Many fans are quick to chide Bills head coach Chan Gailey for a purported unwillingness to throw the ball deep.
Don't twist his arm into testing the arm of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Who could blame him for not wanting to take shots downfield? Fitzpatrick is the least accurate deep passer in the league. Despite what we may have believed to be true about the Bills offense headed into the season, it has plenty of deep threats: Stevie Johnson, Donald Jones and T.J. Graham are all capable of getting open downfield.
Turns out Buffalo's lack of deep plays is systemic, and that system is built around a quarterback who is confined in what he can do—and even erratic in those facets.
Fitzpatrick went 1-of-4 on passes that traveled 20 yards or more against the Colts. That's noteworthy because the Colts feature one of the league's worst pass defenses this year.
On 3rd-and-5 in the first quarter, for example, the Bills had a free play due to the Colts jumping offside. Fitzpatrick did the wise thing by taking a shot downfield, but he missed a wide open C.J. Spiller.
The Colts know they don't have to respect the deep ball; just look at the number of defenders near the line of scrimmage—and this is with an empty backfield and no threat of the run. They're showing blitz, but would they be so fearless if Fitzpatrick was a competent deep passer?
Fitzpatrick threw this ball far too high. Since Spiller is not Randy Moss, Calvin Johnson or some other 6'4" leaping monster with massive reach, the ball was incomplete.
This is a big opportunity to miss out on, but it wouldn't be the first missed opportunity for the Bills against the Colts.
Check out this big missed throw on 1st-and-10 in the second quarter.
Donald Jones was split out wide and got Colts cornerback Cassius Vaughn to bite on a double-move, creating separation downfield.
Separation which, invariably, Fitzpatrick couldn't capitalize on.
A rather awkward throwing motion is at the root of the problem.
Fitzpatrick steps into the throw (somewhat), which is a rarity for him on deep balls (more on that later), but his shoulders are open to the target when he releases the throw and he never follows through completely.
CBS analyst and former NFL quarterback Rich Gannon delivers his thoughts on the throw:
This is not exactly an easy throw for Ryan Fitzpatrick, but he's got to step up and have a sense of urgency in the pocket, but look at this move right here by Donald Jones. He just goes right by Cassius Vaughn, but boy, you've gotta hit him when you've got him open.
...I think Buffalo has to take shots, go after this secondary; this is a secondary that's banged up right now, and they've got some young players out there on the corners.
The Bills' wide receivers gave the Colts' defensive backs fits with double-moves and would find themselves wide open downfield on several occasions as a result.
Fitzpatrick was able to capitalize on this in the second quarter on the Bills' second-biggest pass play of the season in the form of a 63-yard strike to Stevie Johnson.
Colts cornerback Darius Butler came up and bit hard on the double-move, allowing Johnson to breeze right past him and into the deep half of the secondary.
Johnson might have gone for a touchdown if he didn't have to slow down to catch the ball.
How was Fitzpatrick's throwing motion this time? Turns out, nearly perfect.
He steps into the throw, puts his whole body into it and follows through.
No surprise that it comes with a clean pocket.
That wouldn't spell the conclusion of his struggles with the deep ball on Sunday.
Wide receiver T.J. Graham ran the route perfectly, breaking into the Colts secondary uncovered after an awful attempt at a chip by the linebacker.
Fitzpatrick had an opportunity to hit Graham in the seam, but his faulty mechanics resulted in a tipped pass that never found its mark.
After review, his mechanics on this deep throw are off from the very start.
In the first frame, he has yet to plant his feet, yet he begins his wind-up anyway.
His shoulders are not in line with his target, as they should be if he were following through correctly. Instead, as Gannon states, he uses all arm, and that's just not going to get the job done for Fitzpatrick.
You watch [Fitzpatrick] here, he's late. he's late with his eyes, and this is a guy who can't be late with his throw. His arm just isn't strong enough. Look at that, he's looking to his left, and watch him fade away from this thing and try and just use all arm here. He's gotta anticipate, and the ball's gotta come out on time and in rhythm for him to be effective. He doesn't have an arm that's going to be able to overpower you where he can be late with throws.
Even when the receivers are getting open down the field, Fitzpatrick still has a hard time finding them on what should be easy throws. This allows defenses to crowd the area within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.
It's like the Bills are in the red zone all the way up the field.
The ability to throw the ball deep does not make a quarterback good, but the inability to throw it deep can make a limited quarterback worse. If the Bills are going to succeed going forward, Fitzpatrick may not be the man for the job.
But I'm not telling you anything general manager Buddy Nix doesn't already know.
The Bills handed Ryan Fitzpatrick a huge contract last offseason, but there's a $5 million roster bonus in Fitzpatrick's contract, which means if the team elects not to give it to him, it is only on the hook for his $2.8 million guaranteed for 2013.
Fitzpatrick is far from the lone problem the Bills face—he may not even be as big of a problem as the head coach—but if they're ever going to field an elite offense, they'll have to unload the Amish Rifle.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.
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