Context Stats: Ryan Fitzpatrick vs The Steelers

Edward Gorelik with context stats on Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers

Statistics let us remove emotional stimuli and focus on the hard truth of what happens. But we need to place statistics into their environment to gain context and understand what’s really happening. Fitzpatrick having 60% accuracy doesn’t tell you any real information, but 60% accuracy throwing against man coverage gives you something to work with. That’s the purpose of this season-long project.

Let’s get this out of the way, these numbers aren’t completely objective. There’s a lot of subjectivity involved with interceptables, drops, single vs full reads, and even what the coverage faced is. This is still a subjective analysis. It’s just adding numbers to that subjective analysis.

Ryan Fitzpatrick’s second best game of the season was on Sunday. A performance that only gathered 13 points somehow managed to be one of the greater performances from a Jet quarterback this year. It wasn’t a good performance,

but it’s better than we’ve seen in a while. So what changed?

Ryan Fitzpatrick - Context Stats vs Pittsburgh Steelers Week 5 - Throwing Chart

Well, first of all the Steelers are an average defense. Their defense was ranked 17th in passing DVOA entering week 5. After holding the Jets to 13 points they fell to 20th. Because in context of playing the Jets, they performed below average. Did we do change anything to help make that happen? The chart above says we did.

Fitzpatrick’s season has been at it’s “best” when focusing inside the numbers and short area. With 19 of his 36 passes traveling no further than 9 yards and all within a range his arm talent can reach, Fitzpatrick managed to stay upright. Once the range is pushed beyond 9 yards that’s where things get questionable.

Looking at the 10-19 range across the board, all but one area gives you an average YPA below the yardage thrown. That one area also happened to have a surefire interception turned into a touchdown through pure luck. Lackluster performance in that zone is a theme this year, looking at the same chart but encompassing only Weeks 1-4:

Ryan Fitzpatrick - Context Stats vs Pittsburgh Steelers Week 5 - Cumulative Throwing Chart
Remember, this is for the season without the game against Pittsburgh.

Fitzpatrick can be kept afloat just by throwing inside that small box, but it’s not going to help us score points. Something else has to be done; although what that is may be up for debate. But let’s look at some plays in this range to see why it’s been good for Fitzpatrick.

Probably his best play in this game. Pre-snap shows either an inside shaded linebacker or a safety lined up 11 yards deep covering Brandon Marshall. The play-design is a modified Sail concept, keeping three reads in one vertical plane and creating a vertical stretch. Those combine to make Marshall’s route the initial choice to read. The outside receivers deep route pulls two zone defenders (plus the deep safety) and an opportunity to get the ball to Marshall opens up. Fitzpatrick throws exceptionally timely with his throwing motion finished the moment Marshall exits his break. The perfect timing exaggerates Marshall’s separation from the safety and allows him to catch the ball in a crowded space without taking a hit. Any later and there’s a chance one of the defenders are knocking the ball out of his body.

Similar to the last but flipped. Marshall is in the slot at the bottom and there’s only two defenders near the receivers with a safety more than 15 yards back over Brandon Marshall. This kind of look screams zone coverage and with the safety in no position to defend any kind of horizontal breaking route from his distance, he becomes the first read in case it’s man. Fitz holds his gaze down the middle of the field allowing him to watch Marshall come across without giving away that he’s reading him. When Fitzpatrick hits his back-step he raises his arm like he’s about to throw and pulls the inside linebacker in middle towards the right side; allowing Marshall to run past him. The two routes on the left side have cleared the area, and Fitzpatrick throws into the open space.

By running routes focused in this small box the Jets are able to make the passing game seem competent. But by doing that they sacrifice the running backs because the vertical and ground games become focused on the same areas. Each block, route, and throw is more important because the defense isn’t being stretched. The Jets running backs had 16 carries for 63 yards as a result of this strategy, which is an inefficient 3.9 yards per carry. So when plays like the following happen, your offense is taking a huge loss.

The Steelers show a big blitz on the pre-snap but only bring 5 while running off-man. The Jets run a wide scissors concept with Marshall on the solo side and Enunwa out of the slot. The combination causes the man defenders to become an obstacle for each other and allows Marshall’s to get picked off. He’s wide open. Fitzpatrick, following the play action, sets and throws but it’s behind Marshall and forcing him to turn back and slow down. With that kind of space, an in-stride throw could’ve easily been a massive gain, if not a touchdown. Instead, he’s getting tackled as soon as he catches the ball.

When you’re changing the gameplan to be a short passing offense and throwing away big play potential, you still need a way to keep the defense back. That has to come from a fear of getting YAC’d on. When you miss a throw like this, not only are you losing one of the few chances you have for a massive gain, but also missing the chance to scare the defense back.

One more thing, a new section was added to Context Stats this week. It’s a breakdown by win probability.

Ryan Fitzpatrick - Context Stats vs Pittsburgh Steelers Week 5 - Win Probability
Win probability was taken from Pro Football Reference’s calculator. It checks the probability of the team’s chances to win before each play occurs using a complicated situation related formula. Long story short, this lets us see how the QB is doing when the game is a context vs when it’s not and many other splits.

By splitting Fitzpatrick’s play by play at the time of win probability we can see how well he reacts to being on the losing side, the winning side, and the game when it’s still in a competitive state. Against the Steelers, you can see Fitzpatrick played competently when the game had at least a 25% chance to be won by the Jets. The only two times the Jets win probability was above 25% were the opening sequence and on their lone touchdown drive. Beyond that, as soon as the Jets started falling behind Fitzpatrick’s effectiveness immediately waned. Be aware, win probability doesn’t just mean the score is out of reach; it’s a complex equation that takes in a lot of factors. On the Jets first play of the game their win probability was only 24.3% for example.

How does this compare to his season though?

Ryan Fitzpatrick - Context Stats vs Pittsburgh Steelers Week 5 - Win Probabilty Season
This doesn’t include the Steelers in Week 5. The stats are split by this logic: >75% – Game in hand, 50% – 75% – Leading, 25% to 75% – Game in Contest, 25% – 50% – Losing, 10% – 25% – Comeback Mode, <10% – Game lost and possibly Garbage Time.

Fitzpatrick, when ahead of the win probability curve has played pretty well. However his play takes a negative slope once pressure to perform rises. Despite many interceptables occurring after games have already been decided (something that he helped make happen), when faced with pressure to perform he’s playing badly. It says a lot that the Jets have almost as many passing attempts when games have already been decided (<10%) as they do when they’re leading (50% – 75%) too.


As usual, here’s the interceptables from this week. Interceptables are subjective and deserve scrutiny because of how they can color our perception of a quarterback. If you can argue against any play being interceptable and make a convincing case, it’ll be removed from the list and stats.

There’s never a doubt where this ball is going. The pre-snap is showing a one on one press man against Marshall. That’s all Fitzpatrick has to see to determine that Marshall will be getting this ball. He takes a quick peek at Marshall when the play starts, then a fake turn to the right to ges the safety to take a step in that direction, and then an immediate turn back and throw at Marshall. That throw is blind and the ball heads directly into the defensive backs hands. It bounces out, luckily.

Steelers show a heavy overload blitz on the left side of the line. The leftmost end takes a wide rush and creates a hole for the safety near the line of scrimmage. That blitzing safety gets through and forces Fitzpatrick to make a drastic reaction. Meanwhile, the Jets are running a vertical stretch across the middle of the field with a short in route and a deeper in route. The linebacker in the middle of the field attacks the shorter route, leaving an opening for the deeper one. Fitzpatrick throws there, but a combination of bad throwing angle and poor placement gives the defensive back a chance to intercept the ball. Enunwa reaches back and stops that from happening.

Extra Stats

Ryan Fitzpatrick - Context Stats vs Pittsburgh Steelers Week 5 - Reads
Fitzpatrick continues to be careless on single side reads, and ineffective on multi side reads. The play action game has, over the season, helped create openings for Fitzpatrick to perform though.

Ryan Fitzpatrick had one pass dropped for 13 yards. Meanwhile, he was inaccurate on 5 passes in this game. By my count he also threw only 5 passes in stride throughout the game.

Ryan Fitzpatrick - Context Stats vs Pittsburgh Steelers Week 5 - Defense
One of Fitzpatrick’s worst performances against 3rd down. He only converted 1/8 attempts against it.

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