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Advanced QB Metrics: The Best and Worst Quarterbacks Under Pressure

Written by Jody Smith
July 19, 2019

The Best and Worst QB's Under Pressure Last Season

"Pressure, pushing down on me. Pressing down on you, no man ask for"

While that may be a lyric from Freddie Mercury in Queen's Under Pressure, the line is strangely poignant even 38 years later in the world of American football. In our beloved game's epic struggle of offense versus defense, putting pressure on the opposing team's quarterback is one of the most important elements in a defensive coordinator's weekly game plan. 

Just like teams have a varying degree of success getting to the opposing passer, quarterbacks often have vastly different results when forced out of the pocket or under duress from pass rushers. Often, we see younger signal-callers fall apart while being blitzed while veterans that excel under pressure might face far fewer pass rushers after proving they can stand in the pocket and exploit coverages.

The quality of the offensive line in front of a quarterback is also very important. Other factors affecting a quarterback's stats under pressure include poise, health, and athleticism. With all that in mind, here are the results of how the NFL's top signal-callers faced under pressure and what it means for the upcoming 2019 fantasy football season.

In this article, I used FantasyData's new Advanced QB Metric page to rank quarterbacks under pressure and group them into four tiers, "The Bottom 10," "Below Average", "Solid Versus the Blitz," and the "Elite Pressure Performers." 

The Bottom 10

PLAYER TEAM PROTECT% DROPBACK ATT COM ON TARGET YARDS AIR YARDS TD INT SACK RATE
Case Keenum DEN 83.3% 198 191 86 111 987 616 5 5 7 59.0
Andy Dalton CIN 85.3% 100 98 45 55 660 301 4 6 3 56.5
Derek Carr OAK 78.1% 139 136 67 86 799 484 3 7 3 53.5
C.J. Beathard SF 82.5% 50 47 19 22 291 153 2 3 3 49.2
Alex Smith WAS 87.2% 103 96 39 50 464 267 3 4 7 49.1
Nick Mullens SF 74.1% 90 89 43 50 525 205 1 5 1 47.3
Josh Allen BUF 76.4% 122 118 38 59 719 428 6 7 4 46.5
Sam Darnold NYJ 82.8% 133 128 58 82 660 402 3 7 5 46.4
Josh Rosen ARZ 73.3% 139 130 55 68 613 410 1 5 9 43.5
Joe Flacco BAL 85.6% 100 98 41 55 417 260 2 5 2 40.2

undefinedDerek Carr (Oakland Raiders) - Oakland's line ranked 25th in pass pro and allowed 52 sacks, the fourth-most in football. LG Richie Incognito could help but he'll first have to serve a two-game suspension. The addition of WR Antonio Brown should prove to be the biggest boost for improving Derek Carr's suboptimal play under pressure. Carr's seven picks were tied for second-most. 

Josh Allen (Buffalo Bills) - Not unexpected considering his college resume and being handed the starting reins as a rookie, but Josh Allen really struggled in Year One, particularly when under duress. Allen completed an NFL-worst 32.2% of his passes when pressured and tossed seven picks. The only saving grace- Allen ran for 631 yards in 10 games and led all QBs with eight rushing scores. 

Sam Darnold (New York Jets) - Darnold enjoyed a solid protection rate as a rookie but still suffered the same growing pains as fellow freshman signal-callers. Darnold completed 45.3% of his pressured passes but struggled with a 3-to-7 TD-to-INT ratio. 

Josh Rosen (Arizona Cardinals) - Rosen's rookie performance was so bad that the Cardinals elected to ship him off to Miami and go in an entirely different direction with Kliff Kingsbury and No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray. Not all of that was Rosen's fault, as he clearly wasn't ready to start and was thrust into a tough spot with little talent around him. Still, Rosen was staggeringly bad against pressure and threw a single touchdown versus five picks. He likely could use more time to develop behind Ryan Fitzpatrick. 

Joe Flacco (Baltimore Ravens) - As mentioned above with Lamar Jackson, Flacco was a disaster last season and will likely be benched in Denver. Flacco's 4.26 yards per attempt while under pressure was the worst mark in the NFL, as was his abysmal 40.2 quarterback rating.  For comparisons, Flacco could have taken a knee or intentionally been sacked on all 100 of his pressured dropbacks and his QB rating would have been 39.58. 

Below Average Options

PLAYER TEAM PROTECT% DROPBACK ATT COM ON TARGET YARDS AIR YARDS TD INT SACK RATE
Eli Manning NYG 78.8% 173 163 85 107 969 503 4 2 10 73.4
Cody Kessler CLE 70.9% 51 47 24 34 246 142 2 1 4 71.8
Blake Bortles JAX 77.6% 138 129 68 86 775 378 2 2 9 69.8
Tom Brady NE 90.1% 142 134 59 77 708 443 8 5 8 65.1
Ryan Fitzpatrick TB 89.5% 81 78 43 48 586 347 5 7 3 63.3
Jared Goff LAR 82.9% 156 150 62 86 796 448 7 4 6 63.1
Ben Roethlisberger PIT 89.6% 164 157 77 95 1168 599 6 9 7 62.8
Cam Newton CAR 81.9% 137 131 70 82 714 319 4 6 7 60.4
Aaron Rodgers GB 79.0% 167 159 56 72 774 506 4 0 8 60.1

undefinedTom Brady (New England Patriots) - Long a standout against pressure, Tom Brady struggled in 2018 despite the fact that New England's offensive line ranked first in the pass blocking and Brady had a clean pocket 90.1% of the time, which tied Lamar Jackson for tops. Brady's 65.1 QB rating against pressure was 24th and he threw five interceptions, which is unusually high for the future Hall-of-Famer. Brady's 44% completion percentage also ranked 32nd, as did his 5.28 yards per attempt figure. Owing to last year's performance, it wouldn't be a surprise to see opposing clubs call even more blitzes this season to see if Brady, who will be 42 on opening day, can overcome the undefeated Father Time for one more year. 

Jared Goff (Los Angeles Rams) - Goff averaged 5.31 yards per attempt against pressure, which just edged out Tom Brady. Goff's accuracy under duress left a lot to be desired. He completed just 41.3% of his throws, which was the fifth-worst of all qualified passers. While Goff is still young and growing as an NFL signal-caller, Sean McVay may need to rely on his fourth-year QB even more with the unsettled status of RB Todd Gurley's knee. 

Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers) - Big Ben threw a league-high nine interceptions against the blitz last season, which lowered his QB rating quite a bit. Roethlisberger was protected 89.6% of the time, which ranked third but he tended to try to force the ball into tight windows and make dramatic plays. While Roethlisberger actually enjoyed the finest statistical season of his career, losing ace WR Antonio Brown is a troubling sign and will make it extremely difficult for the 37-year-old veteran to post another top-10 fantasy season in 2019.

Cam Newton (Carolina Panthers) - Carolina's offensive line ranked 10th in pass protection but Newton was mostly mediocre when facing pressure. Of course, Newton also injured his shoulder late last season and was unable to pose much of a downfield threat on throws. Newton is still an excellent runner which should lead to relaxed pressure and another QB1 season as long as he's fully healthy before Week 1.

Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers) - Turmoil hit the Packers last season but all the drama can't be blamed on the tumultuous relationship between Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy, who was jettisoned in-season. Rodgers, quite frankly, played lousily. Especially against pressure. Rodgers averaged a mere 4.87 yards per attempt against the blitz, which was last in the NFL among quarterbacks who started every game. He also completed just 35.2% of those throws, which beat out only Josh Allen for least-accurate honors. For Green Bay to return to contention, their line has got to do a better job in protection (allowed 53 sacks in 2018) and Rodgers needs to perform better when under duress. Another season like 2018 and it could be safe to wonder if the Packers might finally need to acquire an eventual successor. 

Continue Reading: The Best and Worst QB's Under Pressure...

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Jody Smith

Jody is a member of both the Pro Football Writer's of America (PFWA) and Fantasy Sports Writer's Association (FSWA) and has been covering the NFL and fantasy football for over a decade. Jody won FantasyPro's Most Accurate Expert contest and also garnered the FSTA's accuracy award in 2012. A Houston native, Jody has covered the Texans locally since 2016 for both digital and radio audiences. Past writing stops include CBS Sportsline, Gridiron Experts, Pro Football Focus, Fanball, FantasyPro's. Jody is also a frequent guest on SiriusXM and Houston radio and his work regularly appears in print on newsstands each summer.