Who's Most Effective Against the Blitz?

When a defense relies on more than just their front four for quarterback pressure, some NFL quarterbacks handle the pressure with ease while others crumble in the chaos.

The well-timed use of the blitz in the NFL can create game-changing moments. A sack for a big loss can force a change of possession. A jarring hit on the quarterback from the blindside can cause a fumble. The sense of panic a quarterback feels can cause him to throw a ball that either falls harmlessly to the turf on a third-down or that gets snared by an alert defender.

But a blitz by the defense against an offense led by a seemingly fearless quarterback with quick wits can often leave a defense exposed to big plays, turning its aggressive nature into a glaring weakness in an instant.

Heading into Week 6, the average NFL offense has faced the potential wrath of a blitz 46 times.  The average quarterback has managed to complete a pass to a receiver 56.5 percent of the time while scoring 2 touchdowns, throwing one interception and taking 4 sacks for a loss of 28 yards.

Looking at those numbers, you might think that blitzing the quarterback isn't all that productive of an exercise. But depending on which team you're facing, the results can be quite different.

Mr. Cool

Four quarterbacks hold passer ratings against the blitz that are just so far above their peers that you have to marvel a bit when you look at their numbers. While it's easy to guess that New England's Tom Brady and Indianapolis' Peyton Manning have to be members of this elite group, up-and-coming Dallas quarterback Tony Romo might be a surprise to some, especially after an erratic Monday Night Football performance.

Peyton Manning gets the pass away under pressure from Kyle Vanden Bosch
AP Photo/John Russell

Now think back to the last couple of seasons while David Carr was in Houston and all those beatings he took while being blitzed weekly. Against that backdrop, it's pretty amazing that their new quarterback, Matt Schaub, is currently fourth in this category. His overall poise and execution in Houston's West Coast offense has made a huge difference in their 3-2 record this season, simply because they aren't losing ground as an offense as frequently.

None of the four have panicked and thrown an interception in a blitz situation yet this season.  They've been very efficient, and while they may not have had time to complete their passes to their primary receivers in all cases, these four have been alert enough to find an open man and keep the offense moving forward.

Brady is currently setting the pace for the group with a 152.74 passer rating and an 80 percent completion rate against the blitz while Manning, at 132.71, has completed 70 percent of his passes.  Romo's 60 percent isn't much higher than the NFL average of 56.8 percent against the blitz, but he's nipping at Manning's heels with a 129.06 rating and has an impressive 20.8 yards per completion average when he's connecting with his receivers.  Schaub's lagging a bit behind the top three at 116.93, but his 65.6 percent completion rate and the fact that he's 11 passer rating points ahead of the next highest-rated quarterback -- San Diego's Philip Rivers -- merited a mention with the top trio.  

Also worthy of note is that while Brady has faced 51 blitzes so far this year, teams appear to have all but given up on trying to blitz Manning. Against a league average of 46 blitzes per team, Manning has only faced 20 blitzes even though the Colts have played five games and are just now entering their bye week.

Making Them Pay

No one is making defenses pay for their aggressive tactics more than Brady. Against 51 blitzes he's found an open receiver for a touchdown seven times, which -- when you consider his completion percentage as well -- makes you wonder why teams aren't backing off against him like they have with Manning. So far, Brady's only been sacked three times as a result of a blitz for a total loss of 19 yards. It hardly seems worth the risk to be teeing off on him quite so often.

While many have doubted Giants quarterback Eli Manning's maturity in past years, he's starting to show more of a visible competitive edge that his older brother has displayed throughout his NFL career. Eli has faced 63 blitzes, more than his share compared to the average NFL quarterback, but has been able to throw for touchdowns six times to turn the tables on the defense.

The Wrong Choice

While twelve quarterbacks have managed to avoid hitting the panic button and throwing an interception -- despite 300-pound linemen closing in on them like a free steak dinner -- three share the dishonor of tossing a league-leading three interceptions to date in the face of danger.

Earlier, Eli Manning drew a pat on the back for going for the jugular with six touchdown passes, but he's not consistently keeping his cool as evidenced by his three interceptions. The Giants quarterback is the most experienced starter to land in this threesome which shows that he's still developing. Minnesota's Tarvaris Jackson and Oakland's Josh McCown are the other two that have given the opposing defense the big plays they were seeking on three occasions.

Under Pressure

Only three team's quarterbacks have managed to elude a sack against the blitz this year and the negative yardage that comes with it -- Indianapolis (Peyton Manning), Green Bay (Brett Favre) and New Orleans (Drew Brees).

Alex Smith pressured by Larry Foote
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Others have been far less fortunate and have ended up costing their teams much more than the current league average of 28 negative yards on four sacks. The three teams struggling the most in handling the blitz all have a common denominator -- they've had two quarterbacks taking snaps even though they're only five weeks into the NFL season. 

In San Francisco, Alex Smith was sidelined with an injury after taking seven sacks in the face of 43 blitzes. But veteran Trent Dilfer has really crumbled against incoming attackers, taking six sacks in just 23 blitz situations. Their combined 13 sacks resulted in 102 yards lost -- both league-worst marks -- which has been a crippling factor working against them while they are trying to get their offense to click.

Cleveland's Derek Anderson has taken five of the team's nine sacks under pressure while Charlie Frye took four before being shipped off to Seattle. Between the two of them, the Browns have been backed up 88 yards, second-worst in the league.

The Jets' Chad Pennington -- who missed some time due to injury -- and backup Kellen Clemens suffered four sacks each while trying to evade blitzing attackers this year, losing 78 yards in the process. Pennington has felt the heat 32 times versus 24 for Clemens.

In Need of Counseling

Ironically, the three quarterbacks who are least efficient against the blitz are (or were) some of the more mobile quarterbacks in the league.

Teams aren't going after Tennessee's Vince Young nearly often enough, most likely because they're concerned about him escaping the pressure and using his legs to make a big play. But it may be worth the risk when you consider that he's got a league-worst passer rating among starters of just 39.7 and he's only completing 46.7 percent of his passes when blitzed, fifth-worst out of the league's current starting quarterbacks.

In the two games prior to his injury, Minnesota's Tarvaris Jackson's 44.4-percent completion rate against the blitz puts him in the bottom three in the league, just above Tampa Bay's Jeff Garcia and Oakland's Daunte Culpepper. Jackson's 44.2 passer rating in those situations is also well below veteran teammate Kelly Holcomb's rather ordinary 81.0 passer rating along with the veteran's 53.3-percent completion rate against the blitz.

The most surprising name to qualify for the bottom three is Ravens veteran quarterback Steve McNair. Completing a slightly sub-par 52.2 percent of his passes in blitz situations, McNair's 53.6 passer rating under pressure has contributed to Baltimore's lack of offensive production. Teams have noticed his inability to react well to the chaos and have pinned back their ears 67 times already in an attempt to throw him off his game. That's a 46-percent higher instance of blitzes than the average NFL quarterback has faced so far this year. Add in backup Kyle Boller's time on the field and Baltimore's offense has been blitzed 88 times already this season, more often than any other team in the league.

Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the Scout.com network and are syndicated through FOXSports.com. You can contact him by email through this link.

Statistics referenced in this article are provided by STATS, LLC. Copyright 2007 by STATS, LLC. Any use or distribution of such Licensed Materials without the express written consent of STATS is strictly prohibited. 

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