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Pats 'D' the big pass play answer?

Posted Nov 7, 2012

In a response to yet another question as to why the Bills aren’t taking more shots down the field in the passing game, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick explained how deep passes are not part of the primary design of Buffalo’s offense, but that there is a time and place for everything.

If there was ever a time and place for Fitzpatrick to toss up some deep passes it could be Sunday in Foxborough.

The New England Patriots defense has been pretty stingy this season against the run. They’re seventh best in the league permitting just over 88 yards on the ground per game. Buffalo managed just 98 rushing yards in the first meeting.

Where the Patriots defense has struggled mightily is in defending big plays in the passing game. New England ranks dead last in number of pass plays allowed of 20 yards or more. Bill Belichick’s crew has surrendered a league-leading 42 pass plays of better than 20 yards in their first eight games this season.

That’s more than five such plays per game (5.25). Even worse, the Patriots have also given up a league-leading 10 touchdowns on pass plays of 20 yards or more. Almost one out of every four big pass plays against New England has gone for six (24%).  

What makes things more encouraging for the Bills as they prepare for their Week 10 showdown with the Patriots at Gillette Stadium is they’re already responsible for some of those ugly New England pass defense figures.

Of the 42 20-plus yard pass plays against the Patriots this season, the Bills are responsible for seven of them (16.6%). They also have four of the 10 big play touchdowns scored on New England (40%).

Obviously all of those plays came in the first meeting between the two teams back in Week 4.

Buffalo’s passing game is known more for turning short throws into big gains by letting their receivers run after the catch. That’s just what happened on the Bills’ longest pass play in that Week 4 game when Fitzpatrick hit Donald Jones with a seven-yard pass on an underneath crossing pattern. Jones took it across the field and up the left side of the field for a 68-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

Another example was the screen play to Dorin Dickerson out in the left flat that he took up the field for 24 yards on a 1st-and-10 at the Bills six-yard line in the first quarter.

But the other five pass plays for the Bills that went for 20 yards or more were deep passes.

Fitzpatrick’s 35-yard touchdown pass to Brad Smith on a 3rd-and-8 in the fourth quarter traveled 25 yards through the air. His 3rd-and-3 pass in the second quarter down the left sideline to Fred Jackson that went for 34 covered 31 yards in the air. He made a 17-yard throw to Jones on a 22-yard pass play. And Fitzpatrick’s two touchdown passes to Scott Chandler of 24 and 22 yards in the Patriots game also were all air yards.

“A lot of who we are as an offense isn’t seven-step drop, hold the ball forever, three hitches and chuck it down the field. That’s not who we are,” said Fitzpatrick. “That’s not who we’ve designed ourselves to be. Do we have plays in our offense that could do that? Yeah. We’ve got plenty of plays.”

“What you have to do is throw it deep enough to keep people honest. You can’t throw six-yard routes the whole ball game,” said head coach Chan Gailey. “And there are a lot of different ways to do it. Sometimes it’s deep overs and sometimes it’s deep crossers. It’s things like that where you need a guy to catch a ball and make a few yards on his own. It’s a matter of getting guys to do what they do best, fit it into the offense the way it needs to be fit in and then you go from there.”

One reason the Bills didn’t win the game was because of their six turnovers, which led to 17 Patriot points. That and their inability to stop New England’s rushing attack, which rumbled for 247 yards.

How likely is Buffalo to take as many deep shots down the field as they did in the first meeting with New England? It’s tough to predict.

The Patriots beat St. Louis handily in their last game (45-7) in Week 8, but the Rams only score came on a 50-yard pass play. They also had 39 and 22-yard pass plays in the game against New England.

Belichick has made greater use of exotic looks to blitz on third down of late, which is when the Patriots typically get creative defensively in passing situations. Coming off their bye week New England is sure to have some surprise looks for Buffalo.

Fitzpatrick, however, is ranked fifth in the league in blitz passing situations going 47-70 (67%) for 474 yards, five touchdowns and a passer rating of 110.6.

“It’s just a matter of being able to go out there and effectively do what we do best,” said Fitzpatrick. “For me as a quarterback, you’ve got to pick and choose. You’ve got to pick times to be aggressive and throw the ball. You’ve got to pick times to continue to try to move it and throw the ball, run to get first downs, that kind of stuff. That’s something as quarterback and and as a decision maker, you’ve got to weigh the positives and the negatives of every play and every throw.”