QBs in Focus: Pressure and the Blitz

How did the league's QBs perform when faced with a Blitz and/or pressure? Steve Palazzolo breaks it down chart by chart.

| 3 years ago

QBs in Focus: Pressure and the Blitz

qb-month-blitzThough 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.


Pressure and the Blitz

At PFF, we have each quarterback’s numbers against pressure and against the blitz on each player’s page in the premium section, but these charts will give a more expanded look. We’ve also added more context to when and where the blitz comes from. Sometimes, a quarterback may look really good against the blitz, but how much credit goes to his teammates for picking it up? We’re able to break things down even further to see how each quarterback performs when pressured with a traditional rush or against a blitz, and of course see how they fared, and how often, against traditional and blitz looks that didn’t get home.

A couple interesting stats to kick things off:

NFL AVG QB Rating PFF Grade
w/pressure 60.7 -283.8
w/ no pressure 96.9 379.3
vs. blitz 85.7 47.7
vs. no blitz 86.1 47.7


vs. No Pressure

vs No Pressure

vs No Pressure (2)

•  No surprise to see the league’s best quarterbacks thrive in a clean pocket. It will surprise some to see Carson Palmer among the league’s best at +22.7, perhaps foreshadowing just how bad he was against pressure

•  Matt Ryan led with an accuracy percentage of 83.4%, though his 6.2 average depth of target topped only Sam Bradford’s 5.8 mark.

•  Robert Griffin led the league with 25 unpressured scrambles, with Alex Smith right behind with 24.

•  Peyton Manning led the league with 523 unpressured dropbacks


vs. Pressure

vs Pressure

vs Pressure (2)

•  Anyone surprised to see Josh McCown lead the league in most major categories under pressure? He topped the league in PFF Grade (+8.9), QB Rating (112.2), Accuracy Percentage (79.7%), and yards per attempt (8.6).

•  Here we see the extremes of Palmer’s game as he comes in last in PFF Grade under pressure at -19.8 including 15 of his 22 interceptions.

•  No one was worse than Brandon Weeden who posted a -14.7 grade on only 115 pressured dropbacks while posting a QB Rating of 10.9

•  Ryan Tannehill had the league’s highest average depth of target when throwing under pressure at 13.6 yards/attempt.


vs. Blitz

vs Blitz

vs Blitz (2)

•  Russell Wilson was the league’s best against the blitz at +21.5 and he did it with one of the highest times to throw at 3.05 seconds. He faced the second highest percentage of blitzes at 39.2 percent.

•  Peyton Manning was sacked only twice on his 160 blitzed dropbacks and his average time to throw of 2.13 seconds trailed only Matthew Stafford’s 2.12 seconds.

•  Mike Glennon’s -12.6 grade pulled up the rear against the blitz, though he did manage to throw 10 touchdowns.

•  Fellow rookie Geno Smith faced the most blitzed dropbacks with 222 as opponents blitzed him a league-high 43 percent of the time.


vs. No Blitz

vs No Blitz

vs No Blitz (2)

•  Teams are afraid to blitz Peyton Manning (league-low 23.6% of the time), but it doesn’t matter as he torched traditional rushes to the tune of a +37.0 grade, 119.4 QB Rating, and 41 touchdowns

•  Matthew Stafford ranked second at +19.3, though his 85.9 QB Rating was certainly hurt by a league-high 47 drops

•  Surprising to see rookie E.J. Manuel face the second-lowest percentage of blitzes behind Manning (24 percent of the time), though the numbers back up the strategy as he finished at -11.4 overall


vs. No Blitz No Pressure

vs No Blitz No Pressure

vs No Blitz No Pressure (2)

•  When the traditional rush doesn’t get there, it’s obviously trouble for defenses as the league average NFL QB Rating is 95.7

•  On the other hand, it’s alarming to see QB’s struggle in a clean pocket against a traditional rush and only 11 quarterbacks graded negatively in such situations with Chad Henne’s -11.2 grade the worst of the bunch.

•  It should be noted that there are still Time to Pressure values because we do take down a time when the QB feels “phantom” pressure and/or vacates the pocket. It does not count as a dropback under pressure, however.


vs. No Blitz, Pressure

vs No Blitz, Pressure

vs No Blitz, Pressure (2)

•  Pressure slows offenses, whether or not it comes through a blitz:

•  NFL QB Rating w/blitz pressure: 60.4
•  NFL QB Rating w/no blitz, pressure: 60.9

•  Andy Dalton was the league’s best when pressured from a traditional rush at +4.7, and his fascinating splits continue as he was third-worst in the league against blitz pressure at -9.5

•  Matt Ryan led the league with 192 dropbacks under pressure against a traditional rush.

•  Joe Flacco (-13.3), and Carson Palmer (-14.0) pulled up the rear in this category.

•  Brandon Weeden managed a -13.0 grade and 7.3 QB Rating on his 77 pressured dropbacks against a traditional rush.


Blitz, No Pressure

vs Blitz, No Pressure

vs Blitz, No Pressure (2)

•  It’s always dangerous when a blitz doesn’t get home, and the NFL’s QB Rating reflects it at 101.0

•  Nick Foles had a near-perfect QB Rating at 153.5 to go with 12.3 yards/attempt and a +7.2 grade. He also threw the ball down the field further than any quarterback with a 10.9 average depth of target.

•  While Carson Palmer was the league’s worst under pressure, his numbers reflect the risk/reward with blitzing as he topped all quarterbacks at +13.0 to go with a 126.2 QB Rating.

•  Ben Roethlisberger and Sam Bradford got the ball out the fastest against the blitz in a clean pocket, both tying with an average of 1.88 seconds per dropback.


Blitz, Pressure

vs Blitz Pressure

vs Blitz Pressure (2)

•  Here we see the other side of Dalton’s game as well as disastrous performances from Matt Schaub (-13.2) and Mike Glennon (-14.0).

•  No quarterback faced as much pressure off the blitz than Geno Smith and he didn’t handle it well to the tune of a -8.7 grade and 46.5 QB Rating.

•  Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger are the two biggest name quarterbacks at the bottom of the list, grading at -8.5 and -7.3, respectively.

•  This is yet another area where Josh McCown shined, at least for a year. He led the league in QB Rating (148.7), success percentage (48.3%), Accuracy Percentage (83.3%), and yards/attempt (11.8) among other things.

•  Russell Wilson was the league’s best against blitz pressure grading at +8.6 though his QB Rating didn’t reflect it at 79.3.


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.

  • Elliott

    What kind of conclusions does this draw about Ryan Tannehill?

    • Joey

      That his problems were mostly due to poor blocking. He’s in the top grouping in every category except “no blitz, pressure” (i.e., no extra rushers, but the defense gets pressure anyway).

  • Harp

    Why does it say griffin lead the league in unpressured scrambles when the chart only has him with 11?

  • Joseph Williams

    These carts show me that Matthew Stafford is on the cuffs of being a elite QB if the lions can give him better help

  • Shawn Blake

    Wow. Russell Wilson seems to be at or near the top of every category. Go figure. Not bad for a “game manager.”