QBs in Focus: by Down and Distance

Expanding on his first installment, Steve Palazzolo gets deeper into QB performance by down and distance.

| 3 years ago

QBs in Focus: by Down and Distance

qb-month-d&dThough 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.

Down and Distance

Now that we’ve taken a generic look at passing by down, it’s time to add some situational context to second and third downs. Each NFL team has different definitions of what constitutes a short, medium, and long situations, so be sure to look at what we’ve used as the default criteria for this exercise.

*Click charts to enlarge… 

2nd-and-Long (8+ yds)

2nd & Long

2nd & Long (2)

•  Matthew Stafford led the league with 144 2nd-and-Long drop-backs and he fared well with a +5.4 grade that ranked second in the league.

•  Josh McCown had only 46 drop-backs on 2nd-and-Long, but he led the league with 11.1 yards per attempt to go with a QB Rating of 127.8 and +3.9 grade.

•  2nd-and-Long was Matt Cassel’s best situation as his +3.3 grade ranked seventh.

•  Among the names struggling on 2nd-and-Long: Joe Flacco, Andrew Luck, Eli Manning, Alex Smith and Cam Newton.


2nd-and-Medium (4-7 yds)

2nd & Medium

2nd & Medium (2)

•  Matt Ryan led the league in success percentage (60.3%) and completion percentage (75.4%) on 2nd & Medium

•  Eli Manning graded at +4.4 on 2nd-and-Medium including a league-best 143.9 QB Rating and 10.4 yards per attempt.

•  This is one of the few situations that saw Brandon Weeden shine as he graded at +5.2 with an Accuracy Percentage of 84.0%.


2nd-and-Short (< 4 yds)

2nd & Short

•  It’s interesting to study each team’s scheme in 2nd-and-Short situations, particularly average depth of target. Andrew Luck’s league-high 13.5 stands out as the Colts clearly took their shots on 2nd-and-Short and Luck showed well at +3.2.

•  Alex Smith, on the other hand, averaged 2.9 yards per target.



3rd & 10+

3rd & 10+ (2)

•  Luck was the league’s best on 3rd-and-10+, despite a below-average success rate of 15.8%.

•  Philip Rivers led the league with a 112.2 QB Rating, 42.1% success rate, and 73.0% completion percentage

•  Chad Henne led the league with an Accuracy Percentage of 88.6%, but his average depth of target was only 7.0 yards, lower than all quarterbacks other than Matt Cassel (6.1).

•  Speaking of Cassel, he averaged an absurd 16.0 YAC per completion, a big reason his grade (-3.0) didn’t match his QB Rating of 86.3.

•  Eli Manning and Joe Flacco pulled up the rear grading at -8.5 and -5.3, respectively.


3rd-and-Long (6-10 yds)

3rd & Long

3rd & Long (2)

•  Kellen Clemens showed well at +2.0, but his league-high 9.3 YAC per completion also helped with league-highs in QB Rating (144.1) and yards per attempt (11.9).

•  Flacco struggled in the 3rd-and-Long range as well, ranking second to last at -5.5.

•  Matt Ryan’s +8.5 grade led the league to go with his 112.5 QB Rating and 11.6 yards per attempt.


3rd-and-Medium (3-5 yds)

3rd & Medium

3rd & Medium (2)

•  The Mannings top the 3rd-and-Medium list as Eli’s +9.1 grade led the league while Peyton ranked first in success percentage at 60.9%.

•  Terrelle Pryor struggled in nearly every situation, but he excelled on 3rd-and-Medium to the tune of a +4.5 grade and league-highs in QB Rating (155.8), success percentage (60.8%), completion percentage (83.3%), and yards per attempt (16.3).

•  Only five quarterbacks graded negatively on 3rd-and-Medium: Tony Romo, Matt Cassel, Case Keenum, Sam Bradford, and E.J. Manuel


3rd-and-Short (< 3 yds)

3rd & Short

3rd & Short (2)

•  Russell Wilson threw four touchdowns on only 15 3rd-and-Short attempts.

•  Peyton Manning graded at +4.2 while converting 70.6% of his 3rd-and-Short opportunities.

•  Cassel completed only one of his 10 attempts on his way to a league-low grade of ­-3.5 and a QB Rating of 0.0.


Follow Steve on Twitter.

| Senior Analyst

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

  • [email protected]

    Everybody talks about how the running game helps the play action pass. The thing that is overlooked is that the play action pass helps the running game just as much.

  • RA

    So can we finally put the Russell Wilson “Game Manager” Conversation to rest?

    • bobrulz

      I hope so. People who call him a game manager don’t know what a game manager is. Alex Smith is a game manager – makes a lot of high-percentage passes and avoids interceptions, but doesn’t make very many big plays. Russell Wilson is a playmaker – doesn’t throw a lot of passes but makes them count when he does.

  • franklingray

    I am a big Jay Cutler fan. I found it interesting that he really only showed up good on these stats when the going got tough…..3rd and long. Interesting. I guess that is why I like him so much. He is exciting to watch. You never know what he is going to do and he keeps you on your seat. Sometimes you cuss at him for the ints but usually you cheer for him in these 3rd and longs.

  • Michael Milbourn

    Why are these pictures? I usually pull the data out into an excel sheet by screen scrapping it.