QBs in Focus: Pass Direction

This split of the QB numbers takes a look at targets directed at the left, middle and right portions of the field.

| 3 years ago

QBs in Focus: Pass Direction

qb-month-pass-directionThough 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.


Pass Location

Left: Outside the numbers to the left
Middle: Between the numbers
Right: Outside the numbers to the right


Throws Left

Throws Left

Throws Left (2)

•  Rivers dominated most major categories when throwing to the left, including PFF Grade (+18.9), QB Rating (140.4), success percentage (55.8%), accuracy percentage (80.5%), and completion percentage (73.5%).

•  16.5% of Russell Wilson’s passes to the left came off rollouts, by far the highest percentage in the league and an extremely high number for a right-handed thrower. It really shows his ability, and the Seahawks’ willingness, to roll both ways in the passing game.

•  Brady always seems to throw the ball better to the left side and the grade backs that up. He was a fourth-best +11.8 throwing to the left compared to third-worst throwing to the right at -4.3.

•  Henne tied with Peyton Manning for the most throws to the left, but he finished with the lowest grade at -7.2.


Throws Middle

Throws Middle

Throws Middle (2)

•  Rodgers led the league with an 87.6% Accuracy Percentage while ranking second in QB Rating at 123.8

•  Foles led the league in QB Rating (131.8) and yards/attempt (11.9), but also benefited from the most YAC/completion at 9.1

•  Stafford ranked third with a +16.9 grade, but his 37 drops led the league by a wide margin.

•  NFL QB Rating is 94.5 on throws to the middle compared to 90.6 to the right and 87.5 to the left.

•  Tannehill took a step forward on throws between the numbers as he graded at +15.0 in 2013 compared to +5.1 as a rookie.

•  Roethlisberger’s best numbers come over the middle where he graded a sixth-best +14.7.


Throws Right

Throws Right

Throws Right (2)

•  Peyton Manning showed few weaknesses in 2013 and he tops the chart throwing the right while coming in second on both throws to the left and middle.

•  Russell Wilson ranked in the Top 3 in both passes to the left and the right, but throws to the middle were his clear weakness at -0.1.

•  Some interesting differences in average depth of target when throwing left vs. right:

•  Deep throws to the left (left/right):
Brady 12.1/8.9; Brees 11.7/8.7; Griffin 11.0/8.0

•  Deeper throws to the right (left/right):
Ponder 6.9/9.6; Kaepernick 9.6/11.7, McGloin 10.6/15.1


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.

  • lewk

    Charts organized like this highlight one of my main criticisms with PFF grades: they’re cumulative. As such, the PFF grade ranks those who played well, but not great for the whole year higher than those who played better on average with fewer snaps.

    Aaron Rodgers and Josh McCown, while on the field, played better last year than any QB not named Peyton Manning. Unfortunately QB rating and other stats do a better job of illustrating this than their PFF grades do.

    • Thomas Holm

      Thats why you cant just look at the grade and leave it at that. Vontae Davis was the thirds highest graded corner, but they left him out on the top 101.

      I really dont like it when people say that “PFF ranked player x as the number 1 position y”. They are not ranking players, they are grading them.

      Yes, Aaron Rodgers would probably have ended in the top 3 among QBs in their grading had he played 16 games, but then you simply look at grade contra snap count and discover that he was playing very well.

      • Chris

        I have copied their positional data to my own charts and added columns for grade per snap, to get a mark for efficiency. I find these numbers to be much more useful.

      • LightsOut85

        It seems the only people who have issues with PFF are those who don’t want to do any extra work/thinking themselves. (Although I will say, I don’t think it’s useful when PFF makes their various PB/AP teams based on overall grade – ie: including Navarro Bowman this past year based on overall grade, when it was largely compromised of his pass-rush grade, something he rarely did (it was just efficient for the number of snaps). It doesn’t help people get a better picture).

        • [email protected]

          I like PFF, i think their opinions are interesting. There is nothing definitive about them however. Antoine Winfield was the highest graded CB last year, not even PFF believed he was the best. To say that player X is better than player Y because of a PFF grade is silly.

          • LightsOut85

            I’ll assume you meant in 2012 (or using “last year” differently than I’d expect, lol) – that’s what I mean by “extra work” (looking beyond total grade, or the context of number of games played – as they’re not normalized for that , etc etc). His OVERALL GRADE was the highest, but if you examine each individual grade you’ll see he was only 19th in coverage grade (& I’d assume most people would weight the coverage grade more). (And like I said in the rest of my post, even PFF fails to do this at times, especially on all-star yearsm). So if someone “put in the extra work” (to look at the grades of the different aspects of play), they’d see Winfield wasn’t a top-10 (or w/e) cover-guy in 2012.

            I just base my comments on what I see (on other forums, etc). For some positions there is NOTHING ELSE besides PFF grades to judge a player by (namely, OL) – so you have to put some trust in them. (If 2 run-blocking grades are CLOSE, then yea, you can’t be 100% sure 1 is better than the other, but you could confidently say the 3rd best run-blocking OT was a better run-blocker than the 45th best.

            I see people people just get distrustful of the grades saying, “I don’t know what goes into them” – but when you point them towards the “advanced metrics” PFF tallies (tangible numbers of some action & number of snaps to normalize it by), they say “but those don’t have context!” (which is what the grades are for). Some people just can’t be pleased. I would say, “okay, we won’t use PFF, what do you want to use to compare these players then?” (I’m open to anything that’s more objective than subjective) & no one has any answer, they just want to argue against something (and rest on their preconceived opinion based on anecdotes). ex: when Chargers acquired King Dunlap, I kept hearing about how bad he was from Eagles fans. Even when presented with his (good) PFF pass-blocking grade AND his PBP (actual pressure & snap numbers – on a team that took a while to get the pass off) his last year on PHI, they refused to acknowledge any of it (“I watched all the games, I know how he played!”) ie: I see many people who claim PFF doesn’t take this-or-that into account, yet they themselves aren’t even keeping an open mind & delving into all the available numbers themselves (again, the “extra work”).

            Are there things we are still left asking with (publicly available) PFF data? Yes. But is it the best thing we fans have available right now? Yes. PFF is (generally) always clear about what the limits of a type of data is & what it can tell us. I know when I reference this site, I do the same. But it seems that people who are obstinately against PFF (specifically the grades), don’t listen if you qualify with that. They only hear “THIS GUY IS BETTER THAN THIS GUY! THIS ONE NUMBER SAYS SO!!!”

            I guess some people just don’t get statistics in general? I mean, I often encounter people who don’t understand why using total yardage (passing, rushing, receiving) is a very bad way to judge a player or offense/defense. You can tell them that players have a different number of attempts & teams have/face different numbers of drives & so you must account for that & they just accuse you of “using ___ stat (DVOA from FO, etc) just because it supports your side!!”

          • [email protected]

            Football is not baseball. Baseball can be boiled down to a very simple situation of hitter vs pitcher. Football statistics are only for entertainment value.

          • LightsOut85

            I don’t want to sound rude (& it’s not like I expected a point-by-point response), but that sounds a lot like what I described near the end of my post. The, “I am going to just going to say something isn’t good without providing an alternative (/elaborating on my counter-argument)” play. I never said that it can be boiled down as well as baseball – but it’s not PURELY for entertainment value. (Not being THAT refined does not preclude it from having any substance at all -there’s a middle ground). You can (and many people have before) draw meaningful conclusions. I mean, say the % of time a QB passes 20 or more yards in the air – it tells you something about that team’s system. That’s not meaningless. (If you’re that-against what PFF does, color me confused as to why you participate in their comment section).

          • [email protected]

            The alternative is watching games and making up your own opinion. PFF is better than 99% of the sports media in that they actually watch games to form their opinions.

          • [email protected]

            I dont mean to sound rude either, but i at least make an attempt to keep my posts concise and to the point. That vomit you post is unreadable.

  • PaulK2

    Well, what if the quarterback’s specialty is dumping the ball off exactly where the running back gets an extra step on the covering linebacker and can weave, as opposed to a quarterback who too often leads his running back into a vicious collsion with the linebacker? That’s not the running back’s fault.

    Is there any indication for NFL teams as to whether someone’s aching back or shoulder, which lowered their ratings for a few games last year, will get better by next September? That’s the million dollar question.

    • [email protected]

      You have a good point there. Accuracy is more than just whether the pass is completed or not. A good QB will throw his receivers into open space and away from defenders or even down to the ground if needed. Mark Sanchez’s receivers would turn and look before they went for a ball because he would so often throw them into a defender.

    • Woody

      Good point, that sounds a lot like Alex Smith.

      I wonder what grade they gave him in the away game vs Raiders. Probably not as good as it should have been, since he averaged 6.4 yards in depth of target, and only threw 20 passes.

      Making the right throw and to make a good throw is just as important to me.

  • [email protected]

    I dont see how you can say throws to the middle were Russell Wilson’s clear weakness. He had the highest completion percentage and QB rating with a ratio of 11 TDs vs 4 INTs. The only thing that was low was the PFF rating.

    • Woody

      Yeah, highest comp percentage and QB rating among the players in the bottom half of PFFs ranking, you’re right. If you don’t get it, you don’t get the system. His completion percentage was good, but his accuracy was not. The completion percentage got boosted by his receivers being able to not drop the ball.

      • [email protected]

        You dont think he throws a very catchable ball? Also the ‘accuracy’ stat is not a measure of accuracy. Its just completion percentage with drops taken into account. You can throw a ball very poorly and still have it be completed. (watch Andy Dalton throw to AJ Green)

      • [email protected]

        Oh yeah my bad, forgot i was only looking at half the data :). Those are still very respectable stats other than the PFF rating though.