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Quarterbacks in control: A PFF data study of who controls pressure rates

This offseason has been a fun one thus far, with a thorough exploration of running back value and how such value is measured by our grading system at PFF. We laid out our case for the value of coverage relative to pass rush, which questioned the sacred idea that football is won and lost in the trenches.

This article is in a similar vein. One question that has been on our minds of late has been the contribution of offensive line play to success in the passing game. In the extremes – no protection at all versus perfect protection – it’s clear that an offensive line can have a huge impact with respect to its team’s success. That said, a team with virtually no protection can throw the ball quickly and gain yardage (although not optimally), and a team with perfect protection is still at the mercy of their quarterback making plays from a clean pocket, which we know to be tough for poor quarterbacks relative to the great ones. And we don’t generally work in these extremes. There are no offensive lines that are so bad that more than half of passing plays are pressured, and no offensive lines are so good that fewer than 20 percent of passing plays earn the “pressured” distinction. 

In a league driven by the passing game, and in a market when even average-ish offensive linemen are earning huge sums of money, a pertinent question nowadays is the value of each marginal improvement in pass protection when it comes to passing efficiency, both looking backward and in trying to predict the future. 

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