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Are The Buffalo Bills Better When Ryan Fitzpatrick Throws Less?

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On Thursday, ran an article about the work that quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is putting in with new quarterbacks coach David Lee to improve his mechanics. It's an interesting read with good thoughts from the player and the tutor. It also caused a reader to run the following by me last evening (posted here with permission, but anonymously):

"Hey Bri - curious to know your opinion on the Fitz article, and especially if you think that mechanics are his biggest issue right now," submits the reader. "I just think Gailey needs to make him throw less, and they'll start winning more. Maybe that happens if the D steps up."

To my eye, mechanics are a factor in one of two major issues facing Fitzpatrick: consistency. We've talked about Fitzpatrick being the quarterbacking equivalent of a streak shooter in basketball before: he can get really hot, but he can also go stone cold for stretches. If improved mechanics help beget improved consistency, that's a big step in the right direction.

Aside from consistency, the other major factor working against Fitzpatrick has been (but hopefully won't continue to be) the team around him. The old rule - "your team goes as your quarterback goes" - is true the overwhelming majority of the time, but it's a two-way street, even if the street is running downhill in favor of the quarterback.

There's an idea out there, for example, that Fitzpatrick is significantly better when Buffalo's defense plays well - which is true, of course, but not necessarily because of the oft-cited reasoning that he's had to throw the ball less (which our questioning reader presented above the fold, lest you've forgotten). It actually has to do with his level of aggression, in my opinion.

Buffalo is 10-19 with Fitzpatrick as a starter in the last two seasons. If you take Fitzpatrick's stats from all of the wins and compare to those from losses, there are expected drop-offs in certain areas, but not in others. His touchdown-to-interception ratio is obviously significantly better in wins (19:8) than losses (28:30), as is his completion percentage (64.2 to 58.5). But the Bills aren't winning because Fitzpatrick isn't throwing; he's averaged 30 passing attempts in wins (37 in losses), and averages 232 passing yards in wins (238 in losses).

What does it all mean? There is some consistency to Fitzpatrick week-to-week that we can't see, and the team influences the way Fitzpatrick plays quite a bit more than most people are willing to admit. The offense doesn't change a lot when the team is winning - Fitzpatrick is still slinging the rock a ton. What appears to change when the team is playing well around Fitzpatrick is his willingness to take chances; his remarkable drop-off in completion percentage and especially in turning the football over speaks to his cranking up the aggression trying to account for his team's other various misgivings when things aren't going well.

The popular question to ask about Fitzpatrick is whether or not he's a "franchise quarterback." I think the answer to that is a clear "no," based on my own subjective interpretation of "franchise quarterback" meaning a quarterback being able to elevate a bad team on occasion and steal some wins. If you're using that definition, Fitzpatrick is clearly not that guy - or at least he hasn't been yet. But can he be a guy that a franchise wins with? I also firmly believe that he is that player - he just needs to be more consistent. Improved mechanics and the benefits of a better team around him could very well help him get there soon.