The Ten Worst Regular Season QB Performances. 10: Ryan Fitzpatrick Week 17 at Buffalo Bills

The NFL regular season has come to a close and while the league rules are more QB friendly than they have ever been, there are still a lot of clunkers in the NFL.  This series will look at the ten worst QB performances in the NFL based on passer rating and see why these QBs struggled in the game and are there common themes between each QBs poor performance.  To qualify for this list, the QB had to have played at least a half of football and attempt over ten passes.  This prevents a backup coming in at garbage time going 2/8 with an INT from ending up on this list.  Here are some basic facts on the worst ten performances in the NFL this season:

  • No QB was on the list twice
  • Two defenses made the list twice
  • Seven of the performances came after Week 9
  • Half of the performances were in the last quarter of the season (Week 14 on)
  • Three were in Week 17 alone
  • One team had two QBs make the list
  • Four QBs on the list were not the day one starter

There are some notable absences on this list and I want to point out notable games or QBs that didn’t make the list

  • Mathew Stafford Week 5 vs. Arizona Cardinals
  • Jimmy Clausen Week 3 @ Seattle Seahawks
  • Colin Kaepernick Week 4 vs. Green Bay Packers
  • Ryan Mallet Week 4 @ Atlanta Falcons
  • Aaron Rodgers Week 8 @ Denver Broncos
  • Teddy Bridgewater in General
  • Eli Manning in General
  • Andrew Luck in General

Without further ado, let’s start with Ryan Fitzpatrick.  Ryan Fitzpatrick was the second best QB on this list and overall had his best season of his career.  He set his career high in touchdown passes (31), passing yards (3,905), and QBR (63.6) and was a major upgrade over the erratic Geno Smith.  He had been playing great down the stretch with 13 touchdowns to 1 interception during the Jets five game winning streak.  But when it came down to the big pressure moment against the Bills to make the playoffs, he crumbled and had his worst performance of the season, showing why so many people doubt him as a starter.

Ryan Fitzpatrick Stat line:  16/37, 181 Yards, 4.89 Y/A, 2 TDs, 3 INTs, 20.5 QBR, 42.7 Passer Rating

Bills Defense

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The Bills defense is a solid pass defense despite the below average yards allowed per game and touchdowns allowed and have a few of the ingredients to force a QB to throw up a clunker as they rack up interceptions and force a low completion percentage.  It’s not totally surprising that the defense was involved in a game on this list but with their poor pass rush (only the Falcons were worst) and high number of touchdowns given up, they would not be in my short list of teams to be a part of a game like this and, in my opinion, are the second least likely of the defense on this list to be on this list.  So why did Fitzpatrick struggle so much against the Bills?

Passing Under Pressure

Pass #1

Situation: 1st and 10 NYJ 12
Description: Q1-(7:54) R. Fitzpatrick Pass Incomplete Short Left to Q. Enunwa (C. Graham)

The Bills only got one sack against the Jets, but they were able to get a decent amount of pressure on Fitzpatrick throughout the game.  When Fitzpatrick was pressured, his decision-making process fell apart and he threw some very questionable passes.  The Jets on this play run a play action bootleg flood play.  This is one of the most common plays in the NFL and pretty much every team has a variation of this play in their playbook.  The DE to the bootleg side is usually unblocked and the hope is that the DE will follow the offensive line action, allowing to the QB to boot to the outside unopposed.  DE Jerel Worthy (#69) doesn’t bite on the play action fake and is in a great position to put pressure on Fitzpatrick once he boots out to his left.  Usually, when a DE doesn’t bite, the QB will buy themselves time by rolling to the outside or throw a quick pass to beat the pressure.  Fitzpatrick does neither here and starts backpedaling to get away from Worthy.  This is bad for two reasons.  The first is no matter how fast Fitzpatrick is backpedaling, he is not going to outrun Worthy.  The second is that any throw Fitzpatrick is going to make is going to be off his back foot.  Backfoot throws tend to be inaccurate and float which are recipes for interceptions and incompletions.  Fitzpatrick compounds this by making a poor decision.  Fitzpatrick has two options to throw it to and neither of his options are good.  RB Steven Ridley (#22) does get past OLB AJ Tarpley (#59) to the outside but DE/OLB IK Enemkpali (#75) is charging hard towards Ridley and any pass to Ridley is likely going to be popped into the air after Enemkpali tackles Ridley.  WR Quincy Enunwa (#81) is Fitzpatrick’s other option but there isn’t a window to throw it to Enunwa as Tarpley is in the initial throwing window and FS Corey Graham (#20) is flying upfield to jump the route.  Fitzpatrick should have thrown this ball away and lived for an another down, but instead, he tries to force the pass to Enunwa underneath.  It would have taken a perfect throw to get it to Enunwa, but Fitzpatrick’s back foot throw is errant and too far to the outside.  Graham should have had an interception on this pass as Fitzpatrick hits him in the chest and Fitzpatrick is very lucky on this play to not of throw a pick six.

Pass #2

Situation: 2nd and 5 BUF 41
Description: Q3-(2:32) R. Fitzpatrick Pass Incomplete Short Left to B. Marshall

It didn’t even take pressure to throw off Fitzpatrick in this game.  Graham (#20) comes off of WR Brandon Marshall (#15) before the snap and creeps to the edge of the offensive line to threaten blitz.  Fitzpatrick sees this and his mental clock speeds up to the point that he is trying to throw the pass as soon as he is done with the play action fake to RB Chris Ivory (#33).  But in reality, Fitzpatrick has a pretty clean pocket to throw it in as Graham bites on the play action fake.  Fitzpatrick’s makes the right read in going to Marshall on the slant route as CB Leodis McKelvin (#21) is playing off coverage and Marshall opens up quickly, but his throwing mechanics on this play are all off.  Fitzpatrick throws the ball falling backward, he doesn’t step into the throw, and his arm slot is closer to a 3/4 arm slot a baseball pitcher would use than a normal QB arm slot.  All of this leads to a very inaccurate pass and Marshall has no chance to catch this pass.

Not Going Through the Progression/Poor Decision Making

Pass #3

Situation: 1st and 10 BUF 14
Description: Q4-(10:53) R. Fitzpatrick Pass Incomplete Short Right to B. Marshall

This could have been a touchdown for the Jets.  The Bills are in a Cover 1 Man coverage and WR Eric Decker (#87) has CB Nickel Robey (#37) on him in man coverage.  Decker runs an out route and is open on the outside because Robey is playing off coverage, Robey runs into WR Jeremy Kerley (#11) when he tries to come downhill on Decker’s out route, and Graham (#20) is focused on Enunwa’s (#81) flare route.  A pass to Decker is, at least, a first down and if Decker can stay in bounds after the catch, he may walk in for the touchdown.  But Fitzpatrick never even looks at the left side of the field as all of his attention is on Marshall (#15) on the curl route.  CB Mario Butler (#39) is playing off coverage which in theory opens up the curl route.  But Butler is letting Marshall chew up the cushion SS Bacarri Rambo (#30) is sitting in the area.  This should have gotten Fitzpatrick to move through his progression but instead, he stares down Marshall and doesn’t even look anywhere else.  Once DT Stephan Charles (#96) starts to get pressure on Fitzpatrick, Fitzpatrick has no choice but to throw the pass away.

Pass #4

Situation: 2nd and 10 BUF 14
Description: Q4-(10:48) R. Fitzpatrick Pass Deep Left Intended for E. Decker Intercepted by L. McKelvin at BUF -8.  Touchback

I can see why Fitzpatrick initially wants to go to Decker (#87) on this pass.  When Thompkins (#10) motions insides of Decker, McKelvin (#21) and Robey (#37) look like they trade assignments in coverage and McKelvin ends up responsible for Decker in the Bills’ Cover 3 zone.  Decker has inside leverage initially on McKelvin so based on Fitzpatrick’s pre-snap read, Decker is a good candidate to be open on the play as Decker as the initial advantage on McKelvin and Rambo (#30) is going to be occupied by Thompkins’ seam route.  Fitzpatrick should have bailed on this route quickly, though, as McKelvin didn’t push outside with Decker’s initial outside release off the line of scrimmage.  McKelvin knew what was coming and let Decker get outside of him so he could take away the post route.  As soon as McKelvin jumps to the inside of Decker, Fitzpatrick’s eyes should have immediately gone to Enunwa (#81) on the wheel route as seen on the diagram below.  Untitled presentation (2)

Robey (#37) is responsible for the flat zone coverage.  As soon as Enunwa turns downfield on the wheel route, Robey passes him off to McKelvin.  But since McKelvin is taking away Decker’s post route, there is no one in the deep outside third of the field and Enunwa is going to have an uncontested touchdown pass.  Fitzpatrick never looks as this and instead tries to force it into Decker based on his pre-snap read.  McKelvin runs the route for Decker and gets the interception.  This is a great job recognizing the play by McKelvin, but if Fitzpatrick looks past his first read, the Jets are walking away with a touchdown.

Pass #5

Situation: 3rd and 9 NYJ 45
Description: Q4-(2:00) R. Fitzpatrick Pass Deep Left Intended for B. Marshall Intercepted by M. Lawson [M. Dareus] at BUF 34. M. Lawson to BUF 34 for No Gain (E. Decker)

Earlier in the game, Fitzpatrick hit Marshall (#15) for a 44-yard reception against McKelvin (#21) in the first half (   McKelvin was playing off-man coverage against Marshall from the start of the play and Fitzpatrick slightly underthrew a pass to Marshall to take advantage of this.  McKelvin gives the same look on this play as he did on the 44-yard play but McKelvin is playing zone in the Bills’ Cover 4 instead of man coverage on this play.  McKelvin is going to see when Fitzpatrick is going to make this pass and would have been able to break on any underthrown pass to Marshall.  Fitzpatrick should have moved on from this route quickly, look to his right, and see that Enunwa (#81) was going to be in a hole in the zone between Robey (#37) and MLB Preston Brown (#52) on the slant route.  If Fitzpatrick is going to make this pass, he has to be decisive and throw a jump ball for Marshall to catch.  Instead, he double clutches and hesitates on the throw.  This gives NT Marcell Dareus (#99) enough time to execute a great swim move on LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson (#60) and hits Fitzpatrick right when Fitzpatrick tries to throw this pass.  This causes the ball to float aimlessly and Lawson (#91) is able to run underneath the pass for the interception.

Pass #6

Situation: 1st and 10 NYJ 18
Description: Q4-(0:44) R. Fitzpatrick Scrambles Left Guard to NYJ 27 for 9 Yards (C. Graham)

Ryan Fitzpatrick at this point of the game is having a fourth quarter meltdown.  But this play was his chance to make everyone forget the last two interceptions and be the hero.  This play is almost a carbon copy of the interception in the end zone as Marshall (#15) runs the post route and Decker (#87) runs the wheel route behind it.  McKelvin (#21) again jumps the post route again, leaving Robey (#37) responsible for the wheel route.  Robey is beaten soundly by Decker and Decker is open for at least a big gain, if not a touchdown.  But Fitzpatrick doesn’t even look to his left.  Instead, he is looking to his right and looking at the route run by Enunwa (#81) and Thompkins (#10).  Why Fitzpatrick is even looking to his right makes no sense.  Decker and Marshall are one of the best one-two combos at WR in the NFL while Thompkins and Enunwa are…Thompkins and Enunwa.  If Chan Gailey drew this play up for Fitzpatrick to look to his right first, he should be ashamed of himself.  Even with this faulty first read, Fitzpatrick has all day in the pocket to look back to his left and hit Decker once he sees that Thompkins and Enunwa are not going to get open.  Instead, he scrambles out of the pocket like J.J Watt is coming after him.  This is terrible because the Jets have no timeouts.  If Fitzpatrick gets tackled in bounds, the Jets are going to lose at least 10-15 seconds lining back up and with only 44 seconds left, the Jets could not afford to waste any second.  Fitzpatrick would have been better off just throwing the pass away.  Instead, he gets tackled in bounds and costs the Jets a lot of time with many poor decisions.