- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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What's got into Ryan Fitzpatrick?
The Buffalo Bills quarterback is having a career year after struggling mightily with the Cincinnati Bengals just two seasons ago. Now, an energized and improved Fitzpatrick returns to Paul Brown Stadium Sunday to face Carson Palmer and the Bengals.
Can Fitzpatrick pull off the upset against his former team? We check in with our resident scout -- Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. -- to get some answers.
Matt, two years ago Fitzpatrick couldn't get anything going in Cincinnati, but he has in Buffalo. What's been the difference?
Williamson: He's bigger and stronger, and it shows when he throws the football. I am curious to see how well he tests the wind and the elements he's going to encounter in Buffalo going forward weather-wise. I don't think he's a wonderful fit there, and we might have seen the best of Fitzpatrick already. It might get worse before it gets better when the wind and bad weather comes around. But he's certainly smart. Fitzpatrick plays smart and he's also aggressive. He's from Harvard, and he's a really cerebral quarterback. But he's aggressive and likes to throw downfield. Trent Edwards was the opposite. I think Fitzpatrick learned what not to do by watching Edwards, who was "Captain Checkdown" and very timid. When you have [receiver] Lee Evans, he's still an elite deep threat and they didn't get him the ball.
Is Buffalo's system better suited for Fitzpatrick than Cincinnati's?
Williamson: I think [Buffalo coach] Chan Gailey is a much better passing-game coordinator. They are very simplistic in Cincinnati. They Bengals often get out-schemed, and that's a real problem with their passing game. They don't do a real good job of using pre-snap movement, formations and personnel groupings to get their best guys open. Gailey is definitely better at that. The other thing that's helped Fitzpatrick early on is when he came to Buffalo, they were known as a running team and he saw consistently eight defenders in the box. Nobody was afraid of their passing game. So it was very friendly for Fitzpatrick to walk in and throw.
Who is having the better season: Fitzpatrick or Palmer?
Williamson: Fitzpatrick. All in all, the Bengals have better football players around Carson Palmer. But I think Palmer has been a liability this season. He's a worse decision-maker, and I don't know if -- maybe by a little -- Palmer is all that more physically gifted as a passer. But he thinks he is, and that's the same problem with Palmer. I still think his head is writing checks his body can't cash anymore. He could a couple years ago and was still making those throws. But now he doesn't. I also think his receivers are not very disciplined and run a lot of wrong routes, or stopping short, and that makes Palmer look worse than he is.
Despite Buffalo's 1-8 record, is this a dangerous game for the Bengals (2-7)?
Williamson: Yes, they're not too far off. In my power rankings I had the Bills No. 30 and the Bengals No. 27. They're not that different. I think the Bills want it more, trying to save their season and trying to save their jobs. It's a very dangerous game for Cincinnati.