Examining Pressure

Steve Palazzolo dives deep into the numbers to reveal some interesting facts about getting pressure on the passer.

| 4 years ago

Examining Pressure

Offenses try to avoid it, defenses battle to create it. Big money is spent on offensive players who prevent it, and defensive players who provide it. Of course we’re talking about pressure, and no one charts and quantifies it as well as PFF.

We know that it’s important for defenses to pressure the quarterback, but PFF has been the first to put numbers to our intuitive football knowledge. This entire series will take a look at how quarterbacks fare when pressured from various points on the field, but to start, let’s take a look at the broad scope of quarterback performance when they’re pressured as opposed to playing within a clean pocket.

QB Performance Under Pressure

How important is pressure? This chart is pretty revealing, as the statistical difference between pressured and un-pressured quarterbacks is drastic.

Pressure vs. No Pressure 2012:

No Pressure14,09868.7%33213,7509,08466.1%75.5%104,2417.663930395.0

Pressure vs. No Pressure Five-year (2008-2012):

No Pressure68,36768.9%1,71266,58943,88365.9%75.2%499,7387.53,0291,63793.2

In 2012, when throwing from a clean pocket, quarterbacks notched a QB Rating of 95.0  — but that number drops to 59.3 with defenders in their face. To put that into perspective, Drew Brees had a QB Rating of 96.3 last season and Brady Quinn came in at 60.1. So, loosely defined, putting pressure on a the average NFL quarterback can turn him from Brees into Quinn. Of course QB Rating is not the greatest barometer, but it’s a fine indication of the impact of pressuring the quarterback.

Among the other notables statistics, Accuracy Percentage takes a huge hit, as does yards per attempt, which is often used as the ultimate measure for the passing game. Even though quarterbacks face pressure on only a little over 31% of the time, the difference in their performance is astronomical.

Beyond the traditional stats, of course, lies our very own PFF Grade that assesses the quality of every play of a quarterback’s season. How do they fare in a cumulative look?

PFF Grading:

No Pressure608.51914.3

Nothing ground-breaking here; quarterbacks are much more effective when given time to throw and our PFF Grades back this up.

How does depth of target compare when quarterbacks are pressured?

Average Depth of Target:

No Pressure8.38.1

Interestingly enough, quarterbacks throw the ball farther downfield when under heat. These numbers are likely skewed because of screen passes which very rarely face pressure and bring the average depth of target down significantly.

What does a QB end up doing most often when under pressure?

Actions Under Pressure:

Category2012 Run%2012 Att%2012 Sack%'08-'12 Run%'08-'12 Att%'08-'12 Sack%
No Pressure2.4%97.5%0.0%2.5%97.4%0.0%

Again, not much is surprising here. Quarterbacks who are pressured are more likely to scramble and, obviously, they can’t be sacked if they’re not facing pressure.


Check Page 2 for a look at where the pressure comes from…

| Senior Analyst

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

  • Rosen

    Very cool!!

  • http://twitter.com/Ben24626 Ben Fitzgerald

    This seems to say RT’s are undervalued as I initially suspected

  • Justin

    It seems to make sense to me that RT pressure would be worse than LT pressure. After all, when QBs roll out of the pocket they almost always do so to their right.

  • quincy

    I’m somewhat of a football novice, but I always thought the LT vs. RT pressure issues surrounded the handedness of the Quarterback. The reason I had heard LT was more important is that backside pressure is worse and most QBs are righties. If that is the case, the LT vs. RT values are not properly accounted for if you don’t take into consideration the handedness of the QB. I would love to see QB ratings on frontside vs. backside pressure. Open to any corrections on my thinking.

    • JJ

      It’s not really pressure if it’s from the blindside, the QB doesn’t panic if he can’t see the defender coming and theres no attempt or completion if he’s sacked. If he’s hit while throwing thats a little different but doesn’t happen often.

  • David

    Very interesting article, but the importance of hte LT/blindside, does not end with whether the QB sees the pressure or not. The most important factor in not seeing the pressure is the likelihood of a game-changing fumble forced because the QB never tucked the ball since he never saw the pressure. Why is there no mention of fumbles from pressure from each direction in this article?

    • Mike Eels

      I’d like to see the fumbles too.

  • BPR

    Love this! Nice work, Steve.
    PFF – Pr0n for Football Fans