Buffalo's offensive linemen had their best performance of the season last Sunday when it came to pass protection. They allowed just one sack late (for zero yards) along with a pair of quarterback hits to the Ravens. Their protection helped Ryan Fitzpatrick post the first 300-yard passing day by a Bills quarterback in four years. But if you ask the men entrusted with keeping their quarterback clean, they largely credit Fitzpatrick for their effectiveness.
"He's the one that's really in charge," said Bills center Geoff Hangartner. "I can't take a whole lot of credit. He's the one who tells us who to go to and I just try to coordinate it with the line to make sure we're going to the people he wants us to go block. He's the one running the ship."
"We'll have a protection called and then we give him an opportunity to see the defense and say where he wants us to go," said Fred Jackson. "We give him that leverage and he's good at dissecting what's going on and putting us in the right spots."
Bills head coach Chan Gailey has given Fitzpatrick the license to organize the protection schemes and make adjustments pre-snap if necessary.
"He's done a good job with protections," Gailey said. "He puts our guys on the right people."
Fitzpatrick however, credits the effectiveness of the group's communication as a whole as the main reason for their consistency when it came to keeping Baltimore's pass rushers at bay.
"Everybody, the line, the backs and just getting everybody on the same page," said Fitzpatrick. "And there were just certain looks the Ravens gave us schematically we thought we'd be able to do some good things and it worked out like we thought it would throughout the game.
"I'll be the one that kind of sets the line and the backs and that's the communication that's so important, and maybe that was lacking in previous weeks, getting everybody on the same page."
Both Fitzpatrick and Gailey admitted that the bye week afforded the offense a little more time to familiarize themselves with what the Ravens pressure packages entailed allowing them to develop solutions to effectively neutralize them.
Fitzpatrick got together in the film room with Hangartner to go over those solutions during the week leading up to the Ravens game and the plan is to continue that practice for the rest of the season.
"Wednesday and Thursday mornings are usually install days and we spend some time kind of getting ourselves familiar with what the opponent does and what things we're going to have in," Hangartner said. "Then on Thursday afternoon we spent some time just going over it together, looking at their blitzes and how we were going to block it up.
"We're going to have to find some time during the week for he and I to spend a half hour looking at tape and just talking through things and communicate back and forth with each other. I thought last Sunday was our best communication week and hopefully that will continue in the weeks to come."
"They were trying to disguise what they were doing, but we knew what they were trying to do," said Jackson of the Ravens. "They would bait you over here and then blitz you from the other side. It seems like Fitz just being Fitz would recognize it and say, 'Watch this guy over here, he's coming.'"
The linemen, though positioned effectively by Fitzpatrick, still had to execute and for the most part they did so against a quality Baltimore front. And they did so with a rookie in Cordaro Howard making his first NFL start at right tackle.
"We had a guy starting at tackle that really hasn't played much in the scheme and I think in terms of identifying who we thought was coming I think the staff did a good job with that and we did a good job teaching that and communicating it all week," Fitzpatrick said. "I think it was a good lesson for us that preparation does pay off."
What makes the prospects for steady improvement in pass protection even more promising is the fact that both Demetrius Bell and Eric Wood finally appear to be at full strength. Last Sunday was the first game this season where Buffalo's starting left tackle and right guard were not spelled by a substitute for a series or two. Coming off major offseason leg surgeries, both linemen have been diligently working to build stamina back into their legs.
"They both played the whole game which is a very positive step for us," Hangartner said. "That was the most snaps we had in a game on offense. We had 79 and that's by far the most plays we had all year and hopefully that means they're getting healthier and feeling better. Hopefully their injuries are healed up enough to where their legs are getting conditioned to playing a whole football game.
"Offensive line is a hard position to rotate people in and out. Having the same five out there for the whole game was important."
What's important now is for Buffalo's men up front to duplicate or even improve on their most recent performance, and they'll have to do it without the benefit of an extra week to prepare.
"Obviously we don't have a bye week every week and we need to make sure that we prepare as professionals every week and I think it was a step in the right direction," Fitzpatrick said. "I think the communication, at least since I stepped in, has been better every week and we're just going to continue to build on that."
"That's what you have to do. You have to be able to carry over from one week to the next the positives that you got out of whatever phase it might be," said Gailey. "There were a lot of exotic things going on there with Baltimore and you might not get that this week. You've got to believe that our guys will be able to handle what people throw at them and each game is different."
The way in which Buffalo's linemen want this Sunday's game in Kansas City to be different is to keep Fitzpatrick upright from start to finish.
"We want to keep him completely clean," said Hangartner. "Hopefully we can build on that (performance) and just keep getting better."