QBs in Focus: Defensive Schemes

Which QBs performed best when facing base defenses and which stood out against sub-packages employing extra DBs? Steve Palazzolo answers.

| 3 years ago

QBs in Focus: Defensive Schemes

qb-month-def-schemeThough 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.

Vs. Defensive Scheme

This section simply breaks down the quarterbacks by the different defensive packages they see throughout the year. The numbers of defensive backs they face speaks more to their own offensive scheme as the defense will generally match up with the offensive personnel. For this reason, Colin Kaepernick saw the highest percentage of base packages as the 49ers run a lot of traditional two-back looks while Peyton Manning and the Broncos spread the field with wide receivers as much as any team in the league and subsequently saw the most defenses with five or more defensive backs.


Versus Four Defensive Backs (Base)

vs 4 DBs

vs 4 DBs (2)

•  Tom Brady and the Patriots spread the field less than they did in years past and he took advantage of the base looks with a +14.7 grade.

•  Peyton Manning had only 67 drop-backs against base sets (league-low 9.9% of his drop-backs).

•  Matt Schaub ranked last against base sets at -10.0.


Versus Five Defensive Backs (Nickel)

vs 5 DBs

vs 5 DBs (2)

•  Peyton Manning led the league in PFF Grade (+22.3), QB Rating (118.3), success percentage (48.9%), and touchdown percentage (9.1%) while taking a league-high 444 drop-backs against nickel packages.

•  Ryan Tannehill showed well at +18.1 to rank second

•  Philip Rivers led in Accuracy Percentage at 81.0% but his 7.7 average depth of target was one of the lowest in the league.

•  Rookies E.J. Manuel (-10.9) and Geno Smith (-13.1) ranked just ahead of Joe Flacco (-15.5) at the bottom of the list.


Versus Six-plus Defensive Backs (Dime and other sub packages)

vs 6+ DBs

vs 6+ DBs (2)

•  Surprising to see Tannehill face the most snaps against six or more defensive backs with 172. That represented 26% of his drop-backs.

•  Nick Foles faced six or more defensive backs on only 4.7% of his drop-backs, second lowest in the league, but 80.1% of his drop-backs came against nickel, second highest in the league.

•  Manuel had a league-low 6.5 average depth of target against six or more defensive backs.


Versus Five-plus Defensive Backs

vs 5+ DBs

vs 5+ DBs (2)

•  The 5+ DB numbers are a bit redundant, but it sorts out the quarterback performance against all sub-packages.


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


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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.

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