To call Alex Van Pelt's first season as an NFL play caller trial by fire would be an understatement. Promoted to the position just 10 days prior to the season opener, Van Pelt has made a lot of decisions on feel rather than experience. Whether it's altering a protection scheme because there's another lineup change on his offensive line or trying to stay ahead of the opponent on game day a good number of his choices have been made with his gut.
That didn't change on Sunday when he decided he would call plays from the Bills sideline instead of the coach's box upstairs as he had done the previous five weeks. Though Buffalo's offensive punch wasn't dramatically better on the scoreboard, the logistics, communication and play flow were so smooth that the sideline is where Van Pelt intends to stay the rest of the season.
"I thought it was great," Van Pelt said. "I actually liked it. I came down for a few reasons, one to communicate faster to the quarterback. Two to talk to the quarterback in person and make sure we're seeing things the same way."
Van Pelt thought it was important to have face to face conversations with his signal caller rather than on the phone from 300 feet away in a booth.
"You want to see him with your own eyes so you can tell that he's okay with what he's seeing out there, or get from him what routes receivers are winning on," said Van Pelt. "Just being down there and interacting and getting that first hand information is valuable."
Weighing the pros and cons Van Pelt was most concerned with not having a good handle on the defensive coverages the Jets were utilizing by being down on the sideline, but it proved to be a non-issue.
"I saw more down there than I thought I would," he said. "I felt more in tune with the offense. I thought it was going to hinder my ability to see the field and it really didn't. I really enjoyed it and loved it down there. I don't know why I would go back up."
Helping put his mind at ease with his transition downstairs was Bills offensive quality control coach Nate Hackett, who served as his eyes above.
"You see things well up there, but with Nate Hackett upstairs he's really good at deciphering things," Van Pelt said. "And then we get confirmation with the pictures downstairs. So I felt with the combination of those two things it made sense to be down there."
And Van Pelt's decision to move down to the sideline could not have come at a better time. With Trent Edwards forced from the game due to a concussion in the first half, Ryan Fitzpatrick had to step in and take control of the offense. Buffalo's offensive coordinator was glad he was on the sideline working directly with his quarterbacks to make the transition and so was his head coach.
"Just his presence in the sideline huddles with he and Ryan (Fitzpatrick) and Gibran (Hamdan) went well," said Dick Jauron. "And then once Trent went down he was right there with Ryan and Gibran and the rest of the staff. But to have him right there and look in the quarterback's eyes, it was helpful particularly after the last three weeks."
Van Pelt believes being upstairs has some pluses, but ultimately he felt detached from his players and the atmosphere of the game. And after Sunday's experience he's convinced being on the sidelines is best for him and his offense.
"Upstairs you do remove yourself from the game and get in a controlled situation, but you also lose touch with what's happening in real time down there at times," said Van Pelt. "I think I just needed to see what felt comfortable."