The best-case scenario for Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick would be a career arc that resembles that of Rich Gannon.
The current CBS color analyst was never the most physically gifted player, but maximized the skills that he did have, so much so that he won the league’s MVP award at 37 years old with the Oakland Raiders in 2002.
Gannon will call Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans at Ralph Wilson Stadium. He spoke Friday of the quarterback he’ll see wearing a Bills uniform.
“He’s got to be able to eliminate the inconsistent performances. We did [his game in] Week One, and he goes out there and throws some, what I would define as ugly interceptions,” Gannon said. “Not seeing a flat defender, late with the football, late with his eyes. Some footwork things that need to be cleaned up a little bit. I’ve noticed when I’ve studied him a little bit, when he misses throws a lot of times he’s missing throws behind receivers.”
Much has been made of Fitzpatrick’s work to improve his mechanics with quarterbacks coach David Lee.
The quarterback was asked this week whether bad habits had crept back in, resulting in decreased accuracy. Fitzpatrick’s completion percentage is at 57.9 percent, down from his career high of 62.0 last season and below his career average of 59.1.
“I do not know if that is a ton of it. There was a ton that was made of the mechanics and all the different things. It is true ... I’m not always the prettiest thrower in terms of the way I look, in terms of throwing off balance and all of that,” Fitzpatrick said. “I have tried to correct some of that stuff and maybe limit some of that. It happens in the NFL because there are guys rushing around you. A lot of being a quarterback is about decision-making and timing. Those are the biggest things in being effective as a quarterback.
“In terms of the flaws, my mechanics and those types of things, those are something that are always going to be there especially with my throwing motion. The footwork was something we really focused on, but I have not started the way that I wanted to start and unfortunately it has been multiple games. Not just one bad game here or there. It is something that I have to evaluate. The only way I know how to correct it is to continue to work in practice.”
Here are some of the issues that Gannon has seen when watching tape of Fitzpatrick.
• Footwork. “I think when you spend so much time in the shotgun, with certain quarterbacks, they can get lazy with their feet. What happens is, when you’re under center you’ve got to go quick, quick three [steps] and get back. In the shotgun, you’re kind of sitting here, you’re kind of hopping.”
• A changing philosophy. “I think they’ve gone through a little bit of an evolution here offensively. I think last year they were a team that really spread you out, quick, short or intermediate throws then all of a sudden off of that they mix in some runs.Now they’ve Fred [Jackson] and C.J. [Spiller] and the running game’s become such a big story here. ... When you do that, I think that has an impact on the quarterback and how he sees the game and how they call the game.”
• Being late on throws. “He does not possess, and I didn’t either, but he doesn’t have an Aaron Rodgers or a Tom Brady arm. So he has to be really exact with his location on throws, he’s got to be exact with his footwork, he’s got to be exact with his mechanics, he has to be exact with his anticipation and when he’s not, there’s where the problems start to jump in in his game.”
• Trying to do too much. “He is a bit of a risk taker at times. ... That’s who he is. So you’ve got to understand that, but at the same time you’ve got to be able to reel him in and say, ‘Look, if you don’t play well, if you turn the football over, we don’t win.’ Just look at the numbers. The other thing that hurts him is they’ve got some injuries up front, they’ve fallen behind in games, and all of a sudden it’s like ‘I’ve got to make some big throws.’ He’s got to realize that’s not the case.”
Since Fitzpatrick took over as the Bills’ starter two games into 2010, the Bills are 11-9 in games in which he throws one or fewer interceptions - and 1-14 in games in which he throws two or more.
To his credit, Fitzpatrick hasn’t shrunk from the responsibility.
“It has just been very inconsistent all year. A lot of that falls on me and my play,” he said of the passing game.
“I did not and have not started the year the way I wanted to. I think starting out with the three-interception game, having another four-interception game - there has to be a happy medium there in terms of not going out there and trying to throw touchdowns on every play, but not being too conservative. I think right now we are still trying to find ourselves in the passing game. A lot of that is me just playing more consistent.”