Quarterbacks Under Pressure

Jeff Ratcliffe takes a detailed look at how quarterbacks fared in the face of pressure and the blitz in 2013.

| 3 years ago
hi-res-450326253-quarterback-peyton-manning-of-the-denver-broncos-drops_crop_exact

Quarterbacks Under Pressure


hi-res-450326253-quarterback-peyton-manning-of-the-denver-broncos-drops_crop_exactAll quarterbacks are going to get sacked. That’s just a part of the game. But not all players are created equally with regards to evading pressure.

To get a sense of how quarterbacks fare in the face of pressure, I took an in-depth look at the numbers from last season. The goal of this piece is not to produce far-reaching conclusions, but rather to provide a general survey of the lay of the land.

In digging through the data, it immediately became apparent that some quarterbacks simply see more pressure than others. Below is a list of the blitz rate for all quarterbacks from 2013 who dropped back to pass at least 100 times:

Rk Player Blitz Dropbacks Rate
46 Geno Smith 222 517 42.94%
45 Russell Wilson 197 502 39.24%
44 Matthew McGloin 85 220 38.64%
43 Cam Newton 211 555 38.02%
42 Josh Freeman 59 157 37.58%
41 Colin Kaepernick 180 504 35.71%
40 Alex D. Smith 211 593 35.58%
39 Brian Hoyer 37 104 35.58%
38 Case Keenum 97 277 35.02%
37 Matt Cassel 96 281 34.16%
36 Jason Campbell 117 346 33.82%
35 Andy Dalton 215 640 33.59%
34 Mike Glennon 155 468 33.12%
33 Kirk Cousins 53 162 32.72%
32 Eli Manning 194 596 32.55%
31 Ryan Tannehill 213 661 32.22%
30 Joe Flacco 216 677 31.91%
29 Matt Schaub 122 383 31.85%
28 Terrelle Pryor 107 337 31.75%
27 Robert Griffin III 168 530 31.70%
26 Michael Vick 54 171 31.58%
25 Ryan Fitzpatrick 125 399 31.33%
24 Tony Romo 180 578 31.14%

 

It’s no shock that a rookie quarterback tops the list. Geno Smith was by far the most frequently blitzed quarterback last season. His 42.9 percent blitz rate was just over 12 percent higher than the league average of 30.9.

Interestingly, three of the league’s most mobile quarterbacks – Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, and Colin Kaepernick – were among the league’s most frequently blitzed.

Rk Player Blitz Dropbacks Rate
1 Peyton Manning 160 677 23.63%
2 E.J. Manuel 86 359 23.96%
3 Matt Flynn 57 236 24.15%
4 Aaron Rodgers 81 329 24.62%
5 Matthew Stafford 168 668 25.15%
6 Drew Brees 176 699 25.18%
7 Blaine Gabbert 28 105 26.67%
8 Sam Bradford 78 284 27.46%
9 Josh McCown 67 243 27.57%
10 Ben Roethlisberger 177 639 27.70%
11 Thaddeus Lewis 51 184 27.72%
12 Kellen Clemens 76 272 27.94%
13 Jake Locker 60 213 28.17%
14 Matt Ryan 200 703 28.45%
15 Brandon Weeden 86 301 28.57%
16 Christian Ponder 85 291 29.21%
17 Nick Foles 106 361 29.36%
18 Chad Henne 162 551 29.40%
19 Jay Cutler 114 387 29.46%
20 Carson Palmer 183 618 29.61%
21 Tom Brady 200 671 29.81%
22 Philip Rivers 177 590 30.00%
23 Andrew Luck 195 645 30.23%

 

On the other side of the coin, there’s again no surprise with who comes in at No. 1. The threat of Payton Manning tends to keep defenses on their heels. As we’ll see later in this piece, the blitz tends to be generally ineffective against Manning.

Most of the names atop the list – Rodgers, Brees, Stafford – don’t really jump off the page, but E.J. Manuel seems slightly out of place. Unlike his rookie counterpart Smith, opposing defenses did not attack Manuel.

This is only speculation, but perhaps this was part of a broader strategy teams used against the Bills because Thad Lewis did not see a high rate of blitzes either. Aside from left guard, the Bills were a relatively strong pass blocking team.

However, we can’t just assume that blitz rate corresponds to the abilities of the opposing offensive line. Arizona was the league’s worst pass blocking team, but Carson Palmer came in just under the league average in blitz rate.

Blitz rate by no means give a complete picture of how a quarterback fares against the pass rush. We also need to consider how many times he sees pressure in general. Pro Football Focus defines a quarterback pressure as the sum of sacks, hits, and hurries.

It’s important to note that the pressure rate is not the same thing as the blitz rate, as a quarterback can be pressured with a standard four-man rush.

Rk Player Dropbacks Press/Dropback
46 Terrelle Pryor 337 158 46.88%
45 Case Keenum 277 126 45.49%
44 Michael Vick 171 76 44.44%
43 Russell Wilson 502 220 43.82%
42 Mike Glennon 468 203 43.38%
41 Geno Smith 517 217 41.97%
40 Matt Schaub 383 160 41.78%
39 Matt Ryan 703 290 41.25%
38 Blaine Gabbert 105 43 40.95%
37 Carson Palmer 618 249 40.29%
36 Eli Manning 596 240 40.27%
35 Jay Cutler 387 151 39.02%
34 Jake Locker 213 83 38.97%
33 Josh Freeman 157 61 38.85%
32 Brandon Weeden 301 115 38.21%
31 Robert Griffin III 530 202 38.11%
30 Christian Ponder 291 110 37.80%
29 Jason Campbell 346 130 37.57%
28 Andrew Luck 645 242 37.52%
27 Josh McCown 243 90 37.04%
26 Cam Newton 555 205 36.94%
25 Kellen Clemens 272 99 36.40%
24 Sam Bradford 284 103 36.27%

 

We see a lot of similar names on this list, with 11 quarterbacks experiencing pressure on over 40 percent of their dropbacks. Here the offensive line play is much more crucial. Four of the five worst offensive lines are represented in that list – Arizona, NY Giants, Atlanta, and Houston. Chicago was the No. 29 offensive line, and Jay Cutler fell just below the 40 percent rate.

From there, players like Pryor, Vick, Gabbert, and Smith almost certainly experienced more pressure due to their indecisiveness in the pocket.

Again, the one glaring name on the list is Wilson. Without a close look at the tape, it’s really tough to decipher exactly what’s going on here. It’s easy to say something like “he didn’t have receivers,” but perhaps there’s more than meets the eye. Disappointed Wilson owners from last season also have a little more insight into why he struggled to put up fantasy points at times. That being said, we still need to consider Wilson’s sack rate, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Rk Player Dropbacks Press/Dropback
1 Peyton Manning 677 154 22.75%
2 Andy Dalton 640 161 25.16%
3 Kirk Cousins 162 44 27.16%
4 Aaron Rodgers 329 94 28.57%
5 Brian Hoyer 104 30 28.85%
6 Matthew Stafford 668 193 28.89%
7 Matt Flynn 236 70 29.66%
8 Drew Brees 699 208 29.76%
9 E.J. Manuel 359 115 32.03%
10 Ben Roethlisberger 639 207 32.39%
11 Tom Brady 671 219 32.64%
12 Matt Cassel 281 92 32.74%
13 Philip Rivers 590 197 33.39%
14 Ryan Tannehill 661 222 33.59%
15 Alex D. Smith 593 202 34.06%
16 Nick Foles 361 124 34.35%
17 Matthew McGloin 220 76 34.55%
18 Colin Kaepernick 504 175 34.72%
19 Thaddeus Lewis 184 64 34.78%
20 Ryan Fitzpatrick 399 140 35.09%
21 Tony Romo 578 203 35.12%
22 Chad Henne 551 195 35.39%
23 Joe Flacco 677 241 35.60%

 

Manning again tops the list, with Dalton coming in a distant second. It’s no surprise to see Dalton’s name here considering how good the Bengals offensive line was as a pass-blocking unit.

Again, there’s a direct correlation between offensive line and pressures. All of the league’s top six best pass-blocking lines are represented in the top 10 – Cincinnati, Denver, Green Bay, Washington, Cleveland, and Detroit. However, it should be noted that Cousins is on this list while Robert Griffin III is much further down at No. 31.

Now, let’s take a look at pressure frequency in correlation with blitzes:

Rk Player Blitz Pressures/Blitz
46 Terrelle Pryor 107 62 57.94%
45 Michael Vick 54 31 57.41%
44 Case Keenum 97 55 56.70%
43 Geno Smith 222 114 51.35%
42 Mike Glennon 155 78 50.32%
41 Josh Freeman 59 29 49.15%
40 Matt Flynn 57 28 49.12%
39 Matt Ryan 200 98 49.00%
38 Russell Wilson 197 96 48.73%
37 Matt Schaub 122 59 48.36%

 

In the bottom 10, we see a number of the usual suspects who either a) had poor offensive line play (Keenum, Glennon/Freeman, Ryan, and Schaub), or b) didn’t perform well against the blitz (Pryor, Vick, Smith, Flynn). Yet again, there’s Russell Wilson’s name.

Rk Player Blitz Pressures/Blitz
1 Peyton Manning 160 43 26.88%
2 Andy Dalton 215 66 30.70%
3 Aaron Rodgers 81 25 30.86%
4 Matthew Stafford 168 58 34.52%
5 Brian Hoyer 37 13 35.14%
6 Kirk Cousins 53 19 35.85%
7 Tom Brady 200 72 36.00%
8 Ben Roethlisberger 177 72 40.68%
9 Drew Brees 176 72 40.91%
10 Colin Kaepernick 180 74 41.11%

 

Likewise, in the top 10 there are quarterbacks who a) have a good offensive line (Manning, Dalton, Rodgers, Stafford, Hoyer, Cousins, Brees, and Kaepernick), or b) perform well against the blitz (Manning, Rodgers, Brady, Roethlisberger, and Brees). In this case, the categories are not mutually exclusive, and there’s certainly some overlap.

While it’s not ideal for a quarterback to be under duress, pressures aren’t the end all, be all. For example, Peyton Manning completed 61.2 percent of his passes he threw when under pressure (79-of-125). This was lower than his season rate of 68.3 percent, but a drop off is to be expected.

Russell Wilson’s decline was even less significant, as he completed 73-of-123 aimed passes, or 59.3 percent, when under pressure. His completion percentage for the season was 63.1.

The key here is not necessarily pressures, but rather sacks. Simply put, a quarterback’s completion percent when he’s sacked is always zero.

Rk Player Dropbacks Sacks/Dropback
46 Blaine Gabbert 105 14 13.33%
45 Matt Flynn 236 25 10.59%
44 Christian Ponder 291 30 10.31%
43 Terrelle Pryor 337 33 9.79%
42 Ryan Tannehill 661 64 9.68%
41 Brandon Weeden 301 29 9.63%
40 Thaddeus Lewis 184 17 9.24%
39 Mike Glennon 468 43 9.19%
38 Nick Foles 361 33 9.14%
37 Russell Wilson 502 45 8.96%
36 Colin Kaepernick 504 43 8.53%
35 Cam Newton 555 47 8.47%
34 Geno Smith 517 43 8.32%
33 Jake Locker 213 17 7.98%
32 Ben Roethlisberger 639 50 7.82%

 

Interestingly, some of the names of the most frequently sacked quarterbacks are not the same as the most frequently pressured quarterbacks. Two names really stand out on this list – Nick Foles and Ben Roethlisberger.

Foles only saw pressure on 34.4 percent of his dropbacks, which was below the league average of 35.6 percent. Yet, he was sacked at a rate of over two percent more than the league average of seven percent. Roethlisberger saw even less frequent pressure (32.4 percent), but still came in at over the league average sack rate.

For those of you keeping score at home, there’s Russell Wilson’s name again.

Rk Player Dropbacks Sacks/Dropback
1 Matthew McGloin 220 6 2.73%
2 Peyton Manning 677 19 2.81%
3 Kirk Cousins 162 5 3.09%
4 Matthew Stafford 668 24 3.59%
5 Josh McCown 243 12 4.94%
6 Jay Cutler 387 20 5.17%
7 Philip Rivers 590 31 5.25%
8 Jason Campbell 346 19 5.49%
9 Andy Dalton 640 36 5.63%
10 Sam Bradford 284 16 5.63%
11 Andrew Luck 645 37 5.74%
12 Ryan Fitzpatrick 399 23 5.76%
13 Drew Brees 699 41 5.87%
14 Matt Schaub 383 24 6.27%
15 Josh Freeman 157 10 6.37%

On the other end of the spectrum, we see some obvious names like Manning, Dalton, and Brees. You can also throw Rivers and Stafford (and even Cousins) on that list because of how good their lines were in 2013.

“Good” is not how the Bears offensive line could be described, yet both Jay Cutler and Josh McCown were among the least frequently sacked quarterbacks in the league last season. Both players were able to get the ball out despite seeing above average pressure rates. Likewise, Matt Schaub saw the seventh highest pressure rate, yet fell bellow the league average sack rate.

So obviously some players were better at avoiding sacks than others. Here’s the bottom 15 quarterbacks in terms of rate of pressures converted to sacks:

Rk Player Sacks Pressures Rate
46 Matt Flynn 25 70 35.71%
45 Blaine Gabbert 14 43 32.56%
44 Ryan Tannehill 64 222 28.83%
43 Christian Ponder 30 110 27.27%
42 Nick Foles 33 124 26.61%
41 Thaddeus Lewis 17 64 26.56%
40 Brandon Weeden 29 115 25.22%
39 Colin Kaepernick 43 175 24.57%
38 E.J. Manuel 28 115 24.35%
37 Ben Roethlisberger 50 207 24.15%
36 Aaron Rodgers 22 94 23.40%
35 Brian Hoyer 7 30 23.33%
34 Cam Newton 47 205 22.93%
33 Andy Dalton 36 161 22.36%
32 Tom Brady 47 219 21.46%

 

While some of these players provide a small sample size, both Foles and Roethlisberger are above the league average of 19.7 percent. In this case, the offensive line does not correlate to avoiding sacks when under pressure as we see Dalton, Hoyer, Rodgers, Weeden, Flynn, and Kaepernick make the list despite all having strong offensive lines.

Rk Player Sacks Pressures Rate
1 Matthew McGloin 6 76 7.89%
2 Kirk Cousins 5 44 11.36%
3 Peyton Manning 19 154 12.34%
4 Matthew Stafford 24 193 12.44%
5 Jay Cutler 20 151 13.25%
6 Josh McCown 12 90 13.33%
7 Jason Campbell 19 130 14.62%
8 Matt Schaub 24 160 15.00%
9 Andrew Luck 37 242 15.29%
10 Sam Bradford 16 103 15.53%
11 Philip Rivers 31 197 15.74%
12 Matt Ryan 47 290 16.21%
13 Josh Freeman 10 61 16.39%
14 Ryan Fitzpatrick 23 140 16.43%
15 Case Keenum 21 126 16.67%

Again we see a number of players on this list who can climb the ladder and get the ball out quickly despite facing pressure. There are some outliers, but Matt McGloin was far and away the least sacked per pressure, which may have contributed to why he endeared himself so much to the Raiders’ coaching staff for part of last season.

Pressure is an important consideration, but to come full circle on this discussion, let’s take a look at how quarterbacks fare when seeing heavy pressure in the form of a blitz:

Rk Player Blitz Sacks/Blitz
46 Matt Flynn 57 13 22.81%
45 Kellen Clemens 76 13 17.11%
44 Terrelle Pryor 107 18 16.82%
43 Thaddeus Lewis 51 8 15.69%
42 Ryan Tannehill 213 32 15.02%
41 Blaine Gabbert 28 4 14.29%
40 Matt Cassel 96 13 13.54%
39 Case Keenum 97 13 13.40%
38 Nick Foles 106 14 13.21%
37 Michael Vick 54 7 12.96%
36 Christian Ponder 85 11 12.94%
35 Brandon Weeden 86 11 12.79%
34 Drew Brees 176 22 12.50%
33 Joe Flacco 216 27 12.50%
32 Cam Newton 211 26 12.32%
31 Geno Smith 222 26 11.71%
30 Ben Roethlisberger 177 20 11.30%
29 Chad Henne 162 18 11.11%
28 Mike Glennon 155 17 10.97%
27 Brian Hoyer 37 4 10.81%
26 Russell Wilson 197 20 10.15%
25 Jake Locker 60 6 10.00%
24 Carson Palmer 183 18 9.84%

 

It was sack city for the names atop the list with several players coming in significantly about the league average of 9.8 percent. Again we see Foles among the league’s worst at dealing with pressure.

Despite seeing a lot of blitzes and having to deal with frequent pressure last season, Wilson proved very capable and fell just slightly above the league average in both sacks per pressure and sacks per blitz. You can’t like the fact that opposing defenses see the need to apply so much pressure on Wilson, but his ability to negotiate this pressure bodes positively.

Rk Player Blitz Sacks/Blitz
1 Peyton Manning 160 2 1.25%
2 Sam Bradford 78 1 1.28%
3 Matthew McGloin 85 2 2.35%
4 Josh McCown 67 3 4.48%
5 Philip Rivers 177 9 5.08%
6 Kirk Cousins 53 3 5.66%
7 Matthew Stafford 168 10 5.95%
8 Jason Campbell 117 8 6.84%
9 Andy Dalton 215 15 6.98%
10 Tony Romo 180 14 7.78%
11 E.J. Manuel 86 7 8.14%
12 Matt Schaub 122 10 8.20%
13 Colin Kaepernick 180 15 8.33%
14 Josh Freeman 59 5 8.47%
15 Alex D. Smith 211 18 8.53%
16 Aaron Rodgers 81 7 8.64%
17 Andrew Luck 195 17 8.72%
18 Jay Cutler 114 10 8.77%
19 Ryan Fitzpatrick 125 11 8.80%
20 Tom Brady 200 18 9.00%
21 Eli Manning 194 18 9.28%
22 Matt Ryan 200 19 9.50%
23 Robert Griffin III 168 16 9.52%

 

Remarkably, Peyton Manning was only sacked on two of the 160 blitzes he saw last season. His propensity for getting the ball out quickly is second to none.

However, it may surprise you to read that second name. Bradford was very effective at avoiding the blitz. What’s even more impressive is that he completed 48-of-69 aimed passes when blitzed. That 69.6-completion percentage was far better than the 60.7 percent he averaged in the seven games he played last season. Comparatively, Manning completed 94-of-153 aimed passes when blitzed for a completion percentage of 61.4.

Calmness in the eye of the storm is an ideal quality in a quarterback, but handling pressure well is by no means a surefire indicator of fantasy prowess. Still, it’s yet another tool in your arsenal worth considering when you build your draft board.

 

Editor’s Note: Be sure to check out our new Mock and Companion Draft Tool. Utilizing our updated player projections, run a quick mock draft and see where this year’s crop of free agents are coming off the board in early fantasy football drafts.


Jeff Ratcliffe is the Assistant Managing Editor and resident IDP maven of PFF Fantasy. 

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| Director of Fantasy

Jeff Ratcliffe is the Director of Fantasy at Pro Football Focus. He produces all of our projections and is one of the most accurate rankers in the fantasy industry. Jeff also is the host of our show on SiriusXM fantasy sports radio and is one of the main hosts of our Fantasy Slant podcast.

  • [email protected]

    Thats a good question about Russell Wilson. I think there are 2 main factors 1) He could handle the blitz better. 2) If you dont pressure him he’ll sit back there all day and wear out your D-line.

  • ramsfan

    “…let’s take a look at how quarterbacks fare when seeing heavy pressure in the form of a blitz:.” this statement in your article doesn’t seem accurate – blitzes don’t always equate to pressure, let alone “heavy pressure”. blitzes can be picked up, and qbs can beat them effectively as well with quick passes, both cases could protect a qb from any pressure. sam bradford is a good example, the guy is the king of very short throws and dump offs, especially in 2013, so getting rid of the ball quickly on his short throws probably helps explain his low sack % and high completion % on blitzes. and his high qb rating on blitzes could probably be explained by the high number of passes to runs the bradford-led executed in short yardage redzone situations. anyway, when it comes to actual pressure, blitzes or otherwise, bradford has not fared well at all since he joined the league in 2010, especially on 3rd downs.