Examining Pressure: QB Play

Steve Palazzolo shares even more data as he continues his examination of pressure. This time the focus is on the quarterback and how they perform when faced with various forms ...

| 4 years ago
rodgers pressure

Examining Pressure: QB Play

Pressure from Left Tackle

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that three of the last five Super Bowl winning quarterbacks sit atop this list as the growing perception that an elite left tackle is unnecessary continues to gain momentum. Rodgers, Brees, and Manning not only led their teams to championships, but they’re clearly the best in the league when pressure comes from the “blind side” since 2008. Brees’ reputation for a quick release holds true according to these numbers as left tackle pressure led to a sack only 7.3 percent of the time, well below the league average.

QuarterbackDrop-backsComp%Yds/AttTDINTSack%Knockdown%PFF GradeQB Rating
Aaron Rodgers18351.3%7.54123.5%42.1%15.783.8
Eli Manning16460.6%8.14413.4%29.3%15.084.0
Drew Brees19359.0%7.8847.3%30.1%11.289.2
Cam Newton5347.2%7.30013.2%30.2%10.171.8
Tom Brady11252.6%8.45213.4%32.1%6.489.8

A couple surprising names appear near the bottom as the elder Manning clearly struggles with blindside pressure and Ryan is an unlikely candidate to rank last in the league when the pressure comes from the left edge. This storyline is one to watch in Atlanta as it’s probably no accident that Ryan’s best season of his five-year career came in 2012 when left tackle Sam Baker had a career year of his own. The Falcons re-signed Baker in free agency and he could be the most important left tackle in the league given Ryan’s historic struggles.

QuarterbackDrop-backsComp%Yds/AttTDINTSack%Knockdown%PFF GradeQB Rating
Peyton Manning13851.9%5.3495.8%32.6%-7.348.7
Matt Schaub12049.5%6.14415.8%40.8%-7.565.4
Donovan McNabb8839.7%4.10218.2%46.6%-8.540.1
David Garrard10150.7%5.03320.8%48.5%-9.161.6
Matt Cassel8638.3%4.72524.4%45.3%-9.429.8
Matt Ryan17051.1%6.04614.1%34.7%-12.761.2

Pressure from Left Guard

Apparently all is not hopeless when Manning and Ryan are pressured from the left side as they find themselves on the other end of the spectrum when heat comes from left guard. Ryan’s six touchdowns compared to only one interception is particularly impressive.

QuarterbackDrop-backsComp%Yds/AttTDINTSack%Knockdown%PFF GradeQB Rating
Matt Ryan9153.8%6.7617.7%45.1%8.994.6
Philip Rivers8562.0%8.5139.4%28.2%7.176.3
David Garrard5555.6%9.11212.7%50.9%6.075.2
Peyton Manning7957.9%8.0213.8%27.8%5.486.8
Michael Vick4559.4%8.7228.9%35.6%5.082.4

It’s not a good sign that Skelton found himself in the Bottom 5 after facing only 20 pressures from left guard, but it speaks to just how poorly he reacted in such situations. Cassel makes the list again as he clearly struggles with any left-side pressure. Hasselbeck pulls up the rear as his -8.9 PFF Grade is the worst mark notched by any quarterback when pressured from a guard or center spot. 

QuarterbackDrop-backsComp%Yds/AttTDINTSack%Knockdown%PFF GradeQB Rating
John Skelton2033.3%4.50210.0%35.0%-4.98.9
Matt Cassel5731.7%4.21414.0%45.6%-5.614.6
Ryan Fitzpatrick4434.3%4.90213.6%45.5%-6.027.1
Jay Cutler6848.1%5.1148.8%26.5%-6.138.9
Matt Hasselbeck5240.5%2.91323.1%40.4%-8.923.6

Pressure from Center

As the original study showed, quarterbacks struggle most when pressure comes from center so little is expected when the pivot man gets beat. Rivers has been the best at damage control with a +5.0 overall grade. He’s joined by Manning and three mobile threats in Tebow, Young, and Griffin III. Sample size caveats apply here — particularly Griffin’s perfect QB Rating on only five pressured drop-backs.

QuarterbackDrop-backsComp%Yds/AttTDINTSack%Knockdown%PFF GradeQB Rating
Philip Rivers5460.4%8.7305.6%20.4%5.0109.5
Peyton Manning3260.7%6.5016.3%21.9%4.064.9
Vince Young2364.7%13.9204.3%8.7%3.0147.3
Robert Griffin III5100.0%13.51020.0%60.0%2.8158.3
Tim Tebow1637.5%4.80012.5%18.8%2.853.1

It’s not every day you get to see Russell share a list with Brady and Brees, but here they are at the bottom of the league when pressure comes from center. For Brady, this might not be a major surprise as the general perception is that interior pressure is his undoing, but you’d still expect a little better performance from one of the league’s best. Russell’s incompetence is particularly impressive as he pulled a -3.5 grade on only 23 pressured drop-backs including three interceptions. Fitzpatrick’s 11.3 QB Rating on 36 drop-backs is also difficult to ignore.

QuarterbackDrop-backsComp%Yds/AttTDINTSack%Knockdown%PFF GradeQB Rating
Drew Brees5550.0%5.6113.6%34.5%-3.565.3
JaMarcus Russell2336.8%5.20317.4%34.8%-3.514.7
Michael Vick4644.7%7.5022.2%39.1%-4.648.8
Tony Romo5855.3%4.91115.5%41.4%-4.666.7
Ryan Fitzpatrick3628.0%4.20219.4%52.8%-5.111.3
Tom Brady6433.3%5.51214.1%37.5%-5.943.6

Pressure from Right Guard

While Cutler finds himself in the Bottom 5 when pressure comes from left guard, he’s the best in the league when facing heat from right guard and by a healthy margin at +9.3 overall. Peyton ranks in the Top 5 in all three interior positions, perhaps showing one difference between him and Brady after a career of constant comparisons. Rivers also joins Peyton in the Top 5 in all three interior positions while Wilson makes the list with an impressive showing on his 27 pressured drop-backs in his rookie season. Roethlisberger is yet another quarterback who consistently handles interior pressure as he comes in second here after narrowly missing at both left guard and center.

QuarterbackDrop-backsComp%Yds/AttTDINTSack%Knockdown%PFF GradeQB Rating
Jay Cutler7156.6%8.35211.3%26.8%9.399.6
Ben Roethlisberger9951.3%7.43215.2%27.3%7.077.5
Russell Wilson2743.8%7.12014.8%25.9%4.8107.6
Philip Rivers9354.3%7.63010.8%23.7%4.891.2
Peyton Manning9853.9%6.7148.2%31.6%4.560.1

Just when you think you’ve heard the last from Favre, he shows up as the worst quarterback in the league when pressured from right guard. Perhaps his opponents in the Wrangler commercials will appreciate the scouting report. Sanchez really struggled as he posted as he posted a -6.0 grade, but he’s fortunate that he only faced 30 pressures from right guard as Brandon Moore did a nice job of keeping him clean. It should be noted that Vince Young just missed this list with a PFF Grade of -5.5 and a 5.8 QB Rating.

QuarterbackDrop-backsComp%Yds/AttTDINTSack%Knockdown%PFF GradeQB Rating
Mark Sanchez3433.3%3.3218.8%23.5%-6.051.9
Josh Freeman7150.9%5.4128.5%32.4%-6.258.3
Eli Manning8235.2%4.4129.8%28.0%-6.242.8
Kyle Orton4541.2%4.11215.6%24.4%-7.538.6
Brett Favre4139.5%5.8234.9%36.6%-7.943.9

Pressure from Right Tackle

It may be time for NFL teams to stop trying to pressure Rodgers from right tackle. Not only has he faced an league-high 203 pressures, most of any quarterback from any position on the offensive line, he’s posted an absurd PFF Grade of +23.8, by far the highest grade on any of these Top 5 lists. It’s interesting to see Ryan at No. 2 on the list after he pulled up the rear when pressure came from the opposite tackle. Just as Baker is quite valuable at left tackle, Atlanta’s moving on from the solid Tyson Clabo at right tackle is perhaps more warranted given Ryan’s ability to handle pressure coming from his side. A couple rookies make the list in Tannehill and Wilson and there’s also a surprise appearance from McCoy.

QuarterbackDrop-backsComp%Yds/AttTDINTSack%Knockdown%PFF GradeQB Rating
Aaron Rodgers20360.9%9.07313.3%31.5%23.897.7
Matt Ryan10955.3%6.71214.7%36.7%8.570.4
Ryan Tannehill3762.5%7.50010.8%18.9%5.885.5
Colt McCoy3941.4%4.4107.7%30.8%3.766.5
Russell Wilson3550.0%5.40017.1%25.7%3.466.3

Recent narrative matches up with the numbers as the Jets’ struggles pass protecting from right tackle may have hindered Sanchez’ growth even more than we’d previously thought. His -16.6 grade is the worst of any quarterback at any position and Sanchez’ presence on both the right guard and right tackle list give a good glimpse of where he struggles most with pressure. Orton joins him on both lists as he comes in at second-worst when pressured from both right guard and right tackle including a league-high eight interceptions when under heat from right tackle.

QuarterbackDrop-backsComp%Yds/AttTDINTSack%Knockdown%PFF GradeQB Rating
Sam Bradford7534.5%3.51116.0%38.7%-8.443.8
Eli Manning16543.8%5.43614.5%31.5%-8.550.1
Ryan Fitzpatrick12046.9%6.41515.8%38.3%-9.546.2
Jay Cutler16747.0%7.33615.0%36.5%-9.660.2
Kyle Orton10540.7%4.63816.2%35.2%-10.827.8
Mark Sanchez12438.1%4.61316.1%37.1%-16.643.5


Go to Page 3 for more bests and worsts including a look at unblocked pressure…

| Senior Analyst

Steve is a senior analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has been featured on ESPN Insider, NBC Sports, and 120 Sports.

  • Fintasy

    Strange how Ryan Tannehill is better under pressure than without

    • Richard

      Tannehill was hampered by a poor cast of receivers last year. Not a Dolphins fan, but I caught several of their games. I think Tannehill does better against the blitz because that made it easier for his receivers to get open.

      When teams hung back and only rushed 4 guys, his receivers couldn’t get open, so his numbers suffered (even when not pressured) because he didn’t have any open targets to throw to. I don’t think he’ll be a ProBowler this year or anything, but I do expect he’ll make the jump into a top-15 QB based on stuff like this and the upgrades his team made to their receivers.

    • Richard

      Tannehill was hampered by a poor cast of receivers last year. Not a Dolphins fan, but I caught several of their games. I think Tannehill does better against the blitz because that made it easier for his receivers to get open.

      When teams hung back and only rushed 4 guys, his receivers couldn’t get open, so his numbers suffered (even when not pressured) because he didn’t have any open targets to throw to. I don’t think he’ll be a ProBowler this year or anything, but I do expect he’ll make the jump into a top-15 QB based on stuff like this and the upgrades his team made to their receivers.

      • lol

        when a team rushes 4 it’s pressure, when they rush 5 or more it’s a blitz.

  • jasoncongo

    I don’t understand how Romo has such a low PFF grade, with no pressure every stat (except total yards) is better than Ben R, yet his PFF rating is nearly 40 points lower?

    With pressure, he’s less than 1 point ahead of Jake D, who has 2 TDs and 20 INTs compared to Romo’s 26 TD to 23 INTs?!? Not to mention by his QB Rating (I know a flawed statistic) he would be top 5 under pressure.

    • Warren

      Not a particular fan of Romo but someone at PFF dislikes the man. Every category where Romo scores near the bottom are better than everyone else’s in the bad category and comparable to the ones that score highest. Isn’t even close in some of them.

      • Steve Palazzolo

        I can assure you we have no bias against Romo.

        • Gainedm

          Thanks for the assurance, but an explanation would have been better.

        • targethead

          I’d like to see some math. Maybe the PFF grades are accurate, but a cursory glance at the numbers makes the grades extremely hard to buy.

          • Steve Palazzolo

            We grade based on every single throw, and stats have nothing to do with our grading. We separate the QB’s involvement in things like yards after the catch, so a WR screen that results in an 80-yard TD vs. one that goes for -2 yards is likely graded in a similar manner. We look beyond the stats and each throw is graded with no bias toward any player.
            Not all interceptions are created equal. Some are the WR’s fault. Again, we account for everything.

          • Not Amused

            So again, you get to rank players, grade them against all logic and just claim you have a formula that makes your “numbers” work? You have Jake Delhomme with 2 tds, 20 ints, 39% completion percentage and a 19.4 QB rating ranked over guys with MUCH better numbers. No matter how many passes/drops/or whatever you’d like to suggest, there is no way in the world you can have numbers that pitiful and have a better or comparable rating to other NFL Qbs(Romo is only 1 point better, Flacco is a few points worse)

          • PFF_Pete

            Keep in mind that these grade are from the last 5 seasons, in which Delhomme started just 31 games. Since our grades are cumulative, limited snaps are presumably the only thing that saved him from being even lower on this list.

          • lol

            Don’t be ridiculous, if a QB like ROMO throws to Dez and Dez does all the work, they make adjustments so ROMO doesn’t get all the credit.

          • jasoncongo

            Yes, but how do you account for everything? For example, in the bears game last season Romo threw 5 picks. The first 3 I think the blame could have been placed on the WR (Dez didn’t read the hot route, Ogletree had a case of the dropsies, and I can’t recall the 3rd) and the last 2 were all on Romo for trying to do too much to come back from the early deficit. Are you saying an inaccurate pass which falls incomplete is the same grade as a pick 6? How are you assured that it was the QB (or WR) who was at fault in a particular int where they clearly weren’t on the same page?

  • GBPFan

    So basically, Rodgers has been lighting up the NFL in spite of being one of the most pressured QBs in the league?

    Give him an oline that can block and see what he can do without that constant pressure.

  • vwclaymore

    Another reason Geno needs to start and not Sanchez.

  • Matt

    So in the “Interior Rush Combined” category, Romo vs. Hasselbeck does not compute. Romo has 10% higher completion percentage, far better TD/INT ratio (8-5>1-8 Hasselbeck), and over twice the QB Rating, yet Hasselbeck gets a higher score. How anyone can conclude Hasselbeck 40.7 Comp % 1-8 Td/INT ratio and 30.4 QB Rating makes you better than Romo 50.3 Comp % 8-5 Td/INT ratio and 76.1 Qb rating is beyond me. Apparently the knockdown/Sack % being lower means your better even though your far worse in every category. Makes very little sense lol.

    • matt

      Sorry, this is about Jake Delhomme, not Hasselbeck, put the wrong name.

  • Kal

    Very good information, but shouldn’t there be a normalization of the pff grade to drop-backs to give a more accurate comparison of the quarterbacks?

  • Jeff

    So what you are telling me is that Sanchez sucks. Even with an All-Pro line for 2yrs he sucked, with a mediocre line in 2011 he was awful, and with an above average line in 2012 he was god-awful.