QBs in Focus: Pass Depth

Steve Palazzolo shows the league's best and worst when QB performance is sorted out by target depth.

| 3 years ago

QBs in Focus: Pass Depth


Though 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.


Depth of Pass

The only important note when charting depth of pass is that it is taken from the line of scrimmage to the point where the ball is caught. This may seem obvious, but it’s not the actual yards the ball traveled in the air.

Another unique point in PFF’s data, we count the yards that a ball travels into the end zone as “air yards.” So if a team lines up at the 1-yard line and the QB hits a WR for a TD eight yards into the end zone,that counts as eight “air yards,” not just one. We feel this is a much better measure when tracking the average depth of target for a quarterback or a receiver.

Important Note: Grades for this section have been re-normalized for each individual category. This process essentially makes the league average a 0, and ensures that all quarterbacks are graded equally along this scale. For this reason, posted grades may not match up with those shown in the premium stat section.


1-10 Yds

1-10 Yds Re-Norm

1-10 Yds Re-Norm (2)

•  Not only did Peyton Manning lead the way with 353 passes between 1-10 yards, but he also set the pace with a +16.4 grade and a 113.5 rating.

• Tom  Brady ranked second in both number of passes between 1-10 yards (324) and grade at +12.3. His 4.0 YAC per completion was below the league average, however, going against the perception that his receivers are often the best after the catch.

•  Two Texans find themselves at the bottom of this list in Matt Schaub and Case Keenum. It goes against conventional wisdom to see Keenum struggle with the short stuff and excel throwing down the field, but that’s just what he did in 2013.

•  Andy Dalton is also known as a quarterback that works better throwing the ball underneath but his -5.6 grade was sixth-worst in the league while throwing a league-high 11 interceptions.

•  The Packers emphasized the quick passing game last season and Aaron Rodgers led the league in success percentage (57.0%), Accuracy Percentage (86.8%), completion percentage (80.7%) and yards per attempt (8.1). He also had the lowest average time to throw at 1.98 seconds.


5-10 Yds

5-10 Yds Re-Norm

5-10 Yds Re-Norm (2)

•  There’s some obvious overlap with the 1-10 yard chart as Manning still sits atop the list and Dalton, Smith, and Schaub pulling up the rear.

•  Eli Manning makes the jump, from +1.5 in 1-10 yard range to +6.5 in 5-10 yard range.

•  The surprises on the list are Locker leading in accuracy percentage (82.1 percent) and Cassel leading in completion percentage (77.1%) and success percentage (64.6%). However, his -2.8 grade still doesn’t match up.


11-20 Yds

11-20 Yds Re-Norm

11-20 Yds Re-Norm (2)

•  Nick Foles dominates the range statistically as he leads in QB rating (141.6), success percentage (70.5%), Accuracy Percentage (78.7%), completion percentage (72.1%), and yards per attempt (12.7) while ranking second at +11.2.

•  Mike Glennon had a rough rookie season in the 11-20 yard range finishing second to last at -9.2.

•  Carson Palmer led the league with 27.8% of his passes going to the 11-20 yard range while Sam Bradford ranked last at only 16.6%.


21-30 Yds

21-30 Yds Re-Norm

21-30 Yds Re-Norm (2)

•  Josh McCown’s strong receiving corps certainly helped him lead the league in QB Rating (138.6) and yards per attempt (19.1).

•  This was Glennon’s sweet spot as led the league in Accuracy Percentage at 60%. He completed 50% of his passes to go with two drops.

•  The bottom half of the list has some big names that struggled in this range, including Brady, Tannehill, Foles, Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Joe Flacco, and Cam Newton.


20+ Yds

20+ Yds Re-Norm

20+ Yds Re-Norm (2)

•  Joe Flacco attempted the most 20+ yard throws with 88, but his 27.6 QB Rating came in dead last

•  Manning paced the way at this range, even with his declining arm strength. His decision making, accuracy, and anticipation were top-notch, as usual.

•  Keenum showed well beyond 20 yards as he finished at +6.4 to go with 16.2 yards/attempt and a league-leading accuracy percentage of 53.1%.


30+ Yds

30+ Yds Re-Norm

30+ Yds Re-Norm (2)       

•  Sample sizes get smaller, but the 30+ is more of a true deep ball from the 20+ and 21-30 yard range we’ve looked at previously.

•  Strong arms are always lauded when discussing the deep ball, but of the top-graded quarterbacks, only Cutler has the “requisite” cannon for an arm.

•  Dolphins fans will be surprised to see Ryan Tannehill graded highly on this list, and he was certainly inconsistent, but there were a lot of good throws mixed in there throughout the season. His late-game throw against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 5 was one of the season’s best.

•  Surprising to see Philip Rivers attempt a league-low 2% of his passes beyond 30 yards (10 total attempts).


31-40 Yds

31-40 Yds Re-Norm

31-40 Yds Re-Norm (2)

•  Ben Roethlisberger struggled with the deep ball as he ranked second to last at -4.6.

•  Brees led the league with 22 attempts in this range.


40+ Yds

40+ Yds Re-Norm

•  Matt Ryan was around average in the 31- to 40-yard range, but he tops the 40+ list at +3.2.

•  Foles once again paced the league in the major statistical categories on his way to a +3.0 grade.


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.

  • Chris

    Not surprising to me to see Rivers attempt a league low of passes over 30 yards. All they did was dink and dunk. It took them almost til HT to complete a pass to a WR in the WC game.

    • BoltDaddy

      …and your point is? They returned to the playoffs with a win with a new GM and HC after a three drought, I’ll take it for new regime. Additionally PR improved in every key performance indicator as a result.

      • Chris

        Who said anything about improving? I don’t deny that. All I said was I wasn’t surprised that he was the lowest in that category

  • MosesZD

    Sigh… Try it without YAC and maybe it’ll be meaningful. But now… Sorry, too many QBs are being lifted by a few big plays made their receivers, while others are being penalized because their receivers have hands of stone or fail to capitalize on good throws.

    • Steve Palazzolo

      The grade takes all of that into account.

  • thenextone82

    You know why Dolphins’ fans would be surprised to see Ryan Tannehill so high on the 30+ yards list? It’s because these stats are misleading. They don’t take into consideration how wide open a receiver is.
    If Mike Wallace beats his man by 8 yards and Tannehill throws an incompletion, it counts the same as if he threw into double coverage and the ball was batted down. If PFF wants to improve the accuracy of the QB deep ball stats, they need to account for how open the receiver is. Missing a wide open TD should hurt a QB’s numbers more than a normal incompletion.

    • Steve Palazzolo

      Already taken into account with the grading, which is why the top part of the article mentions the grade being a better representation of the QB’s performance that the stats.

  • LightsOut85

    “So if a team lines up at the 1-yard line and the QB hits a WR for a TD eight yards into the end zone,that counts as eight “air yards,” not just one.”

    You mean 9 yards? (1+8 in the EZ)

    • Glenn

      I’m surprised at the big difference. Rivers was only decent between 10-30 yards. While I’m not surprised he was so good between those ranges, I am surprised by how bad his grade is in the other categorys. Especially considering that he is in the green for each of the sub-categories.

  • LightsOut85

    I’d love to see some of Rivers’ specific situations for the short (1-10 & 5-10) categories, just due to the large contrast between his grade (poor) & accuracy/success (very high). Just because of easy dump-off passes? (Easier than average, so the grade is lower than average?).