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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

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