QBs and pressure: why Jimmy Garoppolo is in limbo

NFL Offseason – Over his eight-year NFL career, Jimmy Garoppolo averaged 8.4 yards per pass attempt. That’s a better rate than Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady or any other quarterback who started a game in 2021. So why is Garoppolo so undesirable, both in San Francisco and elsewhere? One reason (among many): his performance on the pitch constantly dropped when opposing passers put pressure on him.

Time to review 2021 data from 2022 Football Underdog Almanac (now available!). Today we’re going to look at quarterbacks and pressure – who faced pressure most often, who passed or failed with a clean pocket, and who played best and worst under pressure.

Take Garoppolo, for example. He was pressured on 23.4% of his forfeits, the eighth-lowest rate among 34 qualified quarterbacks in 2021. So he was going from a clean pocket about three-quarters of the time, and on those plays he was fantastic. – his 64.7% DVOA was third behind Aaron Rodgers and Kirk Cousins. When the pressure hit, however, Garoppolo’s DVOA dropped to -95.4%, well below the league average of -74.0%. That’s a 160.1% drop in DVOA between pressured and unpressured games. Only Rodgers was more affected by the pressure, and given that his DVOA without pressure was 81.1%, he could better afford this drop. (Note that these are team offensive DVOAs, not individual passing DVOAs, and include not only passing plays, but also quarterback scrambles.)

Usually these numbers are quite volatile, but Garoppolo has seen his numbers drop consistently when the pressure has returned at home. In 2019, his only other healthy season, he ranked eighth in DVOA without pressure (63.6%), but sixth worst in DVOA with pressure (-81.3%); this difference of 144.9% was the fourth largest that year. In 2018, his drop from no-pressure DVOA to pressured DVOA was even higher at 162.8%, though that’s barely 100 drops.

How, more specifically, does the pressure affect Garoppolo? From a clean pocket, he was in the middle of the pack in completion rate, touchdown rate and interception rate, but he was second to Joe Burrow in yards per pass, and he averaged a record of 12.8 yards per completion (and yes, that is heavily tied to YAC). Under pressure, however, he became a completely different player, especially a high-risk, high-reward, high-variance player who set up plenty of strengths for the 49ers, but even more so for their opponents. He was actually in the top three in completion rate, passing yards and touchdown rate under pressure – no full-time starter saw his touchdown rate drop. at the top under pressure as much as Garoppolo. However, only Tua Tagovailoa had a higher interception rate under pressure than Garoppolo, and the San Francisco quarterback had little escape, with one of the 10 highest sack rates under duress.

Maybe you are a visual learner. Here are some examples of the kind of throws Garoppolo can make when he has room to breathe:

Under pressure, however, Garoppolo was capable of throws like this:

And that:

But also this:

And of course this:

This final game will likely be Garoppolo’s last for the 49ers. Kyle Shanahan has publicly confirmed that his team has “switched to Trey [Lance]. “Off-season shoulder surgery (among other things) has flooded Garoppolo’s trade market, and he’ll likely be released soon. The Seahawks seem like the only team that might have an opening, but if they thought Garoppolo would be a upgrade from Drew Lock and Geno Smith, they surely would have traded for him by now Garoppolo may have no choice but to sit out the 2022 season and return in 2023. As flawed as he is Either way, this no-pressure DVOA should be awfully attractive to a contending team in need of a quarterback, especially since performance out of a clean pocket has always been more consistent than performance under pressure.

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Garoppolo isn’t the only passer whose number has dropped significantly under pressure. Let’s look at the rest of the bottom five, measured by the drop in DVOA:

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

Rodgers’ MVP campaign was fueled by god-level performance from a clean pocket: 77.2% completion rate, 7.52% touchdown rate, 0.23% intercept rate , all the best in the league. But he completed just 30.3% of his passes for 3.12 yards per throw when under pressure, ranking second-to-last in both categories, ahead of Zach Wilson and Tyler Huntley, respectively.

Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals

As previously mentioned, Burrow led the NFL with 9.59 yards per throw from a clean pocket. But under pressure, he ranked in the bottom five qualifiers in terms of interception rate and sack rate.

Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans

Tannehill’s unpressured numbers were close to league average across the board, but when he was harassed by defenders he was in the bottom 10 in terms of interception rate, sack and yards per achievement. That last number is more important than you might think, because the best quarterbacks under pressure were usually the ones who could escape the pass rush and hit receivers on the field for big wins. Patrick Mahomes, for example, led the NFL with a mind-boggling 17.3 yards per completion when under pressure.

Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns

Mayfield has been sacked 43 times in just 115 comebacks under pressure. That’s a 37.4% sack rate under pressure, and it was the worst in the league. Now he’s moving from a great offensive line in Cleveland to Carolina, where Sam Darnold had one of the highest rushing ratings in the league. It can go wrong.

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Josh Allen: passes the test of haste

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen has spent most of the 2021 season living and thriving under pressure. He had 214 pressure plays, 22 more than anyone, and he led the NFL with 165 passes, 913 yards and 13 touchdowns (five more than anyone) under duress. Oh, and he’s only been sacked 26 times – that’s a 13.6% sack rate, the lowest of any qualifying quarterback all year. That mobility did more than get Allen out of trouble — he gained a league-best 444 yards, and his 74% scramble completion rate was higher than anyone else in the top 10. Combine his sacks and scrambles and we find that even when passers attacked Allen, he still averaged 4.0 yards. (And that doesn’t even count what he’s done on engineered runs.) The worst quarterback in a clean pocket is still better than the best quarterback under pressure, but no quarterback has been less bad under pressure than Allen.

Other quarterbacks who have ranked better under pressure than in a clean pocket include:

Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys

Prescott threw just one pressure interception all season and had the lowest pressure interception rate of any full-time starter. (Baltimore’s Tyler Huntley had no interceptions on 34 shots under pressure.)

Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens

As we saw with Allen, quality jamming is sometimes the best way to beat the pressure. Jackson wasn’t as dangerous a jammer as Allen was in 2021, but he was still terrifically effective, ranking second in rushes and fourth in yards despite missing five games. He was also an explosive passer under pressure, ranking in the top 10 in yards per pass and yards per completion.

Jacoby Brissett, Miami Dolphins

Brissett is the anti-Rodgers – he only looks good under pressure, relatively speaking, as he was terribly terrible from a clean pocket, where his 6.0 yards per pass and 8.5 yards per completion were the two worst in the league. Enjoy, Browns fans!

Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles

Another jammer, and the most prolific of them all. Hurts led the NFL with 50 scrambles and was second to Allen with 416 yards… and considering Allen threw over 200 extra passes, Hurts would blow him away in scramble rate if that was something we wanted to compile. Hurts also excelled when harassed to avoid sacks (fifth-lowest sack rate) and produce big plays (sixth-best yards per completion).

The final totals

The following table shows the pressure numbers for all quarterbacks with at least 200 passing plays in 2021. Quarterbacks are ranked from lowest pressure rate (Tom Brady, 15.7%) to highest (Justin Fields, 34 .7%).

Pressures are mapped for us by our friends at Sports Info Solutions. We mark pressure when there is a rush or sack that is not a cover sack or a “failed scramble”. QB hits after the pass do not count as pressures here if the quarterback was not pressed before the throw.

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