QBs in Focus: Pass Distribution

Steve Palazzolo takes the QB breakdowns another step deeper and looks at performance when targeting each position.

| 3 years ago

QBs in Focus: Pass Distribution

qb-month-distributionThough 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 Distribution

The premise of this piece is simple: How well did a quarterback throw to the various positions on the field? The first section focuses on all throws to receivers who are detached from the formation (includes tight ends and running backs). We then break it down to show which quarterbacks relied heavily on their tight ends, including their preferred alignments, and which quarterbacks threw to their running backs, including their alignments.


Throwing to: WR (by alignment)

Throwing to WR

Throwing to WR (2)

•  Tom Brady led the league with 473 passes to receivers detached from the formation, but it was Ryan Tannehill with the highest percentage of his attempts in this area at 81.9%.

•  Aaron Rodgers led the league in Accuracy Percentage at 78.8%, and his league-leading 6.2 YAC per completion helped him also lead the league in yards per attempt at 10.9.

•  Rookies E.J. Manuel and Geno Smith tied for last at -9.2.


Throwing to: Outside WR (by alignment)

Throwing to WR (Outside)

Throwing to WR (Outside) (2)

•  Tannehill led the way with 274 attempts to outside receivers.

•  Nick Foles led the league with a QB Rating of 136.5 and 11.3 yards per attempt.

•  Peyton Manning’s +35.2 grade led the league, as did his 29 touchdowns to outside receivers.


Throwing to: Slot WR (by alignment)

Throwing to WR (Slot)

Throwing to WR (Slot) (2)

•  Most would probably expect Brady to lead the way in attempts to the slot, but it was Drew Brees’ 214 attempts that paced the league while Sam Bradford and Andrew Luck led with 37.3% of their passes targeting the slot (includes all players lined up in slot).

•  Manuel managed to rank in the top half of the league at +3.1, compared to his league-low -12.3 grade when throwing to outside receivers.

•  Matt Schaub targeted the slot on only 19.1% of his drop-backs while ranking second to last grade-wise at -6.4.


Throwing to TE (by player)

Throwing to TE (by Player)

Throwing to TE (by Player) (2)

•  This section includes passes to any player designated as a tight end, regardless of alignment.

•  No surprise to see Brees at the top of the list at +13.7 given Jimmy Graham’s presence in the Saints’ offense.

•  Philip Rivers took advantage of having both Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green as his +13.5 grade ranked right behind Brees.

•  Brees and Rivers also ranked at the top of the league with the highest percentage of their drop-backs going to tight ends at 28.1% and 27.8%, respectively.

•  Josh McCown and Terrelle Pryor tied for last with only 14.5% of their respective drop-backs goin to tight ends, while Brady saw a major change in philosophy due to personnel changes and injuries as he targeted tight ends only 15.1% of the time.


Throwing to TE (Inline)

Throwing to TE (Inline)

Throwing to TE (Inline) (2)

•  Ben Roethlisberger led the league with 80 attempts to inline tight ends, good for 14.5% of his attempts.

•  Texans QBs, Case Keenum (20.0%) and Matt Schaub (16.1%), ranked first and third, respectively, in percentage of passes to inline tight ends — perhaps a sign of things to come for Joe Flacco with Gary Kubiak coming to Baltimore as offensive coordinator. Flacco threw only 7.7% of his attempts to inline tight ends in 2013.

•  NFL QB Rating on throws to inline tight ends was 109.1, obviously skewed by their work at the goal line, but also showing the value of good tight ends in the NFL.


Throwing to TE (Slot)

Throwing to TE (Slot)

•  Matt Ryan led the league with 87 throws to tight ends in the slot, ranking second at +6.0. He threw a league-low 3.1% of his attempts to inline tight ends, thus his not being included in the inline list above.

•  Nick Foles led the way in success percentage (66.7%), Accuracy Percentage (90.5%), and completion percentage (85.7%) on his 21 attempts to tight ends in the slot.


Throwing to TE (Wide)

Throwing to TE (Wide)

•  Sample sizes are small on passes to tight ends that are split wide with Brees clearly using Graham more than any other tight end in the league on the outside. Brees’ +4.5 and 388 yards led the league. 


Throwing to RB (by player)

Throwing to RB (by Player) Re-Norm

Throwing to RB (by Player) Re-Norm (2)

•  This section includes passes to any player designated as a running back, regardless of alignment.

•  Brees leads this group as well with a league-high 197 attempts and 1243 yards on throws to running backs.

•  16 of Matthew Stafford’s league-leading 58 drops came from running backs.

•  Joe Flacco and Eli Manning ranked at the bottom of the list at -6.4 and -6.8, respectively, while tying for the league lead with three interceptions each on passes to running backs.


Throwing to RB (Backfield)

Throwing to RB (Backfield) Re-Norm

Throwing to RB (Backfield) Re-Norm (2)

•  Cam Newton benefitted from a league-high 11.3 YAC percompletion on passes to running backs out of the backfield.

•  Tannehill threw to running backs out of the backfield on only 10.4% of his passes, the lowest percentage in the league.


Throwing to RB (Slot)

Throwing to RB (in slot)

•  Sample sizes are extremely small on throws to running backs in the slot, but it was Brees once again leading the way with 42 attempts, most of which went to the now-departed Darren Sproles.


Throwing to RB (Wide)

Throwing to RB (Wide)

•  Carson Palmer led the league with 19 attempts to running backs when they’re split out wide, 16 of which went to rookie RB Andre Ellington.


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

    This type of data should he available in the Premium section.

    • LightsOut85


    • Chris

      I want to see positional data (where guys lined up for every snap), as well as info about how players were used.


      1. How many snaps Shaun Phillips played at DE (by side) and 3-4 OLB
      2. How many snaps Sherman lined up at different CB spots.
      3. Where Peyton threw all of his attempted passes by direction and specific target
      4. What locations and routes A.J. Green ran on every one of his routes, and the success of each.
      5. Matt Forte’s success running the ball by the hole he ran through.

    • corners

      whats the difference if its here, or on a spot where you have to login?

      • Chris

        I want sortable charts that I can play with and do my own research. They have all this background data that they keep hidden, which would really help paint a better picture of player performance. They only bring it out to do articles. I’d like to have access to it at all times.

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