QBs and Pressure: Why Jimmy Garoppolo is in Limbo

San Francisco 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo
San Francisco 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Offseason - In his eight-year NFL career, Jimmy Garoppolo has 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 unwanted, both in San Francisco and anywhere else? One reason (of several): his performance on the field has consistently nosedived when opposing pass-rushers have gotten pressure on him.

It's time for another look at 2021 data from Football Outsiders Almanac 2022 (now available!). Today we're going to look at quarterbacks and pressure—who faced pressure most often, who succeeded or failed from a clean pocket, and who played best and worst under pressure.

Let's take Garoppolo, for example. He was pressured on 23.4% of his dropbacks, the eighth-lowest rate among 34 qualifying quarterbacks in 2021. So he was passing from a clean pocket about three-quarters of the time, and on those plays he was fantastic—his 64.7% DVOA was third best behind Aaron Rodgers and Kirk Cousins. When pressure did arrive, however, Garoppolo's DVOA fell all the way to -95.4%, well below the league average of -74.0%. That's a drop of 160.1% in DVOA between pressured and non-pressured plays. Only Rodgers was more impacted by pressure, and considering his unpressured DVOA was a bewildering 81.1%, he could better afford that decline. (Note that these are team offense DVOAs, not individual passing DVOAs, and they include not only pass plays but also quarterback scrambles.)

Usually these numbers are pretty volatile, but Garoppolo has seen his numbers plummet consistently when pressure has gotten 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%); that difference of 144.9% was fourth largest that year. In 2018, his drop-off from non-pressure DVOA to pressured DVOA was even higher at 162.8%, though that was in barely 100 dropbacks.

How, specifically, does 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 behind Joe Burrow in yards per pass, and he averaged a league-best 12.8 yards per completion (and yes, that is highly YAC-related). Under pressure, however, he became a completely different player—specifically, a high-risk, high-reward, high-variance performer who put up a lot of highlights for the 49ers but even more for their opponents. He was actually in the top three in completion rate, yards per pass, and touchdown rate under pressure—no full-time starter saw his touchdown rate go up under pressure as much as Garoppolo did. However, only Tua Tagovailoa had a higher interception rate under pressure than Garoppolo, and the San Francisco quarterback had little escapability, with one of the 10 highest sack rates when under duress.

Perhaps you're a visual learner. Here are a few examples of the kind of throws Garoppolo can make when he has space to breathe:

 

 

Under pressure, on the other hand, Garoppolo was capable of throws like this:

And this:

But also this:

And of course this:

That last play will probably be Garoppolo's last for the 49ers. Kyle Shanahan has publicly confirmed that his team has "moved on to Trey [Lance]." Offseason shoulder surgery (among other things) has turfed Garoppolo's trade market, and he will probably be released at some point soon. The Seahawks look like the only team that might have an opening, but if they thought Garoppolo would be an upgrade over 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. Flawed as he is, that unpressured DVOA should look awfully attractive to a contending team that needs a quarterback—especially since performance from a clean pocket has historically been more consistent than performance under pressure.

Garoppolo is not the only passer whose numbers dipped significantly under pressure. Let's look at the rest of the bottom five, as measured by drop-off in DVOA:

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

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

Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals

As referenced earlier, Burrow led the NFL with 9.59 yards per throw from a clean pocket. But under pressure, he ranked among the bottom five qualifiers in both 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 ranked in the bottom 10 in interception rate, sack rate, and yards per completion. That last number is more important than you might think, because the best quarterbacks under pressure were usually those who could escape the pass rush and hit receivers downfield for big gains. Patrick Mahomes, for example, led the NFL with a mind-blowing 17.3 yards per completion when under pressure.

Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns

Mayfield was sacked 43 times in only 115 pressured dropbacks. That's a sack rate of 37.4% when under pressure, and that was the worst in the league. Now he's going from a great offensive line in Cleveland to Carolina, where Sam Darnold had one of the highest pressure rates in the league. This may go poorly.

Josh Allen: Pass Rush-Proof

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen spent most of the 2021 season living—and thriving—under pressure. He had 214 pressure plays, 22 more than anyone else, and he led the NFL with 165 passes, 913 yards, and 13 touchdown throws (five more than anyone else) when under duress. Oh, and he was only sacked 26 times—that's an under-pressure sack rate of 13.6%, lowest of any qualifying quarterback all year. That mobility did more than get Allen out of trouble—he gained a league-best 444 yards on scrambles, and his 74% success rate on scrambles was higher than anyone else in the top 10. Combine his sacks and scrambles and we find that even when pass-rushers tackled Allen, he still managed an average gain of 4.0 yards. (And that's not even counting what he did on designed runs.) The worst quarterback from a clean pocket is still better than the best quarterback under pressure, but no quarterback was less bad under pressure than Allen.

Other quarterbacks who ranked higher under pressure than from a clean pocket include:

Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys

Prescott only threw one interception under pressure all season, and had the lowest under-pressure interception rate of any full-time starter. (Baltimore's Tyler Huntley had zero interceptions in 34 under-pressure throws.)

Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens

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

Jacoby Brissett, Miami Dolphins

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

Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles

Another scrambler, and the most prolific of them all. Hurts led the NFL with 50 scrambles and was second behind Allen with 416 yards … and when you consider that Allen threw over 200 more passes, Hurts would blow him away in scramble rate if that was something we felt like compiling. Hurts also excelled when under harassment at avoiding sacks (fifth-lowest sack rate) and producing big plays (sixth-best yards per completion).

The Final Totals

The following table shows pressure numbers for all quarterbacks with at least 200 pass plays in 2021. Quarterbacks are ranked from lowest pressure rate (Tom Brady, 15.7%) to highest (Justin Fields, 34.7%).

Quarterbacks and Pressure, 2021
QB Tm Plays Pct
Pressure
Yds
w/Pressure
DVOA
w/Pressure
Yds
No Pressure
DVOA
No Pressure
Yds Dif. DVOA Dif.
Tom Brady TB 760 15.7% 3.4 -39.7% 7.8 58.7% -4.4 -98.4%
Ben Roethlisberger PIT 655 16.9% 1.7 -119.8% 6.4 26.1% -4.7 -145.9%
Matthew Stafford LAR 646 18.1% 3.1 -94.8% 8.3 55.5% -5.2 -150.3%
Aaron Rodgers GB 587 20.4% 1.3 -94.9% 8.7 81.1% -7.3 -176.1%
Andy Dalton CHI 268 20.9% 1.1 -76.2% 6.9 10.1% -5.8 -86.3%
Mac Jones NE 576 22.7% 2.8 -57.1% 7.7 42.9% -4.9 -100.0%
Dak Prescott DAL 659 23.2% 4.5 -22.2% 7.7 47.5% -3.2 -69.7%
Jimmy Garoppolo SF 478 23.4% 3.1 -95.4% 9.2 64.7% -6.1 -160.1%
Tua Tagovailoa MIA 429 23.5% 3.3 -81.2% 7.1 47.8% -3.9 -129.0%
Justin Herbert LAC 749 24.4% 3.5 -31.6% 8.1 53.9% -4.6 -85.4%
Ryan Tannehill TEN 606 24.6% 1.9 -110.4% 7.6 44.8% -5.7 -155.2%
Patrick Mahomes KC 738 24.9% 5.2 -39.7% 7.6 57.7% -2.5 -97.4%
Tyler Huntley BAL 231 25.1% 1.0 -100.0% 6.6 39.4% -5.6 -139.5%
Baker Mayfield CLE 494 26.1% 1.8 -108.7% 7.5 44.0% -5.7 -152.7%
Jared Goff DET 542 26.2% 2.7 -105.9% 6.9 32.7% -4.2 -138.6%
Taylor Heinicke WAS 578 26.6% 3.1 -71.0% 7.2 37.2% -4.1 -108.2%
Joe Burrow CIN 596 26.7% 2.1 -98.3% 9.4 60.8% -7.3 -159.1%
Trevor Lawrence JAX 670 26.9% 2.1 -85.9% 6.9 15.8% -4.8 -101.7%
Teddy Bridgewater DEN 478 27.0% 2.8 -55.9% 7.7 63.6% -5.0 -119.5%
Kyler Murray ARI 548 27.4% 4.8 -41.1% 7.8 51.2% -3.0 -92.3%
Davis Mills HOU 440 27.5% 2.6 -100.4% 7.2 31.9% -4.7 -132.3%
Derek Carr LV 693 27.7% 4.3 -73.2% 8.3 44.8% -4.1 -118.0%
Carson Wentz IND 587 28.3% 3.5 -76.2% 7.6 39.7% -4.2 -115.9%
Daniel Jones NYG 416 28.4% 2.6 -100.7% 7.3 31.4% -4.7 -132.1%
Lamar Jackson BAL 468 28.4% 4.4 -39.9% 7.7 33.5% -3.3 -73.4%
Kirk Cousins MIN 605 28.9% 3.3 -78.3% 8.5 68.2% -5.2 -146.5%
Josh Allen BUF 726 29.5% 4.4 -26.2% 7.4 40.5% -3.0 -66.6%
Matt Ryan ATL 627 30.1% 3.7 -66.2% 7.3 28.4% -3.6 -94.6%
Jalen Hurts PHI 511 30.3% 3.9 -39.6% 8.2 42.6% -4.3 -82.3%
Zach Wilson NYJ 449 30.5% 0.9 -120.6% 7.1 29.9% -6.2 -150.5%
Sam Darnold CAR 465 31.4% 2.7 -97.6% 6.6 15.1% -4.0 -112.7%
Russell Wilson SEA 465 32.3% 4.6 -33.1% 7.9 57.6% -3.3 -90.7%
Jacoby Brissett MIA 261 34.5% 2.5 -62.8% 6.3 13.9% -3.7 -76.7%
Justin Fields CHI 354 34.7% 2.1 -103.3% 7.9 38.3% -5.8 -141.6%
NFL AVERAGE     26.1% 3.1 -74.0% 7.6 42.4% -4.5 -116.5%

Pressures are charted for us by our friends at Sports Info Solutions. We mark pressure when there's a hurry or a sack that isn't a coverage sack or "failed scramble." QB hits after the pass do not count as pressures here if the quarterback wasn't hurried before the throw.

Comments

30 comments, Last at 07 Aug 2022, 11:44am

1 I wonder if the…

I wonder if the psychological part of being confident of their rushing ability makes the best under pressure QBs less affected by it?

5 So... interesting question…

So... interesting question for the Browns if Watson is out for a year or more.  A lot of talking heads are saying they should trade for Garoppolo. If they have faith in their O-line, than Garoppolo is absolutely the better choice than Brissett.  But if their protection is bad, they might as well stick with Brissett, who is actually better than Garoppolo under pressure.

I'm still perplexed that Garoppolo is in the limbo that he is in.  Yes, he's not going to be an amazing QB that lifts a mediocre team to a SB contender.  But if you have a solid team and haven't managed to score your Josh Allen or Patrick Mahomes, he will *look* like an amazing QB as long as you have the talent around him, far more so than "journeyman" QB's he's often compared to.  I would think a team like the Colts or the Steelers would have jumped at that.

(Disclaimer: I am, and always have been, a Jimmy G apologist, and think that the Bay area talking heads and fans that keep piling on him are a bunch of idiots).  

7 The concern is that he's…

The concern is that he's efficient, but only at low volumes and in the best-possible circumstances. Which is a lot like Tannehill, who pretty much no one thinks is great but is likely serviceable. He's unlikely to end up in a better situation than the one's you've seen, so you've seen his ceiling. Both those teams let him walk.

9 The biggest reason Garoppolo…

The biggest reason Garoppolo is in limbo is that he's had exactly one full season in his career. And he's coming off an injury now!

Looking at Garoppolo's rate stats is a little silly. His injury risk is higher than any other starter in the league, in my opinion.

30 Browns might need him soon. …

Browns might need him soon.  The money still doesn't really work even with a release/restructure, although if Roger and the former NJ AG give Watson a full season it essentially pushes the contract forward a year, I think (has to be a full year, not any of this "12 games so it doesn't toll" stuff.)

Ironic because of how he was often compared to Baker in the "untradeable at full salary/no leverage but wants a new job."

If the Browns are in fact being "punished for fully guaranteeing Watson" (I think this is overstated) that might also be a factor in not trading.

6 Jamies Winston

Any chance you could add his numbers? He's going to start for the Saints. Some on this list won't be starters in 2022.

15 He only missed qualifying…

In reply to by milo

He only missed qualifying for the table by 10 plays.

Pressure rate: 30.5%, would have been fifth-highest.
DVOA w/pressure: -77.0%, pretty close to league average.
DVOA w/o pressure: 89.0%, would have been first.
Drop-off: -166.0%, would have been second behind Rodgers.

10 Am I the only one who…

Am I the only one who noticed that the “amazing” throws Garoppolo made under pressure were actually horrible throws where he got bailed out by his receivers? Seriously, he’s not even close to them, he just has Kittle and Samuel making big plays on massively underthrown balls.

12 There's an element of…

There's an element of Garoppolo going all gunslinger and "I'll throw it up and let one of my really good receivers make a play" there.  It's just that his sixshooter needs some work.

26 You see what you want to see.

If anything, it's the opposite. But you see what you want to see.

https://www.opensourcefootball.com/posts/2020-08-28-expected-completion-using-logistic-generalized-additive-mixed-models/

11 Josh Allen

That mobility did more than get Allen out of trouble—he gained a league-best 444 years on scrambles …

With that many years, there’s a chance he could actually have a longer career than Tom Brady!

17 These numbers are probably…

These numbers are probably the most encouraging I've seen regarding Fields. Nearly average when not under pressure. Close to Mac Jones and far better than all the other rookies.

18 I have a theory about Jimmy…

I have a theory about Jimmy that I am curious if others agree with.

I feel like once the 49ers drafted Lance, Jimmy's primary job was about avoiding things that get you benched or called to get benches, namely turnovers. 

The guy I saw last year seemed to be playing with 0 confidence

22 Really?

Is that really true?  My Impression is that the reason Shanahan wanted to move on from him was his lack of mobility, which was preventing the coach from designing the “multiple” offense he wanted to run.

20 under pressure

As a dumb fan, I honestly wonder:  Is there a significant difference inthe quality or "relief plays" in different offence approaches?

Watching TB12 mostly for the past 20 yrs, he seemed to very often have a relatively high % play available if the pocket collapsed. a RB or TE lurking.

TB12 also slide stepped very well, kept his eyes downfield and got through all his progressions, usually.

Did Pats scheme have better emergency exits?

TB also threw the ball away a lot, I think especially in 2019. And wasn't risky wiyth the ball so much except when Pats were behind late.

Maybe that is true of all really good QB's?

Thanks for the review

28 The post-Broncos McDaniels…

In reply to by Bill96744

The post-Broncos McDaniels offense pretty much always had the first read being the shortest route and working outward from there, and Brady was obviously very good at executing within that structure. So I think w lot of what you’re seeing is just that offense’s design philosophy, rather than play calling or Brady magic. 

23 Be interesting to see…

Be interesting to see Rodgers’ numbers (rates, even? ;) ) by downs. He seems to be doing a lot of what later career Peyton Manning did and simply being a lot more willing to just through the ball away or dump up for minimal gain, knowing he can come back next down. His failure mode under pressure is certainty less harmful and more consistent than Garoppolo, and that must be much easier manage games with - if a hypothetical QB threw every pass they had under pressure safely away, but had good figures in a clean pocket, they still move the ball enough to score some points, you’d need to get 3 pressures in a row to shut them down, but it only one horrible pass to the opposition to scupper a drive.

27 One glaring problem....

If Garoppolo is throwing without pressure, he's not throwing from a "clean pocket." He's throwing immediately, before there's time for a pocket to - in theory - develop.