New York Life Protection Index shows Bills line allowing Fitzpatrick to shine
NORTHBROOK, Ill. (STATS) - The lofty numbers the Buffalo Bills offense is putting up are beginning to resemble Ryan Fitzpatrick's SAT scores. But for all the early season success the Harvard grad is having, he's well aware of what's truly powering his opportunities.
"In terms of the points, it's a tough pace to keep up," Fitzpatrick said. "We know we're not going to go out and score 39, 40 points a game. It starts with the guys up front, and I think that's what is getting us going and allowing plays to happen."
Buffalo's "guys up front" stepped up in Week 2 to the tune of a league-leading 107.6 grade in the New York Life Protection Index, a proprietary formula created by STATS LLC which measures pass protection by using metrics such as length of passes, penalties by offensive linemen, sacks allowed and quarterback hurries and knockdowns.
Fitzpatrick was hurried just three times Sunday and knocked down twice in 46 attempts without being sacked. The last of those passes went for a 6-yard touchdown to David Nelson, culminating a wild 38-35 comeback victory over Oakland. Just as impressively, the Bills offensive line maintained incredible discipline, not being called for a single false start or holding penalty.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Buffalo leads the league with 79 points, tops the NFL in red-zone efficiency and boasts the NFL's leading rusher (Fred Jackson) while armed with an Ivy League quarterback who joined Hall of Famer Jim Kelly as the only players in team history to throw seven TD passes through two games.
"We do have talent that maybe people didn't think we had," Fitzpatrick said after last week's 41-7 outburst at Kansas City. "There was a lot of doubt, so it was good to go out there and show there is some substance to what we're doing."
There also was some doubt coming into the season about how much Tennessee's Matt Hasselbeck had left in the tank. Assuming the Titans line continues to block for him like it did in Sunday's 26-13 win against Baltimore, the answer seems to be "plenty."
The longtime Seattle signal-caller who moved to Music City in the offseason lit up a usually stout Ravens defense for 358 yards through the air, and had plenty of time to do it. He was not sacked and hit the ground just twice all day for a 107.0 NYLPI score.
And just like that, an offensive line that traditionally dominated with the run proved its pass-protection skills aren't too shabby either.
"A lot of teams come in thinking they can just load the box and if they stop me, they can win," said star running back Chris Johnson, held to 53 yards as the focus of Baltimore's defensive gameplan. "We have other ways to beat you. Hopefully, they help out and let other teams around the NFL know you just can't stack the box and try to stop me and win."
The same can't necessarily be said for a number of teams, including Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco, which trailed this week's index. Particularly unsightly was the performance of the Bears' front five, which allowed Jay Cutler to be knocked down 11 times, hurried seven and sacked six - all while committing four false starts in a 30-13 loss at New Orleans.
"It was a long day out there," Cutler said. "I had to throw a lot of balls before I wanted to."
Coach Lovie Smith will look for better balance - Chicago went with an almost 5-to-1 pass-to-run play selection against the Saints - when the Bears host an equally aggressive Green Bay defense Sunday. They're hoping two key cogs to protecting Cutler, rookie tackle Gabe Carimi and guard Lance Louis, are able to return quickly from injury so the line can improve upon a 25.5 score.
In other NYLPI findings, Carolina's Cam Newton took another step in proving that he is no fluke. Although his Panthers were saddled with a loss to the Packers, the NFL's No. 1 draft pick aired it out again, leading all of Sunday's passers with 227 "air yards" - the distance a quarterback's passes travel prior to being caught by a receiver.
Newton briefly held the record for the most overall passing yards through the first two games of a season with 854 - before New England's Tom Brady broke it later Sunday afternoon.
Still, Newton's 521 air yards lead the league and stand in sharp contrast to what the Jacksonville passing game was able to pull off Sunday against the Jets. Luke McCown, benched in the fourth quarter after finishing with the lowest passer rating (1.8) in franchise history, combined with Blaine Gabbert to complete balls in the air for a mere 38 yards.
Such a dismal performance has potentially opened the door for the rookie Gabbert to walk into the starter's role this week. If so, he's surely hoping to have some of the success his fellow first-round draft pick has had up in Charlotte.