Unless you are Tom Savage’s mother or the biggest Case Keenum honk in Houston, the announcement by head coach Bill O’Brien that Ryan Fitzpatrick would be the starting quarterback for the Texans in 2014 came as very little of a surprise. The fact that T.J. Yates got traded for anything was more surprising than this. But what should we expect with Fitz in 2014? Let’s take a look at some realistic possibilities.
Valued as an intelligent guy with high leadership qualities has always been the go to explanation for Fitzpatrick. He doesn’t have a rocket arm nor does he have tremendous athletic ability. Compared to the previous starting quarterback, he’s Steve Young in his ability to scramble. But around the league, he’s average in that category, at best. At 31 years of age, don’t expect this to change this season.
His accuracy is decent, completing nearly 60 percent of his pass attempts over his 85 career games. However, he still tries to force things that aren’t there a bit too much and that has contributed to his 93 career interceptions. Even in his career year for Buffalo in 2011, he offset his 24 touchdowns with a league-leading 23 interceptions. Is this something that can be corrected?
One thing that Fitzpatrick has in this stop that he hasn’t in his previous tenures is a coach with the reputation of Bill O’Brien at working with quarterbacks. Be it mechanics, system or just teaching him to not force something that isn’t there, Fitzpatrick is surely being envisioned as simply a game manager that doesn’t turn the ball over. That’s something that might be easier said than done, however.
At his age, a quarterback doesn’t usually change his ways. In his last full season as a starter, he cut his interceptions down to just 16 to go with another 24 touchdowns, but in Tennessee last year, he jumped back to 12 picks in 9 starts. So in the last four seasons, that’s 85 touchdowns to 66 interceptions in 54 starts. So, on average, the 2 touchdowns, 1 interception game is the norm for him.
Lastly, can he win when the game is on the line? To be truthful, there was ample opportunity in Buffalo, as the team was normally down late. But he has still produced 7 comebacks and 9 game-winning drives over his career. By comparison, Matt Schaub produced 11 fourth quarter comebacks and 14 game-winning drives in 13 more starts with the Texans.
Most have concluded that Ryan Fitzpatrick was brought in to be a stop-gap until the Texans find their next quarterback and the team rebuilds. To realistically expect anything big of him this year is kind of asking a lot. The team is trying to build up a monstrous defense and will ask him to just keep the team in the game more than not. Without knowing if Andre Johnson will be one of his weapons or not, it’s tough to project his stats for the 2014 season. But, for the fun of it, if Andre is here and Fitzpatrick starts all 16 games, I’d expect a 3,600 yard, 22 touchdown and 15 interception season for him.
Fitzpatrick has been pretty durable, so him staying healthy isn’t really a big concern at this point. Unless Savage, Keenum or some quarterback not currently on the roster push him or he just completely falls apart, I’d expect to see him suit up for all 16 regular season games in 2014. While those projected numbers are nothing to get excited about, it isn’t anything that is going to seriously hurt the team. I’m still expecting this to be a two year rebuild with the defense making huge leaps this season and the new quarterback presumably taking the reins in 2015. So to expect anything more of Fitzpatrick than being just a band-aid is kind of foolish. But I will predict he plays better than most of the masses are thinking.
Is Ryan Fitzpatrick an ideal veteran to lead your team and mentor the young guys? Probably not. But for as late in the game as Houston signed someone, I think they could have done worse. Much worse.