I’ve recently being looking into some of the elements that factor in to making a good or bad quarterback. I broke down some numbers looking at the deep ball, and recently followed it by looking at how quarterbacks cope when blitzed.
That leads in quite nicely to the next piece. Pressure.
You give most quarterbacks a lot of time and they’ll punish you. You put them in an uncomfortable situation with a 280-pound monster coming at them, and suddenly mistakes come about a lot more freely.
Pressure was something we saw plenty of last year. Whether it was something in their Gatorade or just one of those years, the pass rushers really seemed to get the better of their offensive line counterparts. The end result being a heck of a lot of quarterbacks put under pressure.
That generates the question for this study. Who performed the best under pressure? So let’s examine that. (Note: for this piece we looked at all quarterbacks who dropped back from center at least 200 times.)
Who Is Getting Pressured
Before getting into the performance aspects, let’s look at which quarterbacks spent most of their time under pressure. It shouldn’t be looked at as the teams allowing the most pressure necessarily had the worst pass blocking offensive line, there are other things to consider. Such as: which teams keep the most men in to help, how well those extra blockers performed, the quarterback’s ability to get rid of the ball in a timely fashion, and his willingness to let pressure mount confident in his ability to dodge it.
That said, the Chicago line was brutal this year, so it’s no surprise Jay Cutler is at the top of the charts. More interesting is that below him we have four of the more mobile quarterbacks in the league. Players like Josh Freeman, Michael Vick, David Garrard and Ben Roethlisberger are players who, because of physical attributes that allow them to often shake off rushers, can afford to let a little more pressure get their way in the hopes of making a play.
Percentage of Drop Backs Under Pressure
|Rank||Player||Team||Drop backs||% Pressured|
|8||Alex D. Smith||SF||375||36.00%|
Meanwhile, down at the bottom you’ve got a mixture of guys who benefit from good protection (like Mark Sanchez) to guys who know if they don’t get rid of it quick then their protection is going to get them hit (Peyton Manning). For every player, the type of quarterback they are and situation they’re in has more to do with the percentage of plays they’re pressured on than just attributing it to a fault of the offensive line.
Moving into the realm of analyzing how players dealt with pressure, we’ll start with the most obvious tool: completion percentage. It may surprise you who the top dog is, with Kevin Kolb narrowly beating out Jon Kitna. Before people get too worked up about this, some things need to be taken into consideration. Firstly, both Kitna and Kolb faced a relatively low amount of pressure which makes their sample size small, but more importantly, while their completion percentage when pressured was impressive, the amount of pressure they let turn into sacks wasn’t. Nearly a quarter of the pressure they faced brought them to the ground. You can see the more elite quarterbacks (Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and Matt Ryan) took considerably fewer.
You can also see in the last column which players’ completion percentages are affected most in pressure situations. It’s not pretty in the AFC East where Mark Sanchez has the largest drop when pressured, followed by Chad Henne, and Ryan Fitzpatrick finishing fifth. Once again, Tom Brady saves some respectability for the division, with only 14 players having less of a fall (not bad when you consider Brady completes 70.1% of passes when not pressured (eighth in the league).
Completion and Sack Percentages When Pressured
|Rank||Player||Team||Sack % w / Pressure||Comp.% w / Pressure||Change in Comp. % w / Pressure|
|31||Alex D. Smith||SF||18.52%||41.51%||-26.29%|
Mark Sanchez is a particular worry. He’s afforded some of the best protection in the NFL, but when that protection is pierced, he crumbles. His 35.46% just isn’t good enough, though he does do a good job of staving off sacks.
Turning It Over
Avoiding sacks isn’t the only thing Sanchez does well when he’s faced with pressure. The 2.82% of his pressured throws that ended up as interceptions is the 18th lowest figure, so, respectable enough. It’s not as good as Matt Ryan (0.49%) or Tom Brady (0.58%) but then their numbers are verging on the miraculous. Ryan in particular has an amazing touchdown-to-interception ratio when he is pressured.
Ryan isn’t at the top in percentage of pressured passes that go for touchdowns; both Kevin Kolb and Eli Manning finished with a higher percentage. But, you have to take into account that Kolb was working with a smaller sample size, and Eli also had the second highest percentage of throws under pressure ending up in interceptions (he can thank Brett Favre for not finishing with the highest). So good was Ryan under pressure when it came to throwing touchdowns and not picks, that his ratio of touchdowns to interceptions (10:1) was superior to all others by a large distance, with only really Tom Brady getting close.
Special credit as well to Josh Freeman. He managed to finish with the third best TD:INT ratio as well as the fifth lowest percentage of interceptions and fourth highest percentage of touchdowns when throwing under pressure.
Touchdown to Interception Ratio When Pressured
|Rank||Player||Team||TD % w / Pressure||INT % w / Pressure||TD:INT w / Pressure|
|8||Alex D. Smith||SF||3.70%||2.22%||1.67|
Down at the bottom we’ve got Donovan McNabb, and you probably have a better idea why the Redskins haven’t exactly bought into the long time Eagle. When put behind a shaky offensive line, the mistakes kept coming, he threw just two touchdowns compared to seven interceptions when pressured.
So now we come to our final breakdown. Grading. We pride ourselves on our ability to apply our set of standards to every play and grade objectively and we’ve got some grades here for when QB’s were pressured. This won’t just look into their ability to throw since we grade on a number of facets of each play (when they hold onto the ball too long, etc.). It encompasses quite a lot and explains why we’re so high on certain players.
PFF Grades When Pressured
|Rank||Player||Team||QB Rating w / Pressure||Grade w / Pressure|
|21||Alex D. Smith||SF||66.1||0.0|
It also explains a little bit about why I was dumbfounded to see Donovan McNabb make any top 100 list based on his 2010 performance. Perhaps the most telling aspect of it all, though, is how pressure highlights flaws. Mark Sanchez may have plenty of playoff wins, but it should concern Jets fans that the reason he needs to win them on the road largely boils down to his play (the rest of the team is as talented as any in the NFL). If there’s one area he needs to improve in, it’s how he handles pressure. If he can do this, you’d be more inclined to agree with Rex Ryan’s assessment that a Super Bowl is going to be heading to the green & white half of New York.
When I look at how quarterbacks deal with being pressured, it tells me a lot about their value in the league. It’s turning a potentially negative play into something positive; some guys can do it, and some guys can’t.
When it’s all said and done, I’m a lot happier having the former guy, than the latter playing quarterback for me.