2011 Passing Under Pressure

| January 31, 2012

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.

 

Avoiding Sacks

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

Rank
Name
Team
Pressured Dropbacks
Sacks
Sack %
1Eli ManningNYG2442811.5
2Michael VickPHI1992311.6
3Drew BreesNO1742413.8
4Rex GrossmanWAS1802513.9
5Josh FreemanTB2042914.2
6Matt SchaubHST1091614.7
7Matt RyanATL1712615.2
8Ryan FitzpatrickBUF1352115.6
9Philip RiversSD1812916.0
10Matt HasselbeckTEN1121816.1
11Carson PalmerOAK1051716.2
12Cam NewtonCAR2083516.8
13Jay CutlerCHI1332317.3
14Joe FlaccoBLT1773117.5
15Andy DaltonCIN1382518.1
16Colt McCoyCLV1793318.4
17Tom BradyNE1733218.5
18John SkeltonARZ1202319.2
19Tony RomoDAL1743620.7
20Matthew StaffordDET1723620.9
21Tim TebowDEN1503221.3
22Tarvaris JacksonSEA1964221.4
23Ben RoethlisbergerPIT1854021.6
24Alex D. SmithSF1934422.8
25Aaron RodgersGB1583622.8
26Curtis PainterIND691623.2
27Dan OrlovskyIND601423.3
28Mark SanchezNYJ1643923.8
29Matt CasselKC912224.2
30Christian PonderMIN1182924.6
31Sam BradfordSL1373525.5
32Blaine GabbertJAX1534026.1
33Kevin KolbARZ1153026.1
34Matt MooreMIA1283527.3

 

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

Rank
Name
Team
TD
INT
TD to INT
1Aaron RodgersGB40--
2Andy DaltonCIN40--
3Sam BradfordSL20--
4Tom BradyNE824.00
5Drew BreesNO1033.33
6Ben RoethlisbergerPIT623.00
7Matt SchaubHST313.00
8Alex D. SmithSF422.00
9Tony RomoDAL741.75
10Jay CutlerCHI321.50
11Kevin KolbARZ541.25
12Matthew StaffordDET651.20
13tEli ManningNYG771.00
13tMichael VickPHI771.00
15tMatt MooreMIA331.00
15tTim TebowDEN331.00
15tBlaine GabbertJAX331.00
18Cam NewtonCAR560.83
19Matt RyanATL450.80
20John SkeltonARZ340.75
21Philip RiversSD460.67
22tMatt CasselKC230.67
22tChristian PonderMIN230.67
24tMatt HasselbeckTEN350.60
24tMark SanchezNYJ350.60
26Colt McCoyCLV240.50
27Joe FlaccoBLT360.50
28Rex GrossmanWAS5110.45
29Tarvaris JacksonSEA490.44
30Dan OrlovskyIND130.33
31Josh FreemanTB270.29
32Ryan FitzpatrickBUF280.25
33Curtis PainterIND140.25
34Carson PalmerOAK2100.20

 

Completions

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

Rank
Name
Team
Att.
Comp.
Comp %
1Drew BreesNO1438458.7
2Tony RomoDAL1347656.7
3Jay CutlerCHI1055956.2
4Ben RoethlisbergerPIT1357454.8
5Eli ManningNYG21011454.3
6Josh FreemanTB1568051.3
7Carson PalmerOAK854350.6
8Tom BradyNE1336649.6
9Cam NewtonCAR1437049.0
10Kevin KolbARZ824048.8
11Aaron RodgersGB1045048.1
12Matt HasselbeckTEN924346.7
13Matthew StaffordDET1296046.5
14Colt McCoyCLV1255846.4
15Matt MooreMIA843946.4
16Dan OrlovskyIND442045.5
17Philip RiversSD1486644.6
18Matt RyanATL1426344.4
19Joe FlaccoBLT1406244.3
20Rex GrossmanWAS1546844.2
21Ryan FitzpatrickBUF1014443.6
22John SkeltonARZ853743.5
23Michael VickPHI1446142.4
24Matt SchaubHST923942.4
25Alex D. SmithSF1365741.9
26Matt CasselKC542240.7
27Blaine GabbertJAX1024140.2
28Tarvaris JacksonSEA1455739.3
29Andy DaltonCIN1013938.6
30Sam BradfordSL993838.4
31Mark SanchezNYJ1184336.4
32Christian PonderMIN782835.9
33Tim TebowDEN903134.4
34Curtis PainterIND501632.0

 

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

Rank
Name
Team
Pressured Dropbacks
Sack %
TD to INT
Comp %
Grade
1Eli ManningNYG24411.51.0054.39.8
2Drew BreesNO17413.83.3358.78.9
3Cam NewtonCAR20816.80.8349.03.9
4Aaron RodgersGB15822.8--48.12.1
5Tom BradyNE17318.54.0049.61.0
6Jay CutlerCHI13317.31.5056.20.3
7Matthew StaffordDET17220.91.2046.5-1.5
8Alex D. SmithSF19322.82.0041.9-1.5
9Matt MooreMIA12827.31.0046.4-3.4
10Ben RoethlisbergerPIT18521.63.0054.8-3.6
11Andy DaltonCIN13818.1--38.6-3.9
12Carson PalmerOAK10516.20.2050.6-4.4
13Matt SchaubHST10914.73.0042.4-4.5
14Michael VickPHI19911.61.0042.4-6.2
15Tarvaris JacksonSEA19621.40.4439.3-6.4
16Matt CasselKC9124.20.6740.7-7.2
17Kevin KolbARZ11526.11.2548.8-7.3
18Tony RomoDAL17420.71.7556.7-8.1
19Curtis PainterIND6923.20.2532.0-8.2
20Matt RyanATL17115.20.8044.4-8.4
21Philip RiversSD18116.00.6744.6-8.9
22Dan OrlovskyIND6023.30.3345.5-9.3
23Matt HasselbeckTEN11216.10.6046.7-10.3
24Sam BradfordSL13725.5--38.4-11.6
25Ryan FitzpatrickBUF13515.60.2543.6-11.8
26Rex GrossmanWAS18013.90.4544.2-13.3
27Josh FreemanTB20414.20.2951.3-13.9
28Tim TebowDEN15021.31.0034.4-13.9
29Christian PonderMIN11824.60.6735.9-14.0
30John SkeltonARZ12019.20.7543.5-14.1
31Colt McCoyCLV17918.40.5046.4-15.3
32Blaine GabbertJAX15326.11.0040.2-17.1
33Joe FlaccoBLT17717.50.5044.3-20.7
34Mark SanchezNYJ16423.80.6036.4-25.1

 

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.

 

 

Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled … and our main feed too: @ProFootbalFocus

 

  • roguepatriot

    The only thing missing is dropped INTs – poor decisions and/or poorly thrown balls, while pressured, that were simply dropped by a defender with hands of stone.

    If you factor this into your TD:INT ratios I’ll bet that many of the overall grades would be significantly different.

    As always, keep up the great work!!!

    • Rick Drummond

      The poorly thrown balls that should have been picked and other beyond-the-boxscore stuff are factored into the grades, so they are accounted for in that respect.

    • roguepatriot

      Injuries are a part of the game. Most players play with some form of pain or another.

      If you can find a copy, read Hollywood Henderson’s autobiography. He gives a great POV on the life of an NFL player. In a nutshell, a player who can’t play with any degree of pain, can’t play in the NFL.

  • hounddog

    Doesn’t take injuries into consideration either. Broken finger and gloves for Stafford. Ankle for Rothlesberger and I think Sanchez and Brady had some shoulder issues along with many others I’m sure.

    • http://www.profootballfocus.com Khaled Elsayed

      It doesnt and we’ll always say we’ll leave it to individuals to assess the impact of injuries – we’re not doctors so cant quantify the impact it has on performance.

      Fair play to players for playing through the pain but it can’t earn you extra points otherwise you’re introducing the kind of subjectivity that boggles the mind.

  • CaptainHuggyFace

    Good stuff.

    As with most analyses, not all variables will be taken into account, as pointed out above. But I commend the level of detail here. This is valuable stuff.

    Thanks.

  • CaptainHuggyFace

    Cam Newton seems a bit high on the “Grades” list. He was in the 64.7th percentile in Sack Avoidance, 47th percentile in TD:INT, and 73.5th percentile in Completion Percentage. How did you weigh each category?

    That said, pretty impressive performance for the rookie. Wonder what his ADP will be in 2012. I figure Rodgers, Brees, and Brady(?) will go off the board before Cam. #25 overall?

    • Rick Drummond

      The Grades there are our play-by-play, normalized ratings for the season (when pressured). Might be confusing having them listed next to the other numbers, but they are not built from those numbers, just presented side-by-side for a look. As for the fantasy draft position, the guys on the PFF Fantasy side would be much more in tune with that.

    • http://www.profootballfocus.com Khaled Elsayed

      Newton does a lot of good running when pressured – turns a negative situation into a positive which the grades reflect.

  • brianks68

    These numbers create more questions for me than answers. First, what qualifies as a “pressured dropback”? Second, this doesn’t seem to take into account things like offensive line quality, ability of receivers to get separation, dropped passes, etc. Sometimes it’s better to take a sack than to throw into coverage. Sometimes you have to throw the ball away (affects completion %). It also does’t take into account how defenses scheme certain QBs. Some QBs get blitzed more than others. Some QBs audible more than others when blitzes are coming. There are too many variables to simply say QB X has a grade of Y under pressure.

    Take Carson Palmer for example. He has a low sack %, a decent completion %, but he threw TEN interceptions (in less than half a season). This tells me he tends to throw the ball up for grabs while under pressure. Sometimes it works out. Most of the time it doesn’t. 10 INTs in 85 attempts is a HORRIBLE ratio. Not so coincidentally, the Raiders collapsed down the stretch. Yet you have him graded 12th. No NFL coach worth his salt would think Palmer was the 12th best QB under pressure.

    I hate to be anti-intellectual about it, but a lot of these grades just don’t pass the eyeball test. There is no way, and I mean NO WAY Palmer gets a better grade under pressure than Joe Flacco. And there’s no way Flacco is #33 out of 34 QBs. He’s not the best, and it’s what he needs to work on most, but worse than Palmer, Painter, Orlovsky, Grossman, Gabbert, and McCoy? Not a chance. Anybody WATCHING THE GAME can tell you that.