difficult loss, meaning there's no doubt they'll put in the work in practice. Can they improve execution during games? Especially avoiding critical mistakes? That's less certain.

They'll need to play well and play consistently over the last four games for a shot to win the division, which isn't guaranteed at this point no matter what happens.

That's the foundation of so many questions received for this Wednesday mailbag, so let's get to a few of them right…about…now:


Michael Curtin Jr. from Brewster, N.Y.

Kyle Pitts is a 6'6 Tight-End with amazing speed, catching abilities, and was the highest drafted in his position of all time, but he still looks like a small part of the Falcons scheme. Do you think we need to utilize him more, If so, how? Do we change up game plans?

Bair: To answer your questions, Michael, yes, the Falcons need to use him more, and no, I wouldn't say the Falcons should switch up game plans.

We haven't seen his rookie production replicated in the past two seasons, and I think that's a little bit of quarterback inconsistency/inaccuracy and a little bit of injury issues.

Pitts was targeted a ton before suffering a significant knee injury in Week 11 of 2022, but Marcus Mariota's passes to him were among the league's lowest rates of catchable passes. Desmond Ridder has had some issues with that, too, in 2023.

Here's something else people don't think about enough: Kyle Pitts has been back in the flow for months now and hasn't shown up on the injury report all season, but that doesn't mean he's fully back in a unicorn sort of sense. There's some relative lack of explosiveness and separation ability that the advanced numbers show. Per Next Gen Stats, Pitts' average yards of separation, open percentage when targeted and wide-open percentage when targeted are all career lows in 2023. Though his wide-open percentage in 2022 was astounding at 18.6%, but, as we've stated Mariota couldn't get him the ball enough. His speed at target is also down in 2023.

I say all that to say that suggest his burst and explosiveness might not be what it once was and what it should be again. Sometimes it takes a fully healthy offseason to get that elite dynamic ability back, a cadence that happens more often than you'd think despite fans thinking otherwise.

Yes, his numbers were down because the Falcons didn't have a strong passing attack in 2022 and leaned toward the run. They're more balanced this year and Pitts might not be at his very best, through no fault of his own, but could very well get there again.

He was wide open on Sunday against Tampa Bay, a welcome sight for Falcons fans on a play where he showed how good he can be.

"I think it's progress every week," Smith said. "I do, which is great."


Curtis Byrd from Orlando, Fla.

Why is the offense simply not coming together to put points up on the board with all the offensive draft, and other talent we have?

Bair: I think it's simple, Curtis, and it's a term I'm sure y'all are tired of: critical mistakes. They have thrown 10 interceptions, the seventh-highest sum in the league. They have nine lost fumbles. That isn't an extreme sum, but so many have happened in critical situations — especially in the red zone — and have proven costly.

That's a real issue and it continues to hurt the Falcons. That's how an offense ranks 15th in total yardage and 24th in scoring close to the end of the regular season.

Much of that falls on the quarterback, especially starter Desmond Ridder. He's tied for third in the league with 15 total turnovers despite not playing in the second half of Week 8, all of Week 9 and most of Week 10. He has made so many good plays to this point, especially in the fourth quarter, but some of those negative plays have really hurt the Falcons to this point.


George Vasilos from Charleston, S.C.

Greetings from the Lowcountry, Still trying to understand some of these NFL rules . I had the understanding that all plays with less than 2 minutes were under review. Being in attendance I missed the broadcast's explanation. Why wasn't the play reviewed and reversed on the fumble ( in my opinion ) game over ?

Bair: Thanks for the submission, George. I had to choose it because, A. It's a good one lots have been wondering about (including me postgame) and B. I took the family down to Charleston during the bye week and we had a blast. Had great food, took the kids to Fort Sumter, on a carriage ride and even stole a day in the sand at Folly Beach. I mean, we got 77 degrees and sunny in November. How lucky is that? Darn near perfect mini vacation, if you ask me. You live in a good spot.

Now on to your question. You're right that plays under two minutes are subject to review from the booth, not the challenge flag. And, yes, Andre Smith popped the ball free and was credited with a fumble on that 4th-and-1 play. The officials (and obviously the booth) didn't think there was a clear change of possession.

I can see their point there, but I was surprised they didn't take a longer look at a pivotal play. That's why Arthur Smith called a timeout in that situation. The Bucs were trying to quick-snap it (ending the play's eligibility for review), but the booth didn't call for a review despite the timeout. Now, that I don't get. At least take a look at it. I've watched the play a dozen times and I think Smith has the ball in his grasp at some point, but it's pretty tough to tell if he ultimately ends up with it. You probably side with Tampa retaining possession there.

Here's what Smith had to say about it on Sunday, before having a chance to rewatch the film:

"That was a judgment call because I thought the ball came out," Smith said. "I thought he had it. You know, they went to hurry up to try to snap it, so I did, I used the one mechanism I had, which was to call a timeout. The ball did come out, but they said there was no clear recovery, so that's way it went."

Call for questions

Submit your questions right here for inclusion in this upcoming Friday edition of Bair Mail.

Take a monochrome look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during Week 14.

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