Like a Surgeon
Ryan Fitzpatrick (Getty Images)
Ryan Fitzpatrick (Getty Images)
BFR Publisher
Posted Aug 16, 2009


After tearing up Chicago's defense Saturday night, Ryan Fitzpatrick proved he's a capable backup behind Trent Edwards. It wasn't a surprising performance considering he has plenty of experience in the no-huddle offense. Throw in his leg work against 3-4 defenses and Buffalo has a weapon at No.2. BFR's Tyler Dunne talked to Fitzpatrick last week about it...

Off the field, they are polar opposites. One trained dogs to kill, then slaughtered them himself. The other took a redeye plane to an Arizona high school to participate in a campaign that raises money for American troops.

Michael Vick taints the Philadelphia Eagles organization. Ryan Fitzpatrick enhances Buffalo’s. Any fans still wallowing over last week’s bogus Vick-at-the-airport rumors need to wise up. The Bills are set with Fitzpatrick as the No. 2 quarterback.

A knockout performance Saturday night affirmed that Buffalo’s no-huddle offense will keep humming if anything happens to Trent Edwards this season.

Fitzpatrick is bred for the pyrotechnic offense cooking at St. John Fisher College. He ran it his entire collegiate career at Harvard. And at Cincinnati — while running some more no-huddle — Fitzpatrick faced the two stingiest 3-4 defenses ever assembled in Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

So hopefully any remaining Vick clamoring stops. Please. Fitzpatrick is all Buffalo needs behind Edwards.

“I did complete no-huddle throughout college,” Fitzpatrick said. “That’s what we did. It’s a style of play that I really like.”

No kidding. Albeit against Chicago’s vanilla defensive looks, Fitzpatrick was a surgeon. With quick decision-making and an even quicker release, he completed 13-of-16 passes for 143 yards, leading Buffalo to 10 points. That number would’ve been higher if not for a costly Roscoe Parrish fumble inside the 20.

Fitzpatrick’s moxie in the no-huddle and Ivy-league smarts — he scored a 49 out of 50 on the Wonderlic (he left one question blank) — is what sold him to Buffalo back in March. Chief Operating Officer Russ Brandon aggressively recruited Fitzpatrick in free agency, handing the quarterback a generous contract.


Ryan Fitzpatrick picked apart Chicago’s defense Saturday night.
Getty Images

Now we see why. That wasn’t reckless spending to a Bungles backup.

“We’re very happy Ryan’s here,” head coach Dick Jauron said after the Bears game. “He’s embraced it. He’s really thrown himself into it. He’s contributed and he’ll continue to contribute.”

Coaches don’t hand the no-huddle keys off to just anybody. Entrusting J.P. Losman with the hurry-up in the two-minute drill was like unleashing a six-year-old into Toys ‘R Us. Unattended.

In Fitzpatrick, the Bills have a trusted backup in case Edwards succumbs to injury. Considering Edwards has been banged up the past two seasons, it’s a comforting luxury.

There are no transition-period remarks uttered from Fitzpatrick. The Harvard-grad quickly answers that he’s “absolutely” certain the team wouldn’t miss a beat with him at quarterback if Edwards missed time.

“I’ve had months in the system,” Fitzpatrick said. “I feel completely confident that I could come in and do the job.”

Against Chicago, Fitzpatrick completed a string of on-a-rope, Madden-precision passes to backup receivers. While it’s easy to dismiss the inferior competition he faced, keep in mind that Fitzpatrick was working with reserves himself. Jonathan Stupar, Felton Huggins and Justin Jenkins aren’t quite Terrell Owens, Lee Evans and Derek Fine.

Still, Fitzpatrick located and hit C-rate receivers on each limb of the passing tree — deep drags, slants, curls, flags, etc. None of the throws in the giddy-up hurry-up are overly taxing in the physical sense. Rather, it’s all mental.

“You have to know the offense inside and out,” Fitzpatrick said of the no huddle. “There are a lot of checks throughout the game. The coach isn’t telling you what to do. You have to do it over the ball while looking at the defense. It takes a lot of communication between the quarterback, the center and the wide receivers.”

The groundwork to Fitzpatrick’s fast-paced style was laid at Harvard. Even with all that upper-level calculus cluttering his mind, Fitzpatrick stealthily pioneered the football team’s 24/7 no-huddle offense. He finished his career with the Crimson second in school history in completions (384), touchdown passes (39), passing yards (5,234) and completion percentage (59.9).

When injuries vaulted him into action as a rookie in St. Louis, Fitzpatrick burned the Houston Texans for 310 yards and three scores. He spent the last two seasons in Cincinnati, filling in for an injured Carson Palmer. After a rough start last year, he went 4-3-1 in his final eight games.

The preparation process changes when you’re starting, Fitzpatrick said.

Last season’s baptism in the AFC North was supremely beneficial in the classroom. Fitzpatrick has always lived in the film room, but last year demanded he create “little hand signals and signs” for different coverages. Subtle nuances of the position were magnified.

“You can learn only so much sitting on the sidelines and watching,” said Fitzpatrick, who has started 15 games in four seasons. “To be able to get in there and apply some of the stuff I learned helped a lot.”

Specifically, how to combat 3-4 defenses. Every team Buffalo faces in the AFC East runs this defense. And every team in the AFC East beat Buffalo last season. The blocking schemes, how the line protects, how receivers run their routes, everything changes against the odd-man front.

Fitzpatrick lost the three games he played against Pittsburgh and Baltimore. But the extensive lab work paid off for the long haul.


Fitzpatrick’s experience against the 3-4 defense should bode well in Buffalo.
Getty Images

“Both of those defenses are hard to face twice a year,” Fitzpatrick said. “The Bengals unfortunately have to do it every year. The 3-4 stuff is what they do and it’s something I became comfortable with.”

Edwards is healthy right now. Like Fitzpatrick, he’s clicking within this new offense. After all, he did go 10-for-10 against Chicago. But with the offensive line still meshing, blindside blitzes are bound to leak. Corey Graham’s whiplashing sack of Edwards Saturday was a nasty reminder.

Buffalo needed a new, capable backup. Edwards’ injury last season doomed a 4-0 start. Turns out, the Bills had a UFL talent as a backup. With Fitzpatrick, there should be no paranoia.

He’s ready to be the surgeon calling the shots before every play.

“The biggest thing is that a lot of decisions fall on the quarterback. I feel that’s one of the strong suits as a player — getting the team in the right play.”

After two years in the slammer, it’s doubtful Mike Vick could do this for any team — let alone in the no-huddle offense.

Tyler Dunne is the Publisher of BuffaloFootballReport.com and also writes for the Buffalo News, Olean Times Herald and the Packer Report. Contact him at thdunne@gmail.com.

Do you think Fitzpatrick was the right pick this offseason? Get your voice out there in the Rockpile Forums.



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