Three Years of Passing Under Pressure

| 5 years ago

Three Years of Passing Under Pressure

If a quarterback has all day to throw thanks to their offensive line doing a great job, chances are he should be able to find an open receiver. It’s when the defense is in position to bring the quarterback to the turf that we get a good idea of what the quarterback is made of. That’s why we continue our three-year Signature Stats series by looking at how quarterbacks have done under pressure in recent seasons.

Many people simply look at sacks when evaluating how much a pressure a quarterback has seen. There are only a few sacks in any given game, but much more often a defensive player forces the quarterback to move around in–or leave–the pocket. While sacks tell part of the story, it is only a small part. Looking at how all of the quarterbacks have done under pressure over the last three years gives a much bigger scope of how they play in this situation.


Who Is Under Pressure?

First on the plate are the quarterbacks who have spent the most and least amount of their drop-backs under pressure. There are two major factors that contribute to who is on this list. This includes how long the quarterback holds on to the ball as well as the quality of the offensive line as a pass-protecting unit. At the top of the list are quarterbacks who are known for running with the ball, followed by Jay Cutler who has been stuck behind a poor offensive line in Chicago. At the very bottom are players known for getting the ball out quickly. This is followed by Drew Brees and Mark Sanchez who have been throwing behind quality offensive lines. It will be interesting to see if that number changes for Tim Tebow who goes from one of the worst offensive lines in the game to one of the better pass-blocking groups.


RankPlayerCurrent TeamTotal DropbacksPressured DropbacksPressured %
1Tim TebowNYJ44519042.7%
2Michael VickPHI98139840.6%
3Tarvaris JacksonSEA60222737.7%
4Jay CutlerCHI146754837.4%
5Rex GrossmanWAS64123737.0%
39Mark SanchezNYJ155141226.6%
40Drew BreesNO191849725.9%
41Matthew StaffordDET122931825.9%
42Matt HasselbeckTEN156437824.2%
43Peyton ManningIND128030724.0%


Avoiding Big Mistakes

Next are the quarterbacks who frequently or infrequently take sacks, judged by looking at how often they were sacked compared to how often they faced pressure. At the top of the list is Blaine Gabbert whose 2011 was one of the worst quarterback seasons we have seen. This is followed by some of the league’s elite like Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers. Roethlisberger has played in all 16 games just once in his NFL career, and Rodgers has a history of concussions. Taking so many sacks contributes to fans justifiably being concerned about those problems. On the other hand, we again see Peyton Manning at the bottom of the list, showing that he is both rarely under pressure and even more rarely taking sacks.


RankPlayerCurrent TeamPressured DropbacksSacksSack%
1Blaine GabbertJAC1534026.1%
2Ben RoethlisbergerPIT50012324.6%
3Matt MooreMIA2345724.4%
4Kevin KolbARZ2074923.7%
5Aaron RodgersGB50711522.7%
39Matt RyanATL4886713.7%
40Josh FreemanTB5477513.7%
41Eli ManningNYG5827312.5%
42Kerry CollinsFA2032210.8%
43Peyton ManningDEN307268.5%


While it’s bad to absorb a sack, tossing an interception is even worse. Throwing a high number of interceptions is a good way to lose your job, as the players on the top of the list didn’t have promising offseasons. Jake Delhomme wasn’t re-signed by the Houston Texans, Rex Grossman was replaced in Washington, and Tarvaris Jackson now has competition for the starting job in Seattle. While Roethlisberger and Rodgers take a high number of sacks, they rarely throw interceptions under pressure. On the other hand, Peyton Manning does the opposite in that he will get the ball out to avoid getting sacked, but ends up throwing more picks. It’s no surprise that players who have been deemed “game managers” like David Garrard and Alex Smith also made the list for rarely throwing interceptions.


RankPlayerCurrent TeamPressured DropbacksINTInt%
1Jake DelhommeFA157138.3%
2Rex GrossmanWAS237135.5%
3Tarvaris JacksonSEA227114.8%
4Brett FavreFA272134.8%
5Peyton ManningDEN307144.6%
39David GarrardMIA36671.9%
40Alex D. SmithSF46281.7%
41Tony RomoDAL42171.7%
42Ben RoethlisbergerPIT50081.6%
43Aaron RodgersGB50771.4%


Accuracy of Throws

Similar to yesterday, this article will conclude with the list of best and worst quarterback in terms of their Accuracy Percentage, this time looking at their pressured throws. Probably the biggest surprise in the article is that Shaun Hill sits at the top of the list of the most accurate quarterbacks under pressure–mostly coming from his time as a starter in place of Matthew Stafford in 2010. While his completion percentage isn’t very good, he suffered a lot of drops (by players like Brandon Pettigrew and Bryant Johnson) and also had a fair number of throwaways.

We see some of the elite quarterbacks near the top of the list too, which is to no surprise. Rounding out the Top 5 is Kevin Kolb which should bode well in the quarterback competition in Arizona with John Skelton (who finds himself near the bottom of the list).

Speaking of quarterback competitions, the duo fighting for playing time in New York were two of the worst three in terms of playing under pressure. That puts the pressure on the offensive line to continue to succeed as pass protectors. Also among the least accurate quarterbacks under pressure is Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has one of the most extreme drop-offs from playing with no pressure to playing under pressure. A healthy offensive line will do a lot to help keep the pressure off and help the Bills succeed.


RankNameCurrent TeamAttCompTAHATDropsComp%Acc%
1Shaun HillDET1416419111445.4%70.3%
2Aaron RodgersGB34117341112050.7%66.8%
3Peyton ManningDEN279157871956.3%66.7%
4Kevin KolbARI15178202851.7%66.7%
5Drew BreesNO41923127161955.1%66.5%
39Ryan FitzpatrickBUF28511710261141.1%51.4%
40John SkeltonARI11545123539.1%50.0%
41Mark SanchezNYJ30711631151437.8%49.8%
42Tim TebowNYJ11843214336.4%49.5%
43Jake DelhommeFA1214678538.0%48.1%


If you question how important quarterback play under pressure is, then consider the following: in 2010, Eli Manning averaged 8.1 yards per attempt when there was no pressure, and 5.8 yards per attempt when there was pressure. In 2011, he stayed the same when there was no pressure, but improved to 8.4 yards per attempt when under pressure. That is part of why Eli went from being ‘good’ to being ‘elite’.


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| Director of Analytics

Nathan has been with Pro Football Focus since 2010. He is the Director of Analytics, an NFL analyst, and a fantasy writer.

  • uppercut

    (great & telling article) In regards to comparing Eli’s YPA under pressure & under none, is there a reason yards aren’t listed on the Passing Under Pressure page in the Signature Stats section? (so one could see pressured YPA in addition to Acc%)

    • Neil Hornsby

      The honest answer is “not really”. The signature stats were put up quite quickly and consequently, in certain areas, we were more constrained by space than anything else. I’m aware we need to go through the whole section again (when time allows) and pick up these type of things and rectify them where appropriate.