The best quarterbacks in different situations: Geno Smith excelled deep down the field, Tua Tagovailoa impressed against zone coverage

2K8HY33 Miami Gardens, Florida, USA. 23rd Oct, 2022. Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa before a play against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first half at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022, in Miami Gardens, Florida. Credit: John McCall/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS/Alamy Live News

• Geno going deep: On throws of 20-plus yards, Geno Smith ranked first among the full-time starters in completion percentage and touchdowns.

• Allen moving the chains against pressure: The Buffalo Bills generated 0.071 EPA per play against pressure, first in the NFL. They also generated a league-best 83 first downs. 

• Burrow picking apart man coverage: Joe Burrow excelled against man coverage, earning a 91.5 passing grade against those looks. The next-closest quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, earned an 85.1 passing grade.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes


Quarterbacks who can operate at all depths of the field, against all coverages and against pressure, are essential to winning in the NFL. Having a signal-caller who can do all these things gives an offense a major advantage, as it allows the team to be more creative with its playcalling and attack the defense in various ways. It also makes the offense more unpredictable, which makes it more difficult for the defense.

Here, we look at how some of the NFL's best quarterbacks performed at different throw depths, against pressure and facing man and zone coverages. The data we used is from the 2022 regular season and does not include plays nullified by penalty. 

Short Passes (0-9 yards downfield)

Burrow completed 229 of his 281 short pass attempts to finish with a completion percentage of 81.5%, second to only Geno Smith (85.7%). The Bengals quarterback threw 14 touchdowns and moved the chains another 84 times, third and seventh, respectively, at the position.

Tom Brady led the league in passing yards on short targets and finished third at the position in passing grade (77.5) on those throws. He also led the league in first-down conversions on short passes (110) but also had a league-high 20 passes dropped on those plays. 

The Detroit Lions generated the most expected points added (EPA) per play (0.352) on short passes, but Jared Goff's 74.8 PFF grade ranked 13th among quarterbacks. The Lions signal-caller finished fourth at the position in passing yards from short passes (1,973), but 55% of those yards came after the catch. 

Intermediate Passes (10-19 yards downfield)

Lamar Jackson comes in at No. 1 on this list after completing 44 of his 66 (66.7%) intermediate-range passes for 715 yards and four scores. He recorded nine big-time throws and zero turnover-worthy plays. 

The 49ers generated the most EPA per play on intermediate passes (0.743), with Brock Purdy producing league-high marks in completion percentage (79.5%) and yards per attempt (13.9). The next-closest quarterback in terms of completion percentage was Deshaun Watson at 68.4%.

Although Mahomes is not in this table, he led quarterbacks in passing yards on throws between 10 and 19 yards (1,561). The Chiefs star completed 81-of-133 intermediate attempts, throwing nine touchdowns and nine interceptions. However, he racked up 10 turnover-worthy plays to just six big-time throws, explaining his absence.

Deep Passes (20 or more yards downfield)

On throws of 20-plus yards, Geno Smith ranked first among the full-time starters in completion percentage at 47.6% and touchdowns with 14. He racked up 30 big-time throws to just six turnover-worthy plays on deep passes; this came in stark contrast to his performance on intermediate throws, where he recorded 15 turnover-worthy plays to only three big-time throws. 

Josh Allen (1,170) and Russell Wilson (1,136) led the league in yards from deep passes. Kirk Cousins came in third with 996 yards, with Tua Tagovailoa closely behind with 990. The Dolphins generated the highest EPA per play (0.830) on deep passes.

Under Pressure

Desmond Ridder didn't face much pressure in his rookie year — just 43 dropbacks, in fact — but he managed to complete 18-of-28 pass attempts under pressure for 213 yards. He moved the chains on 12 of those completions, added two big-time throws and didn't record a single turnover-worthy play.

The Buffalo Bills generated 0.071 EPA per play against pressure — the only positive EPA per play — to rank first in the NFL. They also generated a league-best 83 first downs. 

Steelers quarterback Mitchell Trubisky led the position in big-time throw percentage under pressure. Trubisky completed 22 of his 44 attempts for 248 yards, one touchdown, zero interceptions, six big-time throws and one turnover-worthy play.

Against the blitz

New England's Bailey Zappe ranked first among his peers in yards per attempt against the blitz — he was the only signal-caller to average more than 10.0 yards. He finished top-five in completion percentage (71.0%), adjusted completion percentage (80.0%) and passer rating against the blitz (122.0).

Jared Goff is not on this list, but he paced the league in passing yards against the blitz at 1,797. The next-closest quarterback was Geno Smith at 1,472 yards.

Although neither of their quarterbacks is on this table, the Jaguars and 49ers generated the most EPA per play against the blitz. The Jaguars also had the highest completion percentage (69.5%). Mahomes is also not on this table despite leading the league in touchdowns against the blitz (17).

Against man coverage

Joe Burrow excelled against man coverage, earning a 91.5 passing grade against those looks. The next-closest quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, earned an 85.1 passing grade, with the Jaguars generating the most EPA per play against man coverage (0.391).

Lawrence threw only one interception against man coverage and had the highest completion percentage at 66%.

The Falcons were the only team that didn't throw an interception against man coverage.

Against zone coverage

Tua Tagovailoa completed 208 of his 316 attempts against zone coverage for 2,965 yards, 12 scores and seven picks. That came with 15 big-time throws and 10 turnover-worthy plays. He finished third at the position in yards per attempt (9.4) and first in the percentage of passes that were thrown past the line to gain (50.9%).

Tom Brady led the league in attempts (523), completions (371) and passing yards (3,619) against zone coverage. He tallied 22 big-time throws to just 13 turnover-worthy plays, but he also had 22 passes dropped by his receivers. 

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