Fitzpatrick, the Washington Football Team, and Pressure

Washington Football Team QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
Washington Football Team QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

We're back with another look at 2020 data from Football Outsiders Almanac 2021 (now available!). Today we're going to look at quarterbacks and pressure—who faced pressure most often; who played best and worst under pressure; and who succeed or failed from a clean pocket. Sometimes when we get into these data pieces, no team really stands out, and it can be difficult to develop a narrative. This is not one of those times. When we talk about who was most affected by pressure in 2020, and whose pressure stats are most intriguing heading into 2021, it's clear that we're going to be talking about the Washington Football Team.

Quarterbacks and Pressure, 2020
(All pass/scrambles incl. DPI but not aborted snaps)
Name Plays Pressure Rate Yds with
DVOA with
No Pressure
no Pressure
Yds Dif. DVOA Dif.
B.Roethlisberger 643 14.3% 4.4 -40.7% 6.6 21.7% -2.2 -62.4%
T.Brady 654 15.0% 2.3 -108.3% 8.4 61.8% -6.1 -170.0%
D.Brees 408 16.4% 3.5 -96.1% 7.9 47.5% -4.4 -143.6%
P.Rivers 573 18.0% 5.0 -40.8% 7.9 30.5% -2.9 -71.3%
D.Haskins 270 19.3% 0.1 -174.2% 6.3 -6.4% -6.2 -167.8%
M.Stafford 584 20.4% 3.8 -47.2% 7.8 34.7% -4.0 -81.9%
R.Tannehill 535 21.5% 2.5 -90.8% 8.7 76.3% -6.3 -167.1%
D.Carr 572 21.9% 3.8 -76.5% 8.6 48.8% -4.8 -125.3%
A.Rodgers 576 22.0% 3.2 -36.5% 8.9 77.3% -5.8 -113.8%
M.Trubisky 335 22.4% 3.5 -70.7% 7.2 29.9% -3.7 -100.6%
J.Burrow 453 23.2% 0.9 -131.1% 7.2 42.5% -6.3 -173.6%
A.Dalton 378 23.3% 2.3 -83.7% 6.8 12.6% -4.4 -96.4%
J.Goff 600 23.3% 1.6 -126.8% 8.1 55.8% -6.5 -182.5%
R.Fitzpatrick 306 23.5% 7.6 11.2% 7.5 29.2% 0.2 -18.0%
T.Tagovailoa 332 24.1% 3.3 -44.7% 6.3 15.9% -2.9 -60.6%
B.Mayfield 538 24.5% 2.5 -81.8% 8.0 53.4% -5.5 -135.2%
T.Bridgewater 566 24.6% 3.2 -62.5% 8.1 47.4% -4.9 -109.9%
C.Newton 418 24.6% 2.4 -132.4% 7.6 33.5% -5.2 -165.9%
K.Murray 637 24.6% 4.3 -47.4% 7.6 34.8% -3.3 -82.2%
D.Prescott 241 25.3% 5.2 -62.9% 8.6 51.0% -3.3 -113.9%
A.Smith 279 25.4% 1.1 -153.6% 6.7 1.7% -5.6 -155.3%
M.Ryan 691 25.9% 4.0 -39.4% 7.4 34.1% -3.4 -73.6%
J.Herbert 655 26.9% 4.4 -14.4% 7.6 45.0% -3.2 -59.4%
G.Minshew 384 27.1% 2.9 -75.7% 7.3 35.7% -4.4 -111.3%
D.Lock 491 27.3% 3.1 -96.8% 7.3 23.7% -4.2 -120.5%
P.Mahomes 653 29.6% 5.2 -2.1% 8.6 72.3% -3.4 -74.4%
C.Wentz 519 29.9% 1.5 -114.6% 6.8 22.3% -5.3 -136.9%
D.Watson 659 30.0% 5.1 -31.4% 8.8 48.2% -3.7 -79.6%
D.Jones 520 30.2% 2.0 -108.5% 7.1 36.7% -5.1 -145.1%
N.Foles 337 30.3% 3.9 -56.4% 6.0 15.5% -2.2 -71.9%
R.Wilson 666 30.5% 3.8 -40.0% 8.1 61.6% -4.3 -101.5%
N.Mullens 352 30.7% 3.4 -119.3% 8.3 48.6% -4.8 -167.8%
L.Jackson 454 30.8% 4.3 -40.5% 7.7 45.2% -3.4 -85.7%
J.Allen 635 30.9% 5.0 -10.0% 8.7 65.1% -3.7 -75.1%
K.Cousins 577 31.7% 3.3 -84.1% 9.3 67.5% -6.0 -151.5%
S.Darnold 430 33.0% 3.3 -70.8% 6.5 7.2% -3.2 -78.1%
NFL AVERAGE 25.2% 3.3 -70.6% 7.7 40.7% -4.4 -111.3%
Minimum 200 pass plays

By DVOA, Washington's Dwayne Haskins was the worst quarterback under pressure last season. He was also the worst quarterback without pressure—and somehow he was even worse than that sounds. His DVOA under pressure of -174.2% was the second-worst since at least 2010, better only than Matt Flynn's -182.8% mark with the Packers and Raiders in 2013. His DVOA without pressure, meanwhile, was the third-worst mark on record in that category. (Jared Goff's -45.2% DVOA without pressure as a rookie in 2016 may not be broken in any of our lifetimes.)

To be fair to Haskins, the Football Team was hardly any better without him. By DVOA, Alex Smith was the second-worst quarterback under pressure last season. He was also the second-worst quarterback without pressure. In fact, the only quarterback in our archives to be worse than Smith last year with and without pressure was his teammate, Haskins.

Haskins is now in Pittsburgh and Smith is retired. The Football Team replaced them by signing Ryan Fitzpatrick, former starter for the (deep inhale) Rams, Bengals, Bills, Titans, Texans, Jets, Buccaneers, and Dolphins. And looking at 2020's numbers, it's hard to blame them. Fitzpatrick was nothing special from a clean pocket last season—his DVOA of 29.2% was well below the league-average DVOA of 40.7%—but boy, did he make a lot of great plays under pressure:

This is partly why they call him Fitzmagic. More important than his big throws, however, was Fitzpatrick's ability to limit mistakes—he only threw two interceptions under pressure, and gave up just 14 sacks all season. (Haskins and Smith each gave up at least 20 in fewer dropbacks than Fitzpatrick.) Fitzpatrick finished with a DVOA of 11.2% under pressure. That wasn't just the best mark in 2020, it's the best mark in our record books, which in this case go back to 2010. It's just the sixth time that a quarterback has had a positive DVOA under pressure. He's also the first quarterback in our books to average more yards with pressure than without it.

With Fitzpatrick's ability to make something out of nothing, we can go ahead and put Washington down for 10-plus wins and a repeat as division champs, right? Well, not necessarily. Here's a look at the top 20 seasons by DVOA under pressure, along with how each quarterback fared the following year:

Best Passing DVOA Under Pressure, 2010-2020
Year Name Tm DVOA
DVOA w/Pressure,
Next Season
2020 R.Fitzpatrick MIA 11.2% -- --
2013 J.McCown CHI 8.0% -155.6% 37
2017 T.Brady NE 7.7% -66.9% 23
2018 P.Mahomes KC 7.6% -0.5% 2
2017 C.Keenum MIN 6.8% -67.7% 24
2019 L.Jackson BAL 5.5% -40.5% 9
2019 P.Mahomes KC -0.5% -2.1% 2
2014 B.Roethlisberger PIT -0.9% -41.0% 7
2020 P.Mahomes KC -2.1% -- --
2016 A.Rodgers GB -3.3% -42.8% 14
2010 J.Freeman TB -3.9% -51.7% 7
2010 B.Roethlisberger PIT -4.2% -36.6% 3
2015 J.Cutler CHI -4.3% -87.2% --
2010 A.Rodgers GB -5.2% -57.9% 9
2017 C.Wentz PHI -8.1% -64.5% 22
2019 D.Prescott DAL -8.2% -62.9% 17
2020 J.Allen BUF -10.0% -- --
2018 J.Winston TB -11.6% -79.2% 26
2014 D.Stanton ARI -11.9% -78.9% --
2019 D.Brees NO -12.5% -96.1% 26
AVERAGE -2.0% -60.7% 15.2
Minimum 200 pass plays

Any time you see a "best season" table where Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh McCown take the gold and silver medals, you can reasonably assume that an unusually high amount of good fortune was involved. This also bears out in what these quarterbacks did the following season. Three of these quarterbacks (Fitzpatrick, Patrick Mahomes, and Josh Allen) played last season. Of the other 17, only seven stayed in the top 10, and only two others stuck around in the top 20. The others (including such greats as Tom Brady and Drew Brees were all well below average the following season. McCown managed to go from first in 2013 to worst in 2014 (and somehow lasted five more years after that, playing in his first playoff game for the 2019 Eagles at the age of 40.) Drew Stanton didn't start any games in 2015 as Carson Palmer returned from injury, while Jay Cutler only started five in 2016, but even in limited action neither could come close to matching their elite production in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

This gets back to something we examined in detail last season: DVOA under pressure is a highly volatile stat from one year to the next, while DVOA without pressure is more consistent. Fitzpatrick himself is the perfect embodiment of this trend—he now has five seasons in the top 10 in DVOA under pressure, five other seasons where he has ranked 23rd or worse, and exactly zero seasons in between. So while he'll almost certainly be an upgrade for Washington at the game's most important position, just how big that upgrade is remains to be seen.

As shown in that table, however, there are a handful of quarterbacks who have shown an ability to thrive under pressure with some regularity. We'll get back to them later.

Other 2020 Leaders

The best passer from a clean pocket last season was also the best passer overall: Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers. He's followed by Ryan Tannehill, Patrick Mahomes, Kirk Cousins, Josh Allen, Tom Brady, and Russell Wilson. That's a decent short list of the best quarterbacks in the game right now.

The worst from a clean pocket, as mentioned, were Dwayne Haskins and Alex Smith. Just above them we find Sam Darnold and Andy Dalton, two other passers who switched teams this offseason, and Nick Foles, a target of constant trade rumors and perhaps the best third quarterback in the league. And then we find Tua Tagovailoa—with Fitzpatrick out of Miami, Tua will need to take a big step forward in his second season if the Dolphins are going to reach the playoffs.

It's good to play well under pressure, but it's even better to avoid pressure in the first place. This is where the old quarterbacks shined last year—38-year-old Ben Roethlisberger faced the lowest pressure rate in the league, followed by 43-year-old Tom Brady. Former teammates Drew Brees and Philip Rivers took their low-level pressure rates with them into retirement. And then there's Dwayne Haskins—avoiding pressure was the one thing he was good at last year. And now he's backing up Roethlisberger, giving the Steelers two quarterbacks who should make life easy for their offensive line.

For the second year in a row, Sam Darnold faced the highest pressure rate in the NFL. Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson have also been in the top five two of the last three years. Russell Wilson had ranked in the top five every year of his career until last year, when he finished sixth. Remember when we said that performance under pressure was volatile? Well, frequency of pressure is not—the year-to-year correlation for qualifying quarterbacks is .627.

Long-Term Trends

When we mentioned that some quarterbacks had shown a consistent ability to thrive under pressure, we were referring in part to Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger, but mostly to Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes has now ranked second in DVOA under pressure for two years in a row after leading the league in 2018. Throw in his limited action as a rookie in 2017 and Mahomes' averaged DVOA under pressure has been 1.2%. In plain English, this means Mahomes has been a little better than average even if you remove every throw he has ever made from a clean pocket. Among quarterbacks with at least 1,000 total pass plays since 2010, Lamar Jackson is second at -18.5%, with Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson, and Tyrod Taylor rounding out the top five.

Most of the worst quarterbacks under pressure didn't last long, because bad quarterbacks in any situation don't last long. At a 1,000-play minimum, the worst was Brandon Weeden at -119.3%; at 2,000 plays, it's Mark Sanchez at -119.1%; at 4,000, it's Ryan Tannehill at -95.9%. More on him in a bit.

Patrick Mahomes, by far the best quarterback under pressure, has also been the best quarterback from a clean pocket, though the margin there is much closer—he leads second-place Russell Wilson 78.8% to 69.9%. They're followed by a pair of Hall of Famers, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, as well as Jimmy Garoppolo, currently fighting to save his job.

The worst passers from a clean pocket—Blaine Gabbert, Matt Hasselbeck, Brandon Weeden, Christian Ponder, and Matt Cassel—are largely the worst quarterbacks of the past decade. Among active quarterbacks, Sam Darnold is in last place at 28.9%, followed by Jacoby Brissett and (surprise!) Kyler Murray.

While Tannehill has struggled with pressure, he has played well without it, with a DVOA of 51.5%. That gap of 147.5% in DVOA with and without pressure is the largest in football. Other quarterbacks who have particularly struggled when under pressure include Mark Sanchez, Kyle Orton, Brandon Weeden, and Jared Goff. (For Bryan Knowles, if he's reading this, I'll add that Nick Mullens' gap of 169.4% is even bigger than Tannehill's, but that's over just 645 passing plays.)

Naturally, every quarterback's DVOA goes down under pressure, but some see less of a dropoff than others. Lamar Jackson has a DVOA of 54.8% from a clean pocket and -18.5% under pressure, a gap of just 73.3%, smallest in the league. Josh Freeman (!), Patrick Mahomes, and Tyrod Taylor are also in the 70s; Jacoby Brissett is in fifth place at 85.7%.

The lowest pressure rate since 2010 belongs to Peyton Manning at 15.0%. The next five names on the list (Matt Hasselbeck, Kyle Orton, Drew Brees, Tony Romo, and Brandon Weeden) are, like Manning, retired. The next three names (Ben Roethlisberger, Ben Roethlisberger, and Andy Dalton) may join them after this season. Among active players who are likely to stay active for a while, Matthew Stafford (23.2%) and Derek Carr (23.3%) are your leaders.

Meanwhile, the six players with the highest pressure rates (Deshaun Watson at 35.8%, then Jacoby Brissett, Sam Darnold, Russell Wilson, Tyrod Taylor, and Daniel Jones) are all active; Wilson, the oldest, doesn't turn 33 until November. The younger, more athletic quarterbacks who have started to take over the league mostly play well under pressure, and for good reason: they get plenty of practice at it.


12 comments, Last at 09 Aug 2021, 9:41pm

#1 by BigRichie // Aug 06, 2021 - 11:41am

The "under pressure" stat is broken, doesn't really work.

This really should be crystal clear. All the 'regularly under pressure' QBs are the guys who like to take off. So every time Russell Wilson goes 'hey, I think I can run here!', this stat shows him as "under pressure".

Roethlisberger is another clear-as-a-bell marker here. (Haskins 2020 for that matter, too) When you're throwing one 5-yard-in/out after another, how much pressure are you going to be under?

The raw stat's catching far more plays than it ought to, and then the alleged effects are far more associative than causal. How much of a link between Goof #1 and Goof #2, there, well ... 

Points: 0

#2 by theslothook // Aug 06, 2021 - 12:24pm

I am not quite sure I understand why its catching "too much". Pressure usually is associated with worse qb play as compared with not being under pressure. You are right - qb styles and schemes are going to inflate or deflate pressure and perhaps some qbs invite higher pressure rates because they prefer to deal with such situations than other drop back passers. 

But this phenomenon is true for almost any stat you can find in football. That's what makes football complicated. Everything from completion percentage to rush yards is affected by style or scheme. But that doesn't render the stat useless. 

Also, the results of the article are still informative. You might, for instance, read into performing under pressure as the ultimate sign of elite qb play(ie - how does he play when the circumstances are the hardest); but the results suggest that might be fools gold. 

Points: 0

#3 by TheSniper1325 // Aug 06, 2021 - 2:36pm

Both of you make valid points. Last year when Big Ben actively tried to break the record for quickest time from snap to ball out of his hand, he did so to avoid pressure but those passes would have been counted as not under pressure. From the other side of the fence, Lamar Jackson seems like he would be under pressure at a high rate due to the run blitzes hurled his way to stop that offense. Occasionally, probably more other than not, these run blitzes will happen on an early down passing plays and be instantly counted as pressure passes. 

What I would find more interesting from this stat is correlation of OC/HC and their offensive lines. Daniel Jones being under pressure is easy to happen when the line upfront is poor. Essentially are there coaches that invite/avoid more pressure often or is it more of an inconsistent event that is random. I suspect the former, it would be nice to know what FO stats say about that. 



Points: 0

#4 by BigRichie // Aug 06, 2021 - 3:28pm

Exactly this. Except the problem is, the FO stats don't address this at all. Can't. They're entirely missing the 'QBs who like to run will take off quick' effect. So gosh golly, all the QBs who like to run show up as often under pressure.

Specific small beef with your Daniel Jones allusion. What I saw last year, Daniel still had the most common 'young QB' malady. 1. Go back to your assigned drop. 2. If first read not open (more often than not the case), drift diagonally one step back and one step to the right while checking your second read. 3. If that not open (QBs often wind up throwing to their 3rd read), drift back one more step and again to the right while now getting ready to throw to your third read. 4. Get whacked by an edge rusher who your offensive tackle sure thought he'd pushed past the pocket, but gosh golly turns out he didn't. Because his young QB had two-stepped himself right into the edge rusher's natural line of fire.

2nd year Mayfield had the worst case of this that I ever saw. He's now broken himself of that, except I wonder if the Brownies run game turns ordinary, will the drifting habit come back?

Points: 0

#5 by theslothook // Aug 06, 2021 - 3:47pm

"Exactly this. Except the problem is, the FO stats don't address this at all. Can't. They're entirely missing the 'QBs who like to run will take off quick' effect. So gosh golly, all the QBs who like to run show up as often under pressure."

Why specifically is this a problem? 

Points: 0

#12 by Special J // Aug 09, 2021 - 9:41pm

The way the NFL charts pressures is based on the success of pass rushers relative to their blockers -- if a QB elects to "take off" out of a clean pocket, it's not counted as a pressure. 

Russel Wilson doesn't rack up the pressures from the times he thinks "hey, I think I can run here," but from the all the times the dumpster fire Seattle called its offensive line let so many guys run by them untouched, Wilson's thoughts were more like "shit, not again - guess I better run the fuck out of here." And Roethlisberger spent most of his career notorious for how often he ended up under pressure unnecessarily for his predisposition to hold onto the ball too long, hanging out in a collapsing pocket waiting for someone to get wide open.

If there's any correlation between a QB's scrambling ability and higher pressure rate, my guess is that it has more to do with the times they don't take off, but instead spend an extra second or two in the pocket, counting on their ability to run out of any pressure that develops -- which hopefully we'll see less of now that coaches finally seem to be getting over the stigma against "running QBs" and not treating their ability to take off as a bad habit they need to break them of.




Points: 0

#6 by Raiderfan // Aug 06, 2021 - 4:44pm

Give up a deep completion with 15 seconds left, AND face mask the quarterback.

Points: 0

#7 by ImNewAroundThe… // Aug 06, 2021 - 4:58pm

Another reason I'm not bullish on Fitz.

Hoyer lead them one year for example. Yes the greats generally aren't all the way at the bottom and do it a little more consistently but clean pockets mean no pressure...from anywhere (lots of different types of pressure in a variety of ways). 

Points: 0

#8 by RobotBoy // Aug 08, 2021 - 2:33am

Mahomes is a singularity here (in both senses of the word). If he doesn't get hurt in a way that permanently effects his mobility, he has years of astounding play ahead of him. Which bodes ill for everyone not waving a Chiefs flag. 

Does this stat only go back a decade? It would be interesting to have more context. 

Points: 0

#9 by TI // Aug 09, 2021 - 10:51am

I love this: "former starter for the (deep inhale) Rams, Bengals..."

Is there a stat for the players who are good-enough-to-start-but-not-good-enough-to start-again-but-wait-maybe-THIS-time?

Points: 0

#11 by Vincent Verhei // Aug 09, 2021 - 2:27pm

We have done some preliminary work on putting together the All-Journeyman team one of these offseasons, eventually. Suffice to say that Fitzpatrick will be the quarterback and captain by a mile.

Points: 0

#10 by RickD // Aug 09, 2021 - 1:35pm

One criticism of some QBs is that they hold the ball too long.  It's not surprising that the "best" QBs are also the best under light pressure: these are guys who read the defense quickly and get the ball out before the pressure shows up.  

Also, teams with better pass protection will give the QB more time to make a play before they have to worry about the pass rush.

Part of the problem with the WFT last season was that, with Trent gone to SF, their Oline just wasn't very good at pass protection. 

It's difficult to sort out the various factors: I'd be tempted to want to look at QB performance as a function of time after snap, but again, if the line is blocking well, there isn't a need to hurry a play.

So the stat is interesting, but in isolation it won't say all that much.  That Fitz is an outlier is of interest. We can see if he can keep this trait going forward, like Mahomes has, or whether it's just a case of "somebody was going to be in first."  

And I agree also with the sentiment that guys like Mahomes and Wilson create their own "pressure" by scrambling.  But pressure during a scrambling isn't of the same nature as pressure when a pocket collapses.

Points: 0

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