When Eli Manning said he believed he was an elite quarterback, more than a few eyebrows were raised. Sure Eli had won a Super Bowl, but there was so much of his game that made Giants fans cringe at times. One of the early knocks on Eli was how he handled pressure. Heading into this year, he wasn’t exactly our most favorite QB in this area, as he completed just 44.7% of passes with nine interceptions on the 173 plays he was pressured in 2010.
So, if he was going to make those who mocked his comments eat their words, he especially needed to improve this aspect of his play. More so, with a line that was entering rapid decline mode, he had to step up his game to fit in amongst the top players in the league if the Giants’ season was to go anywhere.
Well those who mocked are choking on their scoffs, and the G-Men are heading to a Super Bowl. A large part of that is because Manning has stepped up his play under pressure. Here we’ll break down how all quarterbacks performed under pressure, using Manning as our catalyst to show the importance of handling the heat.
*Note: Only quarterbacks with 200 dropbacks from center qualified for this study.
It’s something that can’t be discounted; a quarterbacks’ innate ability to avoid taking a sack. In some respects it is what separates the good and great quarterbacks out there, a QB knowing when to get rid of the ball. It’s one of the reasons why Dolphin fans are ready to move on from Matt Moore as he had the highest percentage of pressure turn into sacks (27.3%). He narrowly beat out Blaine Gabbert and Kevin Kolb who finished joint second with figures of 26.1%–the numbers speaking volumes for both men. Gabberts’ lack of pocket presence was as evident as it gets, while Kolb has always struggled with taking sacks.
Pressure Into Sacks, 2011
|24||Alex D. Smith||SF||193||44||22.8|
Looking at quarterbacks who have excelled, we find ourselves going back to mentioning Manning. Despite facing pressure on 38.9% of dropbacks (the fourth-highest percentage in the league), Manning took sacks on just 11.5% of plays he was pressured, a number only slightly better than the elusive Michael Vick. There’s no surprise to see Drew Brees up next, but it may surprise some to see Rex Grossman with the fourth-lowest percentage of pressure turned into sacks.
Touchdowns to Interceptions
Of course, when you start looking at touchdown to interception ratios, you start to see that maybe Rex would have been better taking some sacks instead of throwing some picks. He had the seventh-worst ratio of touchdowns to interceptions (5:11) when pressured. Still it could have been worse, with Carson Palmer having the worst ratio after throwing just two touchdowns compared to 10 interceptions when pressured. At the other end of the spectrum, three players avoided throwing an interception all year when pressured. Aaron Rodgers is a name many would have guessed, but Andy Dalton? The rookie is joined by Sam Bradford in the “didn’t see that coming” category.
Pressured TD:INT, 2011
TD to INT
|8||Alex D. Smith||SF||4||2||2.00|
Further breaking down how players performed under pressure, let’s take a look at the completion percentage of the 34 quarterbacks who played enough snaps to qualify. Up at the top, Drew Brees adds some credence to those who believe he was the leagues’ regular season MVP, completing 58.7% of his passes when pressured. When you factor in his 3.33:1 TD:INT ratio and low 13.8% pressure-to-sack percentage, you get an idea of just how unfazed Brees was by pressure this year. In second place, Tony Romo finished marginally ahead of Jay Cutler, though it should be noted both men (Romo especially) took a lot of sacks.
Pressured Completion Percentage, 2011
|25||Alex D. Smith||SF||136||57||41.9|
Down at the bottom, there’s no surprise to see names like Curtis Painter, Tim Tebow and Christian Ponder, but high draft picks like Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez will be disappointed by how they responded to pressure. This isn’t something new for Sanchez who continues to struggle when pressured, taking a high percentage of sacks and completing just 36.4% of passes. Indeed if you look at our grading, there isn’t a worse QB in the league when pressured than the face of the Jets franchise.
Making the Grade Under Pressure
It’s been a tough offseason already for Sanchez, and we’re not about to make it any easier. We normalized our QB gradings this year, so the average mark for a QB in any situation is equal to a zero. For QBs under pressure the average score is closer to a -7.1, so finishing above that mark is encouraging if nothing else. Finishing at -25.1 is anything but encouraging, with Sanchez showcasing an inability to handle defenders coming at him. This is in stark contrast to the other starter in New York, with Manning holding off Brees’ challenge to finish as our highest-graded quarterback under pressure.
This is more than just looking at the raw numbers, but looking at the context of the throws made. A positive completion percentage may show a QB dumping a ball off on third down for a short gain that sees the punting team coming on the field. Our grading can look at a quarterback evading pressure, throwing a perfect ball, only for it to be dropped–yet still rewarding the QB for his excellent play. It’s why we’re confident when we say over the balance of this year, there hasn’t been a better QB under pressure than Eli Manning. Here’s the entire list.
Pressured Passing, Grades 2011
TD to INT
|8||Alex D. Smith||SF||193||22.8||2.00||41.9||-1.5|
So there’s a glancing look at how quarterbacks perform under pressure. For those inclined to ignore grades, you have the numbers and for those looking for a bit more context, enjoy the gradings. However you look at it, there’s no denying some players have some giant question marks when teams get pressure on them, and over the offseason we’ll look at some players who have stepped-up on years previous as evidence to it being possible.