QBs in Focus: Breakdown by Downs

Steve Palazzolo opens a month-long look at QB play with a breakdown of performances by downs.

| 3 years ago

QBs in Focus: Breakdown by Downs

qb-month-downThough we certainly miss football during the offseason, it’s always a good time to take a step back and analyze our plethora of data.

We’re often so busy grading and collecting data during the season that we’re unable to put a lot of the information to good use. With that said, we’ve decided to declare June as “QB Month” as we break down NFL quarterbacks every which way.

We’re going to examine quarterbacks from a number of situations before looking at each of them individually. The grades and numbers should reveal each quarterback’s strengths and weaknesses from the 2013 season.

As we go through this series, it’s important to understand the relationship between QB Rating (NFL’s version) and PFF Grade.

While QB Rating is obviously supposed to be a QB statistic, it’s actually a better gauge of what the entire offense did in a given situation. This is the type of information that is actually extremely valuable to our NFL team customers as their game planning efforts must go towards stopping an entire passing offense, not just the quarterback.

If the quarterback throws an easy dump off pass to the RB who then weaves through the defense for the touchdown, it’s certainly not a great indicator of quarterbacking skill as it is the running back and defense accounting for the majority of the work on the play. Of course the QB Rating will look quite shiny in that situation.

On the other hand, PFF Grade is a good indicator of how well the quarterback actually performed in a given situation. Whether they throw an accurate pass that was dropped, or perhaps an inaccurate one that should have been intercepted and the defense dropped, the PFF grade will account for those situations with a positive and a negative grade respectively while QB Rating will simply reflect the 0-for-1 passing.

It’s important to distinguish between QB Rating and PFF grade, though there’s a good chance they’ll fall in line often.

*Click charts to enlarge… 

First Downs

1st Down 1st Down (2)

•  It’s no surprise to see Peyton Manning at the top of any quarterback list as he led the way with a PFF Grade of +9.8 and a success percentage of 48.7%.

•  Two Eagles, Nick Foles and Michael Vick, top the list in yards per attempt at 9.7 and 10.7, respectively. Foles also topped the league with a TD rate of 10.3% and QB Rating at 126.0. This speaks to the Eagles’ ability to create big plays on first down.

•  Sam Bradford topped the league with an 82.6% Accuracy Percentage, but his average depth of target (aDOT) was a league-low 6.9 yards.


Second Downs

2nd Down2nd Down (2)

•  Just like first downs, Manning tops the second down list in both PFF Grade at +18.1 and success percentage at 49.3%.

•  Josh McCown was extremely efficient on second down, leading the league in both QB Rating at 130.0 and yards per attempt at 9.5, while finishing second in Accuracy Percentage at 82.3%.

•  Ryan Tannehill’s aDOT of 10.1 was the second-highest in the league and he made the most of it, coming in second with a +12.1 grade.


Third Downs

3rd Down3rd Down (2)

•  Phillip Rivers proved to be the league’s best quarterback in third down with a +14.4 grade and league-leading success percentage of 47.0%. His 8.8 yards per attempt also ranked second.

•  Kellen Clemens is probably not the first quarterback you’d expect to lead the league in QB Rating on third downs (110.6), but he graded at +6.2 while failing to throw an interception and also getting aided by 7.0 yards after the catch.

•  Perhaps an interesting schematic note: Eli Manning and Mike Glennon ranked among the lowest quarterbacks in YAC per completion at 4.1 and 3.1, respectively, and the two quarterbacks played in similar systems.

•  No quarterback had more third down drops than Robert Griffin’s 17. Redskins’ receivers added five more under Kirk Cousins.

•  Joe Flacco’s 219 third down dropbacks led the league but his -6.5 grade ranked third from last.


Fourth Downs

4th Down4th Down (2)

•  One of the major storylines in Carolina last year was head coach Ron Rivera’s fourth down aggressiveness and Cam Newton made the most of it to lead the league with a +2.7 grade on his six attempts.

•  Aaron Rodgers was right there with Newton at +2.7 to go with his perfect QB Rating of 158.3 while converting five of his six attempts.

•  Newton tied with Andy Dalton with three touchdowns on fourth down.

•  Chad Henne led the league with 18 fourth down drop-backs, most of which came in garbage time for the Jaguars.


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| Senior Analyst

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

  • Jacob Basson

    Those PFF grades are cumulative, volume stats, right? So I can take Aaron Rodgers grade, multiply it by two since he missed half the season, conveniently ignore the fact that other QBs missed time, too, and then feel better about his standing?

    • [email protected]

      He’s Aaron Rodgers. Are you really worried about what PFF thinks?

  • Jake

    Interesting stuff. Why are we calling him Alex D. Smith now?

    • Daniel Gleeson

      I think it’s because of the TE Alex Smith and they can’t have two exact same names in the database.

  • http://leftoffcolfax.blogspot.com Off Colfax

    Chargers make the same number of 4th down attempts as Cowboys?

    Good Guy PFF Chartwriters list Romo and not Rivers.

    • jack_sprat2

      It didn’t occur to you that that might be owing to the fact that Rivers never once dropped back on 4th down?

      Be careful that your biting wit isn’t so sharp that you cut yourself.

  • Jason Williams

    how about Jay on 3rd and 4th down? Mr Clutch!

  • http://www.drafttek.com Astrobot

    Tyrod Taylor is missing. Is that a concern for PFF or the Bills?!?