Sig Stats Snapshot: Passing Under Pressure

Which passers maintain composure in the face of the rush? Mike Renner takes a look using our Passing Under Pressure Signature Stat.

| 5 years ago

Sig Stats Snapshot: Passing Under Pressure

Media outlets love to talk about how quarterbacks perform in pressure situations, but what about how quarterbacks perform under actual physical pressure? One of the main stats we take pride in collecting is quarterback ‘pressures’. A pressure, as we define it, is any hit, hurry, or sack and you’ll only find the complete data here at PFF. Tracking this helps us better evaluate pass rushing defenders (with our Pass Rushing Productivity Signature Stat) as well as pass blockers (Pass Blocking Efficiency), but it also aids in evaluating quarterback play.

Today we will be looking at how facing pressure affects different quarterbacks in our group of Signature Stats entitled: Passing Under Pressure

How Much Does Pressure Matter?

The simple answer is: a lot. Even if you aren’t getting sacks, a precipitous decline in quarterback performance can be created by hits and hurries. I believe there is no better way to show this than through a comparison of relevant passing statistics when under pressure and when not. The following are the league averages for various quarterbacking statistics:

 No PressureWith Pressure
Accuracy Percentage74.3%61.0%
Completion Percentage64.7%46.9%
Yards Per Attempt7.45.9
Depth of Target8.38.8
Interception Rate2.0%3.8%
Throwaway Percentage0.9%9.2%
NFL Passer Rating93.159.8


The bottom line is that quarterbacks on average make much worse throws under pressure. Finding a quarterback that is able to keep composure under pressure and not turn the ball over is a luxury in today’s NFL.

Rookies at the Top

If I gave everyone reading this a chance to guess the two most accurate quarterbacks under pressure, I’d bet a very small percentage would have come back with the right answer. Robert Griffin III and Ryan Tannehill are currently first and second, respectively, in Accuracy Percentage under pressure.

The pair have taken different approaches that are worth analyzing. Griffin has been reluctant to throw the ball away, instead choosing to scramble and utilize short passes. On 117 pressured drop-backs he has run for yardage 20 times, thrown the ball away only three times, and had an average depth of target of only 6.1 yards (2.7 yards below NFL average). Tannehill has kept his accuracy high by throwing the ball away when necessary. He does so 16.2% of the time under pressure, the third-highest percentage in the NFL. His depth of target is a little below average at 8.2, but not enough to explain being as good as he is.

When it comes right down to it, both rookies have been able to keep their composure when under pressure. Both have sack and interceptions rates under pressure that are around the league average. It is even more impressive when you consider that the next closest rookie, Russell Wilson, is over 15 percentage points behind Tannehill. If you are a Dolphin or Redskins fan, you have to be happy with the poise both have showed and excited about their futures.


–  One quarterback that hasn’t handled pressure well is Andy Dalton. He’s thrown the ball to the other team on 8.8% of his pressured attempts, the highest in the league.

–  Kevin Kolb’s pressure statistics compare most similarly to Peyton Manning of anyone else in the NFL. The only difference? Kolb faces pressure on 42.4% of plays (second-most, behind Michael Vick’s 42.9%) compared to Manning’s league-low 20.8%.

–  Griffin may be the most accurate, but Ben Roethlisberger has probably been the most impressive under pressure so far. His sack rate is a low 16.2% and he’s thrown six touchdowns compared to only two picks.

–  Aaron Rodgers has thrown the most touchdown passes under pressure (seven); Matt Hasselbeck, Mark Sanchez, John Skelton, and Peyton Manning have all thrown none.

–  Alex Smith doesn’t like to take chances under pressure. He has the highest sack rate (33.8%) and the highest throwaway rate (20%) in the NFL.

–  Sack rate has a positive correlation with Accuracy Percentage, meaning the more sacks quarterbacks take the more accurate they tend to be. Similarly, Accuracy Percentage is negatively correlated with interception rate.

Pressure %Sack %INT %Throwaway %Acc. %
Robert Griffin IIIWAS11735.018.82.674.0082.1
Ryan TannehillMIA9428.320.22.7016.2280.7
Ben RoethlisbergerPIT10530.816.22.419.6478.6
Aaron RodgersGB10525.929.51.5612.5077.4
Blaine GabbertJAX10132.721.81.414.2370.8
Peyton ManningDEN8120.817.34.5512.1268.4
Matt HasselbeckTEN5924.523.77.1411.9067.6
Kevin KolbARZ9242.429.31.6911.8666.7
Alex D. SmithSF7127.833.85.0020.0066.7
Sam BradfordSL12834.820.32.027.0766.3
Matt SchaubHST10029.113.02.3310.4766.2
Matt RyanATL13431.014.23.857.6965.3
Russell WilsonSEA11839.316.13.8018.9965.1
Carson PalmerOAK14332.614.03.333.3363.6
Eli ManningNYG10627.711.36.599.8962.8
Christian PonderMIN10829.522.25.5616.6762.5
Ryan FitzpatrickBUF9025.
Drew BreesNO11727.913.73.0011.0060.7
Andrew LuckIND16636.313.33.206.4060.6
John SkeltonARZ7136.419.73.645.4560.4
Joe FlaccoBLT11531.418.31.096.5259.5
Philip RiversSD14138.
Josh FreemanTB11733.712.05.219.3858.8
Tony RomoDAL12830.
Andy DaltonCIN8923.427.08.773.5158.2
Jay CutlerCHI11338.324.87.593.8058.1
Tom BradyNE9723.715.51.2511.2558.0
Matt CasselKC9229.420.77.9412.7057.1
Matthew StaffordDET11625.
Brandon WeedenCLV11128.214.45.4314.1356.8
Cam NewtonCAR12435.821.04.8212.0554.0
Michael VickPHI16242.916.74.2412.7153.1
Jake LockerTEN4028.410.06.069.0951.9
Mark SanchezNYJ10029.323.01.323.9548.5


Follow Mike on Twitter: @PFF_MikeRenner

| Senior Analyst

Mike is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has also been featured on The Washington Post, ESPN Insider, and 120 Sports.

  • Dick H

    Could your chart add passer rating (overall and under pressure)?

    • Mike Renner

      That’s a really good suggestion and I actually wondered why we didn’t have it on there when I wrote this article. Hopefully we will be able to have it up on the premium section this weekend. Thanks!

      • Tim P

        QBR is a great idea. But which one? NFL or ESPN? ESPN is more accurate but NFL is easier to understand/calculate. At the risk of adding a column just to add a column, it would really be awesome to see the comparison of both ratings against pressure.

  • Anonraider fan

    Well, not trying to be rude, but so what? Literally, as in what does this translate to, result wise, or how does this help me better understand what I see on the screen? Again, I am not trying to be insulting, but I just have a hard time finding utility in any chart that lists Tannehill multiple spots above Peyton Manning, or Skelton similarly above Brady. Love the site and read it every day.

    • Anon

      Statistics aren’t absolute, but they don’t lie either. Just because a player has a big name doesn’t make him automatically the best at everything.

    • Mike Renner

      I see your point. Accuracy Percentage isnt the perfect barometer under pressure and these should be taken as a whole. And it is true that these stats alone can’t evaluate a quarterback. What is important is what these mean when looking at matchups. Take someone like Jay Cutler, he looks great when given the time. Hes faced consistent pressure and his stats are considerably worse when he’s pressured. So when he faces a team like the Seahawks, he’s likely to struggle.
      Then you look at someone like Ben Roethlisberger. His stats don’t really decrease with pressure. So if he played the Seahawks, the same struggles might not be present.

      Finally, I think the best thing these stats show is the strategy different quarterbacks take under pressure. Alex Smith and Aaorn Rodgers won’t take chances and would rather take sacks. Brady, Manning and Brees look to get rid of the ball, usually to receivers feet if no one is open. Then some guys will just panic and make more mistakes.

      Hopefully that answers your question. Its not a catch all stat, but as I say in most of my articles, no stat ever is. We are just get trying to provide you with as much info as possible. Thanks for reading and if you have any suggestions on anything you’d like to see, we’d love to hear it!

  • LightsOut85

    If I may also suggest something to be added to the premium section – yards. There was one article (about pressure) mentioned Eli’s YPA under pressure last season, and since then I’ve wondered why that wasn’t available in the passing-under-pressure section. We could see performance (YPA), and also use YPC as a rough way to calculate how deep someone’s going (or maybe something more advanced to show how deep they’re throwing under pressure :D). Because I’d want to know why Tannehill & Griffin actually get MORE accurate under pressure. Are they bootlegging away from the pressure & just shoveling it to a close receiver, so it technically counts as a competed pass but it could be a gain of 0 yards & not “impressive”.

    • LightsOut85

      Oh, also I have a question – why is there no batted-passes in the “under pressure” section? (in terms of calculating Acc%). Couldn’t a QB come under pressure, then still have the throw he gets off be batted by a different player on the line?

      • Mike Renner

        Both legitimate. We have that data and I’ll try to get it up on the premium section this weekend or sometime next week.

        • LightsOut85

          Thanks! You guys are the best & your unique stats are awesome. I almost made myself late for a doctor’s appointment the day you released time-in-pocket..

  • That Man

    The most surprising thing to me was the Sanchez and Gabbert were top 5 lowest Int % when pressured. I guess they just prefer to suck when they aren’t pressured.

  • LightsOut85

    (I don’t know if you guys come back & check these but…) – If you subtract attempts & sacks from total-pressured-dropbacks, is the resulting number times the QB had a non-designed run? (It looks that way, since mobile guys like Wilson & RG3 have a higher # remaining & guys like Brady & P. Manning only have a few).

    • Mike Renner

      Its almost that. The only thing is sometimes a quarterback will run without even facing a pressure. So that number is pressured runs. For example we have RG3 with 35 non-designed runs with 20 pressured runs.

      And I try to go back and check on all my articles for at least one week. If you have any questions, I’ll be able to respond much faster through twitter. Thanks again!