The Buffalo Bills had a 16-game starter at quarterback for the first time since 2006, and Ryan Fitzpatrick was one of only 14 NFL quarterbacks with that distinction. Statistics aren't the best way to analyze a quarterback's play, but they can provide an overview of how he compares with other signal callers.
The most glaring statistic on Fitzpatrick's 2011 resume was the interception total. His 23 interceptions led the league, and was the most by a Bills quarterback since Joe Ferguson's 25 in 1983. He threw a pick on four percent of his passes - a figure eclipsed only by Carson Palmer, Rex Grossman, and Christian Ponder.
But herein lies the complexity of statistical analysis. Many of Fitzpatrick's interceptions were thrown in the second half of blowout losses: four interceptions against New England in the season finale, two in a 37-10 drubbing by San Diego, two more in a 35-8 beatdown in Miami, two against the New York Jets in a game that was 27-3 in the fourth quarter, and three in a laugher against Dallas. That's 13 in just five games. While these games should not be excluded in the season evaluation, it shows he is willing to try and make things happen when the Bills are down. I shouldn't need to remind you of the Captain Checkdown era, but it seems appropriate to mention.
Fitzpatrick threw the ball 569 times. In doing so, he became just the second quarterback in team history with more than 508 passing attempts in one year. Drew Bledsoe's team record of 610 passes set in 2002 looks pretty safe for the time being. Only five quarterbacks threw more passes than Fitzpatrick in 2011, and four of them were Pro Bowlers. (Matthew Stafford, who led the league with 663 passes, was not selected - but would likely make the team if Eli Manning's Giants reach the Super Bowl.) That begins to explain the high interception number, too. Similarly, Fitzpatrick finished sixth in number of completions, with 353.
The Bills' passing attack wasn't just high-quantity - it also had some quality. Fitzpatrick completed 62 percent of his passes to put him ninth in the NFL, and passed for 3,832 yards to come in 11th. He fell just 12 yards short of second in team behind Jim Kelly's 3,844 passing yards in 1991. (First is Bledsoe's monster 4,359-yard 2002 season.)
Of all the stats discussed in this article, none paint a bigger picture of the Bills offense in 2011 than yards per attempt. The general rule is an average of 7.0 yards per attempt or higher puts pressure on a defense. 19 quarterbacks achieved that level in 2011 - including Kyle Orton, who was on two different teams. Fitzpatrick was not one of those 19. Standing No. 23 in the NFL, Fitzpatrick's 6.7 YPA puts him as the equal of Joe Flacco, and just ahead of Andy Dalton.
The Bills offense was built on the short passing game and quick passes to assist the offensive line in their block assignments. It worked, as Fitzpatrick was the least-sacked quarterback in the NFL. His yards per completion ranking was even lower, further proof that Buffalo's short passing game contributed to his high passing attempts and completion numbers.
In these basic statistics, there are certainly good signs. Fitzpatrick needs to continue working on his long ball accuracy, and the Bills will need to add a receiver that can stretch the field and make plays beyond the first down marker. With an upgrade in personnel at wide receiver and tackle, Chan Gailey can then attack further downfield. (That's probably not going to help those interception numbers, however.)