New England Patriots

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - OCTOBER 03: Kyle Pitts #8 of the Atlanta Falcons warms up before the game against the Washington Football Team at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on October 03, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

It’s not uncommon for Bill Belichick to praise opposing players heading into a game. Generally, whatever player he’s asked about is “among the best” at whatever trait or traits he’s asked about. There’s also common themes he uses, such as quarterbacks “making all the throws,” as pointed out by the Boston Herald’s Andrew Callahan earlier this year.

Yet when Bill Belichick was asked about Falcons rookie tight end Kyle Pitts on Wednesday, there was no form answer. Instead, Belichick gave a six minute answer to two questions, about what makes Pitts such a unique player and why he is so tough to defend.

For the first question Belichick was asked about a strategy he used against a former Falcons tight end, Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez. The Patriots used to bracket Gonzalez like a punt returner, jamming him with linebackers and not allowing him to get out into his route.

“Well, we’re not allowed to do that anymore. We’re not allowed to vice him like we could back when we went against Gonzalez. But if we could, this would probably be a good week to do it,” Belichick said, before highlighting Pitts.

“Pitts is a really, really talented player. He’s very long, has excellent hands. Has good quickness to get off the line. Good quickness at the top of his route. He has a huge catch radius. Has made some spectacular one-handed catches where defenders are kind of grabbing at his other arm, he can only get one hand on the ball and he still hauls it in. Again, he’s a big target. You know, [Matt] Ryan’s a very accurate quarterback, but he’s a huge target. He’s hard overthrow. He makes plays with the ball on either side of him that most receivers just can’t make. So it’s somewhere between a Julio Jones and a Tony Gonzalez. And he is a big, strong guy too, like Gonzalez was. So if you start pushing off against him, he’s probably going to win that because he’s bigger and longer and just as strong as anybody that’s pushing on him, unless they’re a linebacker in then if it’s a linebacker then he has a huge advantage against those guys from a speed and quickness standpoint. He’s really good and he’s going to be really good. I’m sure he’ll break all the tight end receiving records for a rookie this year. Coach [Arthur] Smith’s done an excellent job of putting him in positions where it’s hard to get a lot of coverage on him. And then the type of play that they run based on where he’s lined up, it just, it creates some opportunities for him and he’s certainly able to take advantage of them with his outstanding skill set. So that’s going to be a tough match up for sure.”

Keep in mind, that’s just half of Belichick’s answer on Pitts. As a follow up question, Belichick was asked how defending an offense featuring an elite tight end differs from defending an offense that runs through receivers. It turned into Belichick highlighting what Pitts, along with other multi-positional players, can do do a defense schematically.

“I’d say the difference with Pitts from what we’ve seen so far – we’ve got half a season and they haven’t had [WR Calvin] Ridley here for a couple of weeks – but Pitts plays a lot of receiver. I mean, he’s placed as a wide receiver. Stands out outside the formation. And so when you talk about a player like Julio Jones – again who is a great player in his own right – but you never saw Julio Jones really line up at tight end. You would see Gonzalez and [Travis] Kelce and [George] Kittle and those guys flex out a little bit, but most of their damage was done inside. And that’s a great place for a tight end because he has so many two-way options of going outside or going inside. But when you’re in the middle field, it’s – you can go anywhere. And I would say Pitts has impressed me with his ability to play as a perimeter receiver, as a true perimeter receiver, a high percentage of the time. It’s not like he’s just out there once or twice a game. He’s out there a lot. Now, from game to game it could be different, but you’ve got to be able to handle them out there and then you’ve got to be able to handle him inside, too. And again, you don’t see very many receivers come in and actually block, and block one of the front seven players. They might come in to block a DB, but they don’t come in a block one of the front seven players. And I think that’s one of the things that separates Kittle from a lot of other tight ends that you could talk about is his superior blocking ability. But Pitts can come in there and block. But then I would say more than Gonzalez or more than Kittle or even Kelce, he extends out more than they do to. So his ability to really be a receiver to a tight end is pretty impressive. It’s similar to Patterson – Cordarrelle – who can play receiver, slot receiver, and running back on any given play, and he doesn’t look out of place in any of those spots. And those are really challenging matchups for a defense when you look at a player, but you really don’t know what he is. Like with Patterson, is he a running back? Is in the slot or is he a perimeter receiver? And he’s killed teams at all three spots. Or same thing when you call it defense, you don’t know if Pitts is going to be attached to the tackle or detached from the tackle, flexed a little bit, or lined up outside the numbers. And he’s a problem in all spots. So those guys are tough. Coach Smith’s done a good job of, I would say, putting together a very versatile team. You look at a guy like [Feleipe] Franks, who’s similar to [Taysom] Hill from New Orleans – plays quarterback, but he also plays tight end and he also plays in the kicking game. And he’s out there banging heads with linebackers and running backs and everybody else on special teams. So is he a tight end? Is he a quarterback? Again, he’s on the field – It goes kind of back to the Hill conversation – he’s on the field, but you really don’t know where where he’s going to align. And that makes it hard to call defenses if you don’t know if he’s in the backfield or behind the center or where he is. So that – those kind of things cause problems. So I’d say just General Coach Smith has really put together a group of players and the offensive skill positions that are versatile and they can do a lot of different things and then he formations them around so that it makes it extremely hard defensively to to match up to him. And that’s very challenging.”

That Patriots have had a number of these ‘utility’ type players in the past, including Patterson who was with the team in 2018. But knowing how seriously Belichick takes what they offer an offense, it’s something to keep in mind heading into future offseasons when such players are available in free agency and the draft.

As for Pitts, he’s on the first year of a four-year rookie deal that includes a fifth year option. But if he ever does become available and Belichick is still in New England, expect these quotes to come back up quickly.

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Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.