How Ryan Fitzpatrick Became a Turnover Machine, and How He Must Improve
Quarterbacks are generally evaluated by their arm talent. How strong it is, how accurate it is and so forth.
But the most important aspect of quarterbacking is not the arm but the feet.
The footwork is what makes a passer's arm strong and accurate because it generates power and creates rhythm. If a passer is crisp and precise with his footwork, then he'll be as a passer too. Case and point: Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints.
Brees is a quarterbacking maestro, always transferring his weight forward and having his front foot pointing in the direction of his target. Conversely, Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Buffalo Bills is far from having mastered his footwork, and it's a big reason why he's struggled as a starting quarterback.
Fitzpatrick has a relatively weak arm in comparison to his colleagues at the position and in order to get the most out of it, he must be efficient with his footwork.
If he isn't efficient, passes will not get to his intended targets as they will sail endlessly, falling short and often into the hands of the opposition. This has been a constant issue this season and in years past with the Bills quarterback, who seemingly ignores his porous footwork and heavily relies on his aforementioned weak arm. As a result, he has cost his team a plethora of games.
Against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 5, Fitzpatrick was intercepted only once but it was a costly one, coming in the red zone, where the Bills needed to come up with points.
Before the snap, he stood tall in the pocket in the shotgun set and had multiple potential pass-catchers distributed across the formation: Three to his left created a "Trips" set while two others were on his right, forming a "Twins" set.
Defensively, the 49ers were playing man coverage, going to the popular Cover 1 Robber concept. This consisted of man coverage underneath, one deep safety in the middle of the field and another roaming in the underneath middle.
Once Fitzpatrick received the snap, he dropped back and received pressure from his right. The right offensive tackle was being pushed back into the pocket, suffocating Fitzpatrick's operating room and forcing him to make the decision whether to throw the ball or escape.
The right decision would have been to escape by stepping up into the pocket and then delivering the pass. However, Fitzpatrick chose to throw, deciding immediately that he was going to attempt to find his target in the deep right part of end zone. This was a bad decision because he failed to get his feet underneath him. Instead of stepping through and transferring his weight forward, Fitzpatrick panicked and threw the ball off his back foot.
As a result, the pass was short, floating into the arms of 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver at the 2-yard line for yet another backbreaking turnover.
Moreover, what's frustrating about Fitzpatrick is that even when he appears to make the correct decision, he still ultimately gets it wrong.
Earlier this season against the New England Patriots, he threw another costly interception. This time it was from his own goal line with the ball on the 15-yard line. It was 3rd-and-15 and in this situation, quarterbacks are drilled to pick up whatever yardage they can get or simply get rid of the ball and live another down.
Fitzpatrick and his teammates lined up in a very similar set to the previously discussed play, with three receivers to his left and two to his right—only this time they were "stacked."
Upon receiving the football, he dropped back and scanned the field, looking right to left before feeling pressure from his right side once again. This time, he dealt with it properly by flushing from the pocket.
While moving to his left, he kept his eyes up in search of an open target and found one. It was Stevie Johnson, his star wide receiver to his far right, who was running a skinny post route. This is a difficult throw for Fitzpatrick to make, however, because it was from the opposite hash and vertical, which requires very good arm strength. Despite that, Fitzpatrick decided to attempt it anyways.
It turned out to be a bad idea, especially considering how poor his footwork was on the throw. He was leaning away from the throw when he attempted it, with all of his weight going away from the intended receiver. Once again, a throw came up short, this time falling into the hands of cornerback Devin McCourty, who returned the ball to the 12-yard line.
So much for living another down.
Although the turnovers have been troubling for the Ryan Fitzpatrick, there is still hope for improvement.
He needs to start with his fundamentals, focusing solely on his footwork. He needs to transfer his weight forward more consistently by setting up a sturdy base that he can use to generate power.
It was said in the offseason (via profootballtalk.com) that Fitzpatrick improved in this area while working with quarterbacks coach David Lee but the improvements appear to have been minimal. Under duress, Fitzpatrick has reverted back to his bad habits.
Will Ryan Fitzpatrick ever improve?
Further, the other area where Fitzpatrick has to improve is his decision-making. He simply makes far too many difficult or bad throws, which shows that he's either far too confident in his arm or simply doesn't understand his limitations. His limitations are glaring and head coach Chan Gailey knows this, which is why he has constructed the offense the way he has: short passes and very few deep ones.
Among the 36 quarterbacks that have taken a snap this year, Fitzpatrick is 31st in deep passes attempted with only 17.1 percent of his total passes going downfield, according to Advanced NFL Stats.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has also thrown 11 interceptions this season, which is tied for ninth in the NFL. Unfortunately, most of them have come at the worst time for the Bills and have proven to be very costly as leads were erased and hopes were dashed.
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