Pressure Reveals

| 6 years ago

Pressure Reveals

I’ve recently being looking into some of the elements that factor in to making a good or bad quarterback. I broke down some numbers looking at the deep ball, and recently followed it by looking at how quarterbacks cope when blitzed.

That leads in quite nicely to the next piece. Pressure.

You give most quarterbacks a lot of time and they’ll punish you. You put them in an uncomfortable situation with a 280-pound monster coming at them, and suddenly mistakes come about a lot more freely.

Pressure was something we saw plenty of last year. Whether it was something in their Gatorade or just one of those years, the pass rushers really seemed to get the better of their offensive line counterparts. The end result being a heck of a lot of quarterbacks put under pressure.

That generates the question for this study. Who performed the best under pressure?  So let’s examine that. (Note: for this piece we looked at all quarterbacks who dropped back from center at least 200 times.)

Who Is Getting Pressured

Before getting into the performance aspects, let’s look at which quarterbacks spent most of their time under pressure. It shouldn’t be looked at as the teams allowing the most pressure necessarily had the worst pass blocking offensive line, there are other things to consider. Such as: which teams keep the most men in to help, how well those extra blockers performed, the quarterback’s ability to get rid of the ball in a timely fashion, and his willingness to let pressure mount confident in his ability to dodge it.
That said, the Chicago line was brutal this year, so it’s no surprise Jay Cutler is at the top of the charts. More interesting is that below him we have four of the more mobile quarterbacks in the league. Players like Josh Freeman, Michael Vick, David Garrard and Ben Roethlisberger are players who, because of physical attributes that allow them to often shake off rushers, can afford to let a little more pressure get their way in the hopes of making a play.

Percentage of Drop Backs Under Pressure

RankPlayerTeamDrop backs% Pressured
1Jay CutlerCHI56541.42%
2Josh FreemanTB54440.99%
3Michael VickPHI51040.78%
4Donovan McNabbWAS52540.38%
5Jason CampbellOAK38839.69%
6Derek AndersonARZ35538.87%
7David GarrardJAX42137.77%
8Alex D. SmithSF37536.00%
9Matt CasselKC51935.65%
10Ben RoethlisbergerPIT54635.53%
11Philip RiversSD59134.86%
12Jimmy ClausenCAR34434.59%
13Sam BradfordSL64034.06%
14Brett FavreMIN38333.68%
15Kerry CollinsTEN29233.56%
16Ryan FitzpatrickBUF49433.20%
17Joe FlaccoBLT61833.01%
18Kevin KolbPHI21132.70%
19Kyle OrtonDEN54531.56%
20Matt RyanATL65031.23%
21Eli ManningNYG56530.62%
22Matt SchaubHST61130.28%
23Tom BradyNE57229.90%
24Chad HenneMIA54029.63%
25Tony RomoDAL22329.60%
26Colt McCoyCLV26129.50%
27Shaun HillDET44829.02%
28Aaron RodgersGB69528.49%
29Drew BreesNO74728.11%
30Carson PalmerCIN62028.06%
31Mark SanchezNYJ64027.66%
32Peyton ManningIND72425.55%
33Matt HasselbeckSEA56624.91%
34Jon KitnaDAL35724.65%


Meanwhile, down at the bottom you’ve got a mixture of guys who benefit from good protection (like Mark Sanchez) to guys who know if they don’t get rid of it quick then their protection is going to get them hit (Peyton Manning). For every player, the type of quarterback they are and situation they’re in has more to do with the percentage of plays they’re pressured on than just attributing it to a fault of the offensive line.

Completion Percentage

Moving into the realm of analyzing how players dealt with pressure, we’ll start with the most obvious tool: completion percentage. It may surprise you who the top dog is, with Kevin Kolb narrowly beating out Jon Kitna. Before people get too worked up about this, some things need to be taken into consideration. Firstly, both Kitna and Kolb faced a relatively low amount of pressure which makes their sample size small, but more importantly, while their completion percentage when pressured was impressive, the amount of pressure they let turn into sacks wasn’t. Nearly a quarter of the pressure they faced brought them to the ground. You can see the more elite quarterbacks (Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and Matt Ryan) took considerably fewer.
You can also see in the last column which players’ completion percentages are affected most in pressure situations. It’s not pretty in the AFC East where Mark Sanchez has the largest drop when pressured, followed by Chad Henne, and Ryan Fitzpatrick finishing fifth. Once again, Tom Brady saves some respectability for the division, with only 14 players having less of a fall (not bad when you consider Brady completes 70.1% of passes when not pressured (eighth in the league).

Completion and Sack Percentages When Pressured

RankPlayerTeamSack % w / PressureComp.% w / PressureChange in Comp. % w / Pressure
1Kevin KolbPHI23.19%59.18%-2.24%
2Jon KitnaDAL23.86%59.02%-8.30%
3Drew BreesNO12.38%55.74%-16.22%
4Peyton ManningIND9.19%54.49%-15.45%
5Tony RomoDAL10.61%54.39%-20.61%
6Matt HasselbeckSEA22.70%53.70%-7.69%
7Tom BradyNE17.54%53.24%-16.86%
8Carson PalmerCIN14.94%52.78%-11.85%
9Philip RiversSD18.45%52.76%-18.93%
10Matt RyanATL13.79%52.66%-14.16%
11Jay CutlerCHI23.93%52.20%-10.97%
12Ben RoethlisbergerPIT21.13%51.75%-13.53%
13Jason CampbellOAK21.43%50.91%-12.10%
14Josh FreemanTB12.56%50.90%-16.20%
15David GarrardJAX20.13%50.43%-20.48%
16Aaron RodgersGB19.19%49.30%-22.10%
17Kyle OrtonDEN19.77%49.22%-12.94%
18Shaun HillDET13.08%47.62%-18.94%
19Brett FavreMIN16.28%47.17%-19.10%
20Joe FlaccoBLT24.02%46.94%-21.53%
21Derek AndersonARZ18.12%46.85%-7.32%
22Kerry CollinsTEN13.27%45.88%-16.81%
23Matt SchaubHST17.30%45.10%-25.21%
24Eli ManningNYG9.25%44.74%-25.29%
25Michael VickPHI17.79%44.36%-26.18%
26Matt CasselKC15.14%43.36%-20.95%
27Sam BradfordSL15.14%43.35%-23.55%
28Donovan McNabbWAS17.45%41.76%-25.78%
29Colt McCoyCLV29.87%41.67%-24.43%
30Chad HenneMIA18.75%41.53%-26.30%
31Alex D. SmithSF18.52%41.51%-26.29%
32Ryan FitzpatrickBUF14.02%39.20%-25.99%
33Jimmy ClausenCAR27.73%39.02%-18.32%
34Mark SanchezNYJ16.95%35.46%-26.52%


Mark Sanchez is a particular worry. He’s afforded some of the best protection in the NFL, but when that protection is pierced, he crumbles. His 35.46% just isn’t good enough, though he does do a good job of staving off sacks.

Turning It Over

Avoiding sacks isn’t the only thing Sanchez does well when he’s faced with pressure. The 2.82% of his pressured throws that ended up as interceptions is the 18th lowest figure, so, respectable enough. It’s not as good as Matt Ryan (0.49%) or Tom Brady (0.58%) but then their numbers are verging on the miraculous. Ryan in particular has an amazing touchdown-to-interception ratio when he is pressured.
Ryan isn’t at the top in percentage of pressured passes that go for touchdowns; both Kevin Kolb and Eli Manning finished with a higher percentage. But, you have to take into account that Kolb was working with a smaller sample size, and Eli also had the second highest percentage of throws under pressure ending up in interceptions (he can thank Brett Favre for not finishing with the highest). So good was Ryan under pressure when it came to throwing touchdowns and not picks, that his ratio of touchdowns to interceptions (10:1) was superior to all others by a large distance, with only really Tom Brady getting close.
Special credit as well to Josh Freeman. He managed to finish with the third best TD:INT ratio as well as the fifth lowest percentage of interceptions and fourth highest percentage of touchdowns when throwing under pressure.

Touchdown to Interception Ratio When Pressured

RankPlayerTeamTD % w / PressureINT % w / PressureTD:INT w / Pressure
1Matt RyanATL4.93%0.49%10.00
2Tom BradyNE3.51%0.58%6.00
3Josh FreemanTB4.48%1.35%3.33
4Kevin KolbPHI7.25%2.90%2.50
5Tony RomoDAL3.03%1.52%2.00
6Jon KitnaDAL2.27%1.14%2.00
7Ben RoethlisbergerPIT3.61%2.06%1.75
8Alex D. SmithSF3.70%2.22%1.67
9Matt CasselKC3.78%2.70%1.40
10Joe FlaccoBLT2.45%1.96%1.25
11Mark SanchezNYJ3.39%2.82%1.20
12Michael VickPHI2.88%2.40%1.20
13Philip RiversSD2.91%2.43%1.20
14David GarrardJAX3.77%3.14%1.20
15Eli ManningNYG5.78%5.20%1.11
16Kerry CollinsTEN2.04%2.04%1.00
17Matt SchaubHST2.70%2.70%1.00
18Jimmy ClausenCAR0.84%0.84%1.00
19Colt McCoyCLV3.90%3.90%1.00
20Carson PalmerCIN2.87%3.45%0.83
21Chad HenneMIA2.50%3.13%0.80
22Peyton ManningIND3.24%4.32%0.75
23Matt HasselbeckSEA2.13%2.84%0.75
24Aaron RodgersGB2.53%3.54%0.71
25Jay CutlerCHI2.14%2.99%0.71
26Drew BreesNO2.86%4.29%0.67
27Sam BradfordSL1.83%2.75%0.67
28Kyle OrtonDEN2.33%3.49%0.67
29Jason CampbellOAK1.95%3.90%0.50
30Brett FavreMIN3.10%6.98%0.44
31Ryan FitzpatrickBUF1.22%3.05%0.40
32Shaun HillDET0.77%2.31%0.33
33Derek AndersonARZ0.72%2.17%0.33
34Donovan McNabbWAS0.94%3.30%0.29


Down at the bottom we’ve got Donovan McNabb, and you probably have a better idea why the Redskins haven’t exactly bought into the long time Eagle. When put behind a shaky offensive line, the mistakes kept coming, he threw just two touchdowns compared to seven interceptions when pressured.


So now we come to our final breakdown. Grading. We pride ourselves on our ability to apply our set of standards to every play and grade objectively and we’ve got some grades here for when QB’s were pressured. This won’t just look into their ability to throw since we grade on a number of facets of each play (when they hold onto the ball too long, etc.). It encompasses quite a lot and explains why we’re so high on certain players.

PFF Grades When Pressured

RankPlayerTeamQB Rating w / PressureGrade w / Pressure
1Aaron RodgersGB60.919.0
2Peyton ManningIND67.416.0
3Matt RyanATL86.513.5
4Ben RoethlisbergerPIT81.111.5
5Josh FreemanTB79.411.0
6Philip RiversSD74.311.0
7Michael VickPHI65.38.5
8Shaun HillDET52.08.0
9Tom BradyNE84.57.5
10Carson PalmerCIN63.97.5
11Colt McCoyCLV53.87.0
12Tony RomoDAL80.67.0
13Jay CutlerCHI68.97.0
14Eli ManningNYG61.04.5
15David GarrardJAX67.24.5
16Drew BreesNO64.33.0
17Jason CampbellOAK60.61.5
18Matt CasselKC63.20.5
19Matt SchaubHST58.70.5
20Kyle OrtonDEN62.40.5
21Alex D. SmithSF66.10.0
22Jon KitnaDAL78.70.0
23Jimmy ClausenCAR50.3-1.0
24Kevin KolbPHI91.4-1.5
25Kerry CollinsTEN61.8-1.5
26Sam BradfordSL51.0-1.5
27Derek AndersonARZ56.1-1.5
28Joe FlaccoBLT64.0-2.5
29Matt HasselbeckSEA67.7-4.0
30Ryan FitzpatrickBUF44.0-4.5
31Chad HenneMIA48.8-5.5
32Mark SanchezNYJ51.9-6.5
33Brett FavreMIN43.2-7.5
34Donovan McNabbWAS46.7-10.0


It also explains a little bit about why I was dumbfounded to see Donovan McNabb make any top 100 list based on his 2010 performance. Perhaps the most telling aspect of it all, though, is how pressure highlights flaws. Mark Sanchez may have plenty of playoff wins, but it should concern Jets fans that the reason he needs to win them on the road largely boils down to his play (the rest of the team is as talented as any in the NFL). If there’s one area he needs to improve in, it’s how he handles pressure. If he can do this, you’d be more inclined to agree with Rex Ryan’s assessment that a Super Bowl is going to be heading to the green & white half of New York.
When I look at how quarterbacks deal with being pressured, it tells me a lot about their value in the league. It’s turning a potentially negative play into something positive; some guys can do it, and some guys can’t.
When it’s all said and done, I’m a lot happier having the former guy, than the latter playing quarterback for me.

  • tom

    Your charts show what I have seen w/the elite QB’s (Manning, Brees, Brady): teams are using more exotic coverage schemes to combat them. I would think DCoordinators are trying to confuse the QB, but mostly trying to confuse the receivers, the Jets and GB come to mind.
    A question I have is about Matt Ryan;if he has a 10:1 td/int ratio when pressured, his ratio when not pressured has to be god awful since his overall ratio is roughly 3:1.
    While I consider Rivers elite, his OLine was awful last year as well as Mannings, but Peyton is in another stratosphere when it comes to getting the ball out quickly and accurately.

    • Nathan Jahnke

      To the Ryan comment-his TD:Int when not pressured is 19:10, or close to 2:1, which is still good.

  • tom

    Appreciate the answer and charts, but as coach Belichick always says, every situation of every game is different. How does someone quantify effectiveness of a QB? Your pressure/non pressure charts are a start, but how does it change according to field position, weather, opposition, personnel groupings, down & distance. The list could go on forever. One thing is for certain, wins and losses/super bowls are simplistic and the NFL’s decades old QB rating is seriously flawed.

  • GeoXXX

    “It also explains a little bit about why I was dumbfounded to see Donovan McNabb make any top 100 list based on his 2010 performance. Perhaps the most telling aspect of it all, though, is how pressure highlights flaws.”
    Well first i would say 2010 doesn’t define McNabb’s abilities.Nor are QB performances in a vacuum which is why people are giving up on McNabb after one poor season in Washington.
    Plus all pressure isn’t the same. It seemed like McNabb wasn’t constantly dealing with “jailbreaks” rather than a lone rusher or two.
    Also look at the quality of receiver the QB has to throw to. McNabb’s number two guy was Galloway, enough said.
    Finally look at the game situations to put the numbers in perspective. QBs are more likely to force the ball when the team is behind and in dire straights.
    Not to absolve McNabb of all responsibility for a poor season but I suspect the problem lies far more in the talent around him in Washington.