Who can hit Fitzpatrick, prevent more ‘Fitzmagic’?
Each week the Carolina Panthers play in 2018, the Observer will choose a potential game-changer – the player most likely to make a huge impact on the game. This week’s choice:
Defensive ends Wes Horton, Mario Addison, Efe Obada and Julius Peppers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick didn’t earn his nickname without reason.
If people are calling you “Fitzmagic,” you better be able to back that swagger up on the field.
For the most part this season, Fitzpatrick has done that. He has thrown for more than 1,500 yards and 13 touchdowns in less than four full games. He was benched midway through the team’s Week 4 loss to Chicago, and then played the end of last week’s game against Cincinnati after Jameis Winston was benched. With only five interceptions during that same span, he’s captained the Bucs to the NFL’s No. 1 offense.
That means when the Panthers host Tampa on Sunday, the bearded guy slinging the ball all over the place will be the primary focus.
And that, in turn, makes it paramount that Carolina’s defensive line gets to Fitzpatrick early and often.
Whether it’s Julius Peppers, Mario Addison, Wes Horton or Efe Obada, the Panthers will need their full stable of pass-rushers at peak performance to make sure there isn’t any Fitzmagic floating around.
“It’s a group effort,” Horton said. “It’s not just one individual getting home, collectively it’s guys on the inside and guys on the outside.”
Tampa has allowed 21 sacks this season, and while Fitzpatrick has only been in for eight of those, it proves that the Bucs offensive line is vulnerable.
It’s also not as if sacks are the only thing that matter, as Horton pointed out last week.
“It’s just affecting the quarterback, you know? It doesn’t always have to be a sack,” Horton said. “If we can collapse the pocket, make that quarterback throw out of a well, if we can get our hands up, make a quarterback elevate a ball – there’s different types of ways to affect the game, so it’s not just all about the sacks.”
Coach Ron Rivera also explained Thursday why the team’s pass rush has been so effective of late, recording five sacks in the past two games against Baltimore and Philadelphia.
“A big part of it has been that the rush has been matching the situation,” Rivera said. “When you get teams in second-and-long and stuff like that, you want to be able to get pressure on the quarterback. On certain third down situations, third-and-medium, third-and-long, you want to be able to get pressure on the quarterback.
“But the biggest thing more so than anything else is on first down, you’ve gotta be successful. You can’t be in second-and-2, second-and-3, and then that translates to third-and-2 or third-and-3. So again, it’s about having success earlier in the downs as opposed to later on.”
The one potential thing Carolina has going for it?
Tampa’s deep passing attack requires Fitzpatrick to hold the ball longer than for, say, a quick out pass or even an intermediate one.
DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans are great target, but those routes take time to develop … and give Carolina’s pass rush more time to get home to Fitzpatrick.
Of course, Tampa usually keeps extra men in for protection on those routes, Horton explained, but the (overly simplified) formula is still there:
Wait for Fitzpatrick to drop back on some of those long passes, and then strike while he’s holding the ball longer.
Poof – no more Fitzmagic.
Tampa Bay quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) and wide receiver Mike Evans (13) celebrate a touchdown during the second half of last Sunday’s game at Cincinnati.