QBs in Focus: By Route

Which QBs were best at throwing post routes? Outs? Go's? Steve Palazzolo has them all broken down here.

| 3 years ago

QBs in Focus: By Route

qb-month-routesThough 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 match up in most situations.


This section breaks down the quarterback’s performance by route. See below for a sample of the basic route tree that we use at PFF. It should be noted that for this exercise, on adjusted routes on scrambles, we use the final route from the wide receiver, not his initial route. So a go route that adjusts into an out route will go down as an out route for these numbers.


*All screen passes will be covered in their own separate article.


Quick Outs

Quick Outs

Quick Outs (2)

•  The quick out, or flat route, is a common route on designed rollouts (bootlegs). Christian Ponder led the way with 45.8% of his quick outs coming on bootlegs.

•  We also place out routes with extremely short stems in the quick out bunch, and that’s where the majority of Tom Brady’s 43 quick outs came from.


Crossing Routes

Crossing Routes

Crossing Routes (2)

•  Russell Wilson tied with Drew Brees and Peyton Manning at +6.0 on crossing routes. 41.9% of Wilson’s attempts came on designed rollouts.

•  Colin Kaepernick led the league with an 86.7% Accuracy Percentage on crossing routes.

•  Joe Flacco threw the most crossing routes with 78, but his -6.5 grade ranked last.




Slants (2)

•  Given the Giants’ reputation for having a vertical offense, perhaps surprising to see Eli Manning ranked second on slant routes at +6.9.

•  Matthew Stafford led the league with 83 slants, 13.9% of his attempts, also a league high.

•  Both Redskins quarterbacks, Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins, ranked among the Bottom 5 on slants.




Outs (2)

•  Brady led the way with 88 out route attempts, grading at a solid +2.0. A league-high 10 drops didn’t help his cause as he finished with a QB Rating of 68.0.

•  The out route was one of Matt Ryan’s best routes as he finished third at +8.5.

•  The sample size is small, but Aaron Rodgers got a ridiculous 8.1 YAC per completion on his 13 completions on out routes.

•  Tony Romo and Eli Manning ranked last at -5.5 and -7.3, respectively.


In Routes


Ins (2)

•  The in-route has varying levels of usage, from the deep dig favored by Philip Rivers to the shallow in-route common to Peyton Manning and his “levels” concept.

•  Rivers’ average depth of target (12.1) vs. Manning’s (8.0) is a good indicator of how each quarterback uses the route.

•  The in route is a risk/reward route in the NFL as it led to 47 interceptions (against 21 touchdowns) but it had a strong success rate of 53.1%.

•  Geno Smith ranked last at -7.6 to go with a league-high four interceptions.





•  The comeback route is becoming rarer by the season as the quick-hitting passing games take over. It’s still a staple in more vertical-based passing attacks such as the Giants’ old system that saw Eli Manning throw a league-high 26 comebacks.

•  Jake Locker led the league in Accuracy Percentage on comebacks at 85.7%.




Hitches (2)

•  The hitch, or curl, was Ben Roethlisberger’s best route as he finished second at +9.7.

•  Kellen Clemens had the highest depth of target on hitches at 10.0.

•  Brandon Weeden had a league-high 11.4 yards/attempt and 7.4 YAC/completion (thanks Josh Gordon).

•  25.7% of Jay Cutler’s attempts were hitches, the highest percentage in the league.


Corner Routes


Corners (2)

•  Colin Kaepernick ranked second at +7.5 on corner routes, including tying for the league lead with seven touchdowns, all of which went to tight end Vernon Davis.

•  Andy Dalton led the league at +8.5 on corner routes and he also threw seven touchdowns, but he spread the around to four different receivers.

•  Mike Glennon showed well on his seven corner routes as he completed six-of-seven for 134 yards and a touchdown.


Post Routes


Posts (2)

•  The post was Matt Ryan’s best route as he led the league at +12.9 while also leading in success percentage at 69.4%.

•  Nick Foles led the league with a QB Rating of 143.8 on posts, while also topping the league with 25.4 yards/attempt and an average depth of target of 30.5.

•  E.J. Manuel only attempted 13 posts, but he completed seven and had three more dropped, good for a league-high Accuracy Percentage of 76.9%.

•  Carson Palmer’s led the league with 62 posts, 11.5% of his total targets, also a league high.


Go Routes

Go Routes

Go Routes (2)

•  Go routes include all double moves that end in go routes (hitch-and-go, out-and-up) as well as all goal line fades.

•  Peyton Manning topped the league at +17.6 while throwing 13 touchdowns on go routes.

•  Andy Dalton and Drew Brees tied for the league lead with 14 touchdowns.

•  Case Keenum led the league with an accuracy percentage of 55.2% on go routes.

•  At the bottom of the list, Joe Flacco was accurate on only 23.3% of his passes while grading at -3.3.

•  E.J. Manuel completed only nine of his 38 go routes on his way to a -7.7 grade, and Palmer ranked last at -8.7.


For the entire set of “QBs in Focus” posts, click here.


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.

  • LightsOut85

    Would love to see route-breakdowns for WRs 😀 (It would really help compare them better. Only compare YAC on certain types of routes, etc etc).

    • Chris

      Agree 100%. I wish they would post more of their background data.

      • LightsOut85

        Yea, the “depth” in articles has been getting more & more advanced, yet the things in the premium section haven’t really changed. (And while the articles don’t usually offer more than one year – it feels like people who have a subscription aren’t getting much more than people who just read these)

        • Chris


    • Steve Palazzolo

      Stay tuned, will have some good stuff on receivers very soon.

  • Chris

    Kind of depressing to see how average/poor Dalton is at most of these. He makes all his money on corner and go routes. Wonder who helps out with most of those…AJ18 THE GREATEST

  • Geoffrey Benedict

    Just wondering what categories come together to form the PFF grade? For example in post routes it looks Like Ben Roethlisberger outperformed Ryan Tannehill in every metric but YAC, yet BR gets a negative grade and Tannehill gets a positive grade.

    • Steve Palazzolo

      The PFF Grade comes from grading each individual throw, it has nothing to do with the stats. Just as it’s explained above, sometimes the stats will lie, so we try to separate the QB’s role (the throw/decision) from the result (stats).

  • Kevin

    Rodgers obviously plays a big part in YAC but it also shows that GB’s wide receivers are pretty underrated on a yearly basis. They are consistently one of the best units in the NFL with the ball in their hands after the catch.

    Even when Rodgers was out players like Nelson and Boykin both excelled when making plays after the catch. Seems like an important trait that TT looks for when drafting his WR’s. Cobb was out for much of the year but is one of the most explosive WR’s in the NFL.

    While a lot of GM’s are looking for size, TT is looking for strong hands, and ability with the ball in their hands. Davante Adams(GB’s 2nd rd pick in ’14) is a perfect example of exactly this. I’d be surprised if GB’s WR unit even averages 6’1 in height. Nelson is by far the biggest at close to 6’3 while Cobb isn’t even 5’11 and the rest come in aroud 5’11 to 6’2 at the tallest(Boykin).

    • LightsOut85

      They definitely are. I would think more & more clubs would emulate this, since the most successful passing games are shorter, “spread” passing schemes (where YAC would bring a lot of value). Size may help with a jump-ball or to box someone out, but being quick & winning at the LOS (& usually these guys are good at YAC) are what keep drives alive.

  • LightsOut85

    I put the league-totals (for each route) into Excel & looked at trends….the “middle” (based on avg DoT) routes don’t seem that good. Comebacks, Ins, Outs & possibly Hitches – the only 4 with a higher change of throwing an INT than getting a TD. (Post & Go have higher INT%, but also high TD%). The shorter routes are safer (naturally) but also have a higher TD% (probably because of use in the red-zone, but also the higher YAC due to the over-&-up nature of those routes). And naturally the pay-off of the deeper routes is the big-play itself.

    Sure, in some situations they probably represent the best option (and in terms of “success” they’ll net more yards than the short ones & have a higher chance of completion than deep ones). But it’s still surprising given that hitches & outs were the 1st & 3rd most frequently thrown routes (granted, hitch was the best of that bunch of 4)

  • Jack Casey

    The nfl route tree usually has 3 and 4 switched with 5 and 6. It would go 1 flat 2 drag/slant 3 comeback 4 curl 5 deep out 6 deep dig 7 corner route 8 post 9 fade/go