A guy called us on Tuesday and stated that he was worried about the Bills 3rd down defense. This concern was based in part on a perception that the Bills were really bad in this department last year, and, while not good, there were 13 teams in the NFL that were worse playing defense on 3rd downs. The caller was also worried about the Bills performance in this area during the pre season and my head almost exploded.
No more needing to explain away the biggest combined rip off and waste of time in sports. It's over and the real games begin Sunday for the Bills. We start to find out the answers to some questions that frankly we have had too long to sit with. So long, in fact, that we end up arguing about the relevance of the Bills 3rd down defense in games that should be free to get into.
Those questions can be ranked in any order you like if you don't care about being right. It's pro football, so it's seems obvious to me that we need to start with this one.
How good is the guy with the ball? No, I don't mean the running backs. In 2011, Ryan Fitzpatrick ranked 9th in completion percentage, 10th in touchdowns and 11th in yards. Pretty respectable. He also threw an NFL worst 23 interceptions. Not so much with the respectable there. There is some explaining away that humongous number. Eric Wood was hurt, Fred Jackson was hurt. Fitzpatrick was hurt. The Bills were behind early, often and by a lot sometimes. Fine, there is plenty of validity to be found there and maybe even some comfort for Bills fans.
What about the pair he threw in the Giants game? Before his and all the other injuries. Look, I'm not telling you the guy can't play because he missed two easy throws to an open Stevie Johnson that could have won them a game. I'm just saying that those are throws that the quarterback on a good team makes. Put another way, throws that a good quarterback makes. Fitzpatrick needs to make those throws. He also needs to not force balls into coverage that turn into picks if his defense is better and keeping games close.
Can he do these things? I don't know. Bills fans should all be hoping so.
You probably noticed that an improved defense plays a part in thinking about the quarterback. That brings us to...
How much better can the defense be? There is a load of dough invested in the pass rush. The Bills got the best two guys available to help them do something they have not really been able to do consistently since Bruce Smith was on the team. Pressure the quarterback without sending 6 or 7 guys. How well that works out for them in a game that seems more and more geared towards having the quarterback get rid of the ball quickly is something that bears watching.
We all know how it's supposed to work. More pressure leads to rushed throws which leads to errant throws, 3 and outs and turnovers. Sounds good.
Provided the defense climbs from near the bottom of the NFL to somewhere in the middle of the pack, all eyes will end up on the guy with the ball. Whether Ryan Fitzpatrick is up to the task of ending a 12 year playoff drought is what this season is about. To do that, he'll have to prove that he can avoid so many costly mistakes.
Easy enough, right?