Buffalo Bills: Comparing Ryan Fitzpatrick Traits to NFL Greats
When you watch Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick play, who does he remind you of? Most NFL quarterbacks tend to have some sort of unique quality of play or characteristic traits that makes them unique. Fitzpatrick is also a unique combination of skills and styles.
Why is Ryan Fitzpatrick getting so much attention? Well, he is the leader of the No. 1 scoring offense in the NFL, the Buffalo Bills, who average 37.7 points per game. Fitzpatrick was just named the winner of the NFL Offensive Player of the Month award for September.
Not only that, Fitzpatrick has led the Bills on consecutive come-from-behind victories where the Bills were trailing by at least 18 points, which has never been done in the history of the NFL before. Football fans and fantasy owners are jumping on the Fitzpatrick bandwagon in droves.
I attended a recent meeting where Joe Yanarella, Bleacher Report's Editor-In-Chief, asked me who did Ryan Fitzpatrick remind me of? Totally unprepared for that question, I pondered it for a minute or two, and feel like I must have worn a perplexed look on my face.
Finally, I came back with the following: Fran Tarkenton and Norm Snead. He is obviously bigger than Tarkenton, because he doesn't mind running with the ball like Tarkenton did. I also said Snead because I seem to recall a similar style, or was I actually imagining Sonny Jurgensen or Roman Gabriel from my youth? It was hard to know for sure on the spot.
One week later, I have had sufficient time to reflect on that question, so here are the great (past and present) NFL quarterbacks' characteristics that Ryan Fitzpatrick reminds me of, relatively speaking.
Toughness: reminds me of Brett Favre and Jim Kelly.
Standing there in the pocket, knowing that you are going to be absolutely drilled, Ryan Fitzpatrick will deliver one pass after another, never flinching in the face of danger. He will hold the ball as long as he can (you can add Ben Roethlisberger to this group), and throw the pass at the last second.
If you watch Fitzpatrick play long enough, you will see that he can absorb a terrible beating but is able to shake it and continue to lead his team. While the pass blocking of the offensive line has improved in 2011 compared to games that Fitzpatrick played in 2009 and 2010, there have been games that you had to feel sorry for the abuse that he took.
Then there are the plays when C.J. Spiller is back there blocking for him instead of Fred Jackson, and that is also rather scary for Fitzpatrick as well.
Having Fun, Playing Like a Kid
Fun Factor and Playing Like a Kid: reminds me of Brett Favre
Here is Ryan Fitzpatrick celebrating with Bills fans after the win over the New England Patriots to snap the Bills' 15-game losing streak to New England.
If you happened to watch the Bills comeback win over the Oakland Raiders—that recently aired on NFL Network—you would have been treated to hearing Ryan Fitzpatrick hooting and hollering all over the field like a little kid.
NFL Network had placed a microphone on Fitzpatrick for that game, and as he led the Bills to five touchdowns in all five possessions of the second half that day, they were in great position to capture some of the emotions and elation that Fitzpatrick was experiencing as the comeback unfolded.
If you have not seen it, here is a link for that video, courtesy of BuffaloBills.com.
Willingness to Run with the Ball
Willingness to Run with the Ball: reminds me of Randall Cunningham and Steve Young
I am not saying that Ryan Fitzpatrick is as good a running quarterback as Randall Cunningham or Steve Young was. But, I notice that when Fitzpatrick sees an opening and decides that he is going to run with the ball, he does not hesitate and goes after it like Cunningham and Young did.
The other thing that you will observe is that when it is clear he is about to be tackled, Fitzpatrick refuses to slide down (a la Tom Brady) but prefers to lower his helmet and dish out a big hit on whatever defender decided that he was going to try to tackle him. Think about how many other quarterbacks you can say that about currently in the NFL.
Some people might think it is crazy (probably Chan Gailey is grabbing for his heart), but I think it fires up both the rest of the team, as well as the fans. That is just one of the reasons why the Buffalo Bills love Ryan Fitzpatrick, The Amish Rifle.
Ability to Throw a Block
Ability and Willingness to Throw a Block: reminds me of Brett Favre
If a running play is designed to go one way, and the back starts to cut back to the other side of the field, you will usually find Ryan Fitzpatrick leading the way and throwing a key block to spring the runner.
You have a certain mentality and toughness to be willing to block these physical specimens on defense, but Fitzpatrick does it willingly and doesn't think twice about sacrificing his body if it will help the team gain some additional yards on a play.
This is also the sort of activity that can get a quarterback hurt and cost his teams some wins if they are hurt and can't play. But, due to the risk factor involved, this is the sort of hard-working lunch-pail mentality that plays very well in Buffalo, and why Bills fans love to see Fitzpatrick mix it up. It also earns him mad respect from his teammates.
Quick Release: reminds me of Dan Marino
If you have a chance to watch the Week 2 replay of the Buffalo Bills vs the Oakland Raiders, you would have been pretty encouraged to play the Raiders defense in fantasy football that week. After all, the Raiders defensive line is one of the best lines in the NFL.
In 2010, they finished tied for the No. 2 defense in the NFL in sacks with 47 for the year. Then you figure in that they were going up against the suspect Buffalo Bills offensive line, and it became a no-brainer call.
Well, the end result was that Fitzpatrick was never sacked for the game. The reason why is that Fitzpatrick and head coach Chan Gailey spread out the defense to the point that they knew early on each play where they were probably going to go with the pass.
Fitzpatrick was decisive with the ball and confident with his decisions on where he was going with it. No hesitation. He dropped back, looked over the field, decided and flung it. Over and over again. The Raiders defensive line just couldn't reach him.
So far after Week 3, the Bills have allowed the fewest sacks in the NFL with just one. That is a direct result of Ryan Fitzpatrick and his fast release. Check him out the next time you watch the Bills play and you will see what I mean.
High Football IQ
High Football IQ: reminds me of Peyton Manning
We all know by now that Ryan Fitzpatrick is a graduate of Harvard. If you have not heard the story before, he took the Wonderlic exam at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis and finished the test in a record time. Not only that, but he only missed one question on the entire exam.
He is a very smart dude.
But, when it comes to football IQ, Fitzpatrick is also very adept at stepping up to the line of scrimmage and pointing out to the rest of the offense who the key defender is to watch for, or make adjustments for, depending on what the original play call was. Fitzpatrick has the green light from Coach Gailey to audible at the line of scrimmage.
Gailey gives him the ability to audible because Fitzpatrick is in the second year of the offense, and he is even more comfortable with it now. In addition, it is also because of how intelligent Fitzpatrick is and how quickly he can disseminate and process information on the fly and under pressure. That is another reason why Fitzpatrick has been so cool under fire in the last two dramatic second-half comebacks.
Flair for the Dramatic
Flair for the Dramatic: reminds me of John Elway and Eli Manning
The way that Ryan Fitzpatrick has put these consecutive comebacks in the wins over the Raiders and the Patriots has reminded me of some of the comeback wins that John Elway and Eli Manning have authored.
Fitzpatrick does it with a certain degree of cool and calm demeanor that must contradict how fired up he is on the inside. But it is his job to display a certain level of confidence to the rest of the offense, and he delivers that with spades.
The key passes in the fourth quarter with the game on the line in consecutive weeks to David Nelson and Scott Campbell were examples of what I am referring to. They were so wide open that it would be understandable due to the pressure to make a bad throw, or short arm the ball. But, Fitzpatrick quickly surveyed the field, stood up and reared back and made an accurate throw to secure the win in both cases.
Ball Handling and Play-Faking
Ball Handling and Play-Faking: reminds me of Steve DeBerg and Kurt Warner
I don't believe Fitzpatrick is in the class of Kurt Warner and Steve DeBerg's ball-handling skills, but if you watch him enough, you will see that he is pretty good with ball fakes and freezing linebackers so that he can create an open zone to throw to one of his multiple wide receivers.
Another area that I have seen improvement is the plays where he has both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller in the same backfield. They are both talented backs, so any play that calls for a solid fake to one back going in one direction, and then handing or passing the ball to the other back who is going in the opposite direction, will be a play with the potential to go a long way.
This is one of the areas that I see improvement in Fitzpatrick's game this year.
The Beard: reminds me of Dan Fouts and Brian Wilson
Okay, this is my one tongue-in-cheek slide, which in part is created due to Fitzpatrick being known as one of the comedians and pranksters in the Bills' locker room.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has this little routine he has for every season, where he will begin the year clean-shaven, and then he will let it grow out until the Bills season is over. He wants to let it grow out all the way to the Super Bowl, and since the Bills are the only undefeated team in the AFC right now, maybe he will get his wish this year to keep it growing for a long time.
There are historically not a lot of great NFL quarterbacks with beards recently. Some terrible side burns yes, but really good beards, no? Dan Fouts had a great beard, as does Brian Wilson.
Wedding Ring: reminds me of nobody else—it's unique (enlarge the picture to see the ring).
As we said in the beginning of the article, all quarterbacks have a unique style, or even have some unique mannerisms which set them apart. Michael Vick wore the bandanna, Joe Namath wore the female garments, and Ryan Fitzpatrick wears his wedding ring during games.
I think women football fans probably find that to be an endearing quality about him, but the truth behind the matter is that Fitzpatrick can't take it off. He has tried to, but his finger and knuckle over the years has swollen to the point that he can't take it off—even if he wanted to.
So, when you see him throw the ball and see that wedding ring on his finger, you will recall this slide and the presentation. I don't know how many other people wear their wedding ring in football, but if you took the time to go through each locker room, my guess would be very few.
If you ever see the way that Brian Baldinger's finger points out permanently to the side, you know why it is a bad idea to wear a ring in the NFL around helmets and players that make your body bend in ways that it is not intended to bend.
Gunslinger Mentality: reminds me of Brett Favre and Dan Marino
There will be some plays in the course of the game when you will see Ryan Fitzpatrick throw a pass to a receiver that doesn't really look like he is open at all. You will see him make passes like that to Steve Johnson and also to David Nelson. The reason Fitzpatrick does that is that he has a gunslinger type of mentality.
Fitzpatrick believes in his receivers, and if he thinks that they have a chance to make a play on the ball, he would rather give them a chance to see what they can do on the play, rather than eat the ball for a sack or waste a down and throw the ball to the ground or out-of-bounds.
This gunslinger mentality results in a few amazing interceptions and also in some amazingly bad interceptions that have killed drives or lost games at a key moment. But, the receivers have learned not to quit or give up on a play, because if there is a way for Fitzpatrick to get the ball to them, it will be on its way soon, so don't stop running or giving up on a play.