Four Seconds

Protection is breaking down and the quarterback is still holding the ball... Rick Drummond looks at what happens next as the focus is on drop-backs extending past the four-second mark.

| 2 years ago

Four Seconds

Four-SecondsInto his drop, reading the defenders and scanning through his progression, the quarterback has been trained to sense the clock ticking — knowing that there’s a finite amount of time before the routes designed for him no longer make sense and the pocket walls come crashing in.

One second. Two seconds. Two and a half seconds pass by. Three seconds now and the ticking of that internal clock is getting loud and no decision as to what to do with the ball has been made. As the four-second mark arrives, that ticking has turned to full alarm, hammer banging bell, sirens at full volume. His protection can’t be asked to hold out past that mark, but he hasn’t found the receiver he wants and the ball is still in his hands.

He should have bolted at 2.5 or maybe tossed the ball safely out of bounds at 3.5, but no, he’s “extending the play”, either determined to make something of it or overwhelmed by the alarm and unable to pull the trigger. The difficulty of finding that target is compounded at this point with him dodging danger in the crumbling pocket or on the move toward space out to one flank or the other.

With a trend toward mobile threats at quarterback, many of whom are perfectly comfortable – some maybe overly so – extending plays in this manner, this dig into the data looks at the four-second-plus drop-back.

Time To Throw

We’ve been tracking ‘Time to Throw’ on every drop-back since the 2011 season and have the results displayed in our Premium Stats section where you can see each QB’s average time as well as the splits between pass attempts made in 2.5 seconds and those that took longer to get off. Some league-wide numbers jump out when you look at the 35 quarterbacks with at least 100 drop-backs this year.

There is a fairly even split in sub-2.5 and over-2.5 drop-backs (roughly 4100 to 3900), but there have been 1000 more passes attempted (4092 to 3090) and over 1000 more completed on the early efforts. When getting into the over-2.5 range, passer rating, on average, falls 11 points, completion percentage drops 13%, and the sack percentage, of course, jumps from less than 1% to over 12% as only 5% of all sacks are registered in that first 2.5 seconds.

While that 2.5-second mark is obviously key, what happens when the play continues on past its intended span? Which quarterbacks are taking it into that four-second danger zone most often and how have they fared once there?

*note – numbers quoted here are through games of Week 7 and include plays erased by penalty.

Four Seconds

The league’s QBs have logged over 9000 drop-backs already this season and more than 1200 have seen the ball held for at least four seconds. And, unsurprisingly, nearly three-quarters of those extended plays (73%) have featured some form of pressure affecting the passer.

As with all drop-backs, we know there are three broad possible outcomes once the ball is snapped: an attempted throw, a run, or a sack. When taken all together, drop-backs this season have produced these outcomes in a 90:4:6 attempt-run-sack ratio. Considering only the four-second-plus subset, that figure shifts to 54:25:21 as runs and sacks, as expected, take on a much larger role.

When the ball is thrown on these plays, the resulting Accuracy Percentage of 59% is a significant step down from the ‘all-throws’ number of 70% and even more so from the 2.5-second set’s 74% (and, interestingly close to the typical pressured Acc% of 60%, perhaps rightly, considering the large portion of pressured four-second-plus plays). This, of course, is heavily impacted by the ramped-up frequency of throwaways in this situation. On four-second-plus plays this year, QBs have gone 270-of-622 with 30 drops and 148 throwaways.

The QBs

Looking at the 38 quarterbacks who have found themselves in the alarm-ringing four-second situation at least 10 times through Week 7, here are some of the highlights:

Oft Extended

genoRussell Wilson and Geno Smith share the lead with the most four-second-plus plays as each have faced (or created) this situation 64 times. For Wilson, that marks 25% of his total drop-backs, placing him third percentage-wise behind Terrell Pryor (28%) and Michael Vick (26%). On those 64 opportunities to ‘make something happen’, Wilson has run more than any other QB (25 times), attempted more throws (29) than any but Smith and Aaron Rodgers (32 apiece), and completed 14 of them, a number matched again by Smith and by Jay Cutler. Of Russell’s four-second-plus plays, 51 have been pressured while Smith has seen pressure on 43, again the two highest marks.

Barely Qualified

Of those just making the 10-play cut to be considered, a pair are of interest. First, Peyton Manning has only hit the four-second mark 11 times, and, as you may have guessed he got rid of the ball on each occasion (four completed, two dropped and one thrown away). He’s the only QB on the list to have not taken a four-second sack. Another of note who lands right at the edge of qualifying is Matt Flynn. He found his way to 10 of these plays in just 42 drop-backs as a Raider, absorbing five sacks and completing one of the four passes he got off.

Accurate Arms

While, as noted above, the Accuracy Percentage for passing attempts borne of these plays generally drops, a pair of QBs are carrying 100%’s to this point. Matt Ryan has been to four-second-ville 14 times. He hasn’t run, he’s been sacked twice, and he has thrown 12 passes. Of those 12, seven were completed, one was dropped, and the other four were thrown away. On a like note, Ryan Fitzpatrick, with just seven attempts has a line of: four completions, one drop, and four throwaways. Those are not two of the larger samples, but coming in third on the Acc% list at 79%, we once again see Geno Smith and his 64 plays. Smith’s 32 four-second passes have reached the receiver 18 times (14 caught, 4 dropped), another eight were thrown away and one more was batted at the line, leaving just five passes that fell incomplete.


Checking percentages of the three outcomes I previously mentioned — as you can see in the sortable table below — finds the QBs sifted into distinct groups per their tendencies. Fitzpatrick , Christian Ponder, and E.J. Manuel, for example, all opt to run on more than 45% of these plays, while Manning, Ryan, Nick Foles, and Matt Schaub find a way to throw over 75% of the time. Flynn’s sack percentage (50%) likely won’t be challenged, but as the season goes and he falls under the cutoff, Carson Palmer (40%) and Cam Newton (39%) are primed to step into the lead.

Here are the percentages for each of the outcomes, with ‘Throwaway Percentage’ of attempts included as well. Click the column headers to sort.

Russell Wilson6439.115.645.320.7
Geno Smith6423.426.650.025.0
Colin Kaepernick5234.617.348.120.0
Terrelle Pryor5228.819.251.914.8
Andrew Luck5137.317.645.10.0
Alex D. Smith5042.
Aaron Rodgers4723.48.568.128.1
Michael Vick4332.611.655.820.8
Robert Griffin III4327.914.058.124.0
Ben Roethlisberger4311.630.258.116.0
Brandon Weeden4114.629.356.143.5
Eli Manning405.022.572.520.7
Cam Newton3920.538.541.018.8
Andy Dalton3633.327.838.928.6
Jay Cutler3525.711.462.90.0
Joe Flacco3411.829.458.830.0
E.J. Manuel3345.524.230.320.0
Tony Romo3212.518.868.80.0
Sam Bradford3016.716.766.735.0
Drew Brees2920.720.758.629.4
Tom Brady296.924.169.05.0
Matt Schaub273.718.577.833.3
Jake Locker2343.521.734.812.5
Ryan Fitzpatrick2147.619.033.328.6
Ryan Tannehill2114.333.352.427.3
Carson Palmer2015.
Christian Ponder1947.421.131.650.0
Nick Foles1910.510.578.920.0
Josh Freeman195.326.368.438.5
Philip Rivers1811.127.861.127.3
Chad Henne1723.535.341.20.0
Blaine Gabbert1631.318.850.050.0
Mike Glennon1520.
Matthew Stafford1435.714.350.014.3
Matt Ryan140.014.385.733.3
Thaddeus Lewis1136.436.427.30.0
Peyton Manning110.00.0100.09.1
Matt Flynn1010.


Follow Rick on Twitter: @PFF_Rick

  • gawx

    If Wilson and Colin had decent pass protection…

    • Ellie Doe

      Colin has one of the best o-lines in the NFL.
      WIlson on the other hand has one of the worst.

      • Mark7425

        The 49ers O-line is not so great in pass-protecting. They are dominating run-blockers though.

  • Scott@Seattle

    This doesnt tell us much. What would more interesting would be a breakdown of what happened in these situations. Yards per play average? TD-INT ratio? TD per pass attempt?

    • RickDrummond

      Hey Scott, for sure, there’s a lot more to be told. Merely a start in exploring it all here. That said, at the moment there isn’t much to say about TD:INT as the numbers are small and uninteresting. Similar for yards. The throwaways, though, are — at least to me — the more interesting part of it all. Will revisit later.

      • Scott@Seattle

        Its probably too complicated an issue for statistics. I did hear the Seahawks offensive linemen saying that the defenses were getting gassed chasing Russell Wilson around and it was effecting them on future plays.

        • a57se

          That doesn’t seem to be happening with Geno Smith…….