NFL's Best & Worst: QBs Versus The Blitz

When the defense sends six players or more at the quarterback, which ones thrive under the pressure--and which ones fail?'s Ed Thompson ranks the NFL's best and worst at handling the blitz.

Thirty four quarterbacks have felt the pressure of the blitz at least 75 times this season. So who's the best and the worst at handling that heat? 

As I dug into the stats to help me rank those players, I looked at how the players performed in a number of categories. I've included some of that information immediately below the rankings to provide you with a deeper look at how some of the quarterbacks from around the league perform in those areas when defenses send six or more players charging across the line.

The Best Versus The Blitz

1. Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints): His 71-percent completion rate and 10.24 passing yards per attempt surpass his numbers in non-blitz situations (68.9 percent and 8.2 yards). With seven touchdown passes, just three interceptions and ten sacks versus the blitz, defensive coordinators have noticed it doesn't pay to take defenders out of pass coverage to apply pressure. As a result, he's only had to throw 107 passes against a blitz, tenth-lowest out of the 34 quarterbacks.

Colts quarterback Peyton Manning doesn't lose his focus under pressure.
Scott Boehm/Getty Images

2. Peyton Manning (Indianapolis Colts): Opponents also know it's tough to rattle Manning, so his 133 attempts versus the blitz is near the middle of the pack (16th). His completion rate is virtually even whether facing a blitz or not, but he makes opponents pay with 9.01 yards per attempt--significantly higher than his 7.56 without that pressure. With ten touchdown passes, four interceptions and just five sacks, the blitz isn't a significant factor in deterring him from keeping his offense moving.

3.  Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers): Oddly enough, although he's been sacked 49 times this year, just 18 have occurred while being blitzed. Rodgers has been victimized by coverage sacks much more frequently than by an unexpected pass rush. His completion rate is nearly six points higher and his yards per attempt jumps from 7.44 to 9.23. Despite the improved production under the gun, he's thrown the ninth-most passes against the blitz this year. Defensive coordinators should wake up.

4.  Donovan McNabb (Philadelphia Eagles):  His completion rate drops two percent against the blitz, but he's still hitting 59.1 percent in those situations. And although he's been sacked fourteen times, he's only thrown two interceptions this season when the pressure's on. McNabb is averaging 8.83 yards per attempt versus just 7.84 against a standard pass rush.

5. Philip Rivers (San Diego Chargers): Half of the 24 times that Rivers has hit the turf, it's been due to a blitz. And his completion percentage drops from 69.6 to 59.6 when opponents try to overwhelm him. But his league-best 14 touchdown passes under pressure is higher than his total when he's facing a traditional pass rush (11), and his average gain per pass versus the blitz is one of the best in the league at 9.20 yards. So there's a high level of risk for defensive coordinators in pursuing the reward.

The Worst

Browns quarterback Derek Anderson has come unglued under pressure this season.
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

1. Derek Anderson (Cleveland Browns): His passer rating against the blitz is 14.6. Folks, that's not a typo. Just 14.6. Out of 80 pass attempts with at least six pass rushers charging at him, he's completed just 38.8 percent of his throws, averaged just 4.01 yards per attempt, has thrown seven interceptions and no touchdowns. With Brady Quinn added to the team's injured reserve list this past week, Anderson will be back under center for the team's final two contests.

2. Jake Delhomme (Carolina Panthers): Not handling the blitz particularly well was just one of the reasons that the veteran finds himself on the sidelines as this year winds down. He completed just 44.8 percent of his throws when the pressure was on, dropped nearly a yard in average gain per pass attempt to just 5.6, and tossed seven of his 18 interceptions in those situations.

3. JaMarcus Russell (Oakland Raiders): Against the blitz he threw four interceptions, was sacked ten times and completed just 43.8 percent of his throws. Russell's average gain in those situations was a meager 5.48 yards, putting him in a tie with Brady Quinn of the Browns for second-lowest behind Derek Anderson.

4. Mark Sanchez (New York Jets): The Jets rookie has thrown more interceptions in these situations--eight with two games to go--than any other NFL quarterback this year. And he's also been dropped for a sack six times. To his credit, he's completed 55.7 percent of his passes and has tossed six touchdowns. 

5. Josh Freeman (Tampa Bay Buccaneers): He's a rookie with just seven starts under his belt, so you have to cut him some slack. But the fact of the matter is he's completing just 46.8 percent of his throws against the blitz for less than six yards a pop.

Categories Evaluated

Completion Percent

How often the 34 quarterbacks were able to make a connection with defenders breathing down his neck--even if it was just to a safety-valve receiver--was one area of consideration when ranking the best and the worst overall.

Drew Brees stands far above the crowd with a 71 percent completion rate. The next tier would include Peyton Manning (68.4), Aaron Rodgers (68.3), and Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers (67.8). Other quarterbacks completing a healthy 60 percent or better include Kurt Warner, Matt Schaub of the Houston Texans, Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, Jay Cutler of the Chicago Bears, Brett Favre of the Minnesota Vikings, Kyle Orton of the Denver Broncos, Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens, and Jason Campbell of the Washington Redskins.

The lowest completion rate against the blitz this year has been logged by Derek Anderson (38.8 percent). By comparison, Brady Quinn had the sixth-worst rate out of the 34 quarterbacks at 48.7 percent. The four quarterbacks joining them at the bottom of the list are JaMarcus Russell (43.8), Jake Delhomme (44.8), Josh Freeman (46.8) and Vince Young of the Tennessee Titans (48.1).


Blitzing Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is risky business.
Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Six quarterbacks have thrown at least ten touchdown passes against the blitz. Philip Rivers leads the pack with 14 so far this season. Eli Manning of the New York Giants trails him at 13, while Joe Flacco, Peyton Manning Kyle Orton and Kurt Warner have ten each.

While most of the quarterbacks who have only thrown two touchdowns or less against the blitz have either been benched or were elevated to the starter's role during the season, there's one execption--Donovan McNabb of the Philadelphia Eagles. Joining him with just two touchdowns are Jake Delhomme, Josh Freeman, and Chad Henne of the Miami Dolphins. JaMarcus Russell has thrown one while Derek Anderson hasn't tossed any against the blitz.


Hearing the footsteps of a defender causes miscues as well, and New York Jets rookie Mark Sanchez has suffered from that problem with a league-high eight interceptions while under pressure. Four other quarterbacks--Derek Anderson, Jay Cutler, Jake Delhomme and Chad Henne--are just one off of his pace.

While each of the 34 quarterbacks reviewed have thrown at least one pick, four have only thrown one--Brady Quinn, David Garrard of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brett Favre, and Marc Burger of the St. Louis Rams.


Four starters have been thrown to the turf for a loss at least 20 times while attempting to avoid a blitz, but none more the Ben Roethlisberger, who's been sacked 25 times when six or more defenders come across the line at the snap. Matt Cassel of the Kansas City Chiefs is second at 23 followed by Tony Romo (22) and Matt Hasselbeck of the Seattle Seahawks (21).

At the other end of the spectrum is Tom Brady, who's allowed himself to be tackled for a loss just twice when he sees the blitz. Titans quarterbacks Kerry Collins and Vince Young have suffered just three setbacks each as part-time starters this year, while Peyton Manning and Matt Ryan have allowed just five each.

Yards Per Attempt

One other category that tells an interesting portion of the story is how drastically the blitz impacts the quarterback's yards per pass attempt average. Eighteen of the 34 quarterbacks actually have a better average when under pressure than when they're facing the blitz. Six don't show much impact at all, while ten show a decrease. So that trend is a good indicator of whether or not it may be more worthwhile to blitz to limit the average gain during a pass play.  The mix of who fell into those categories was a bit surprising.

Matt Ryan of the Falcons and Drew Brees jump at least two yards per attempt when working against a blitz. Ryan averages 7.96 yards, but just 5.56 without a blitz. Brees gains the most yardage of any NFL quarterback--10.24 yards against the blitz versus 8.20 without.

Other notable increases have been posted by Aaron Rodgers (1.79 yards), Peyton Manning (1.45) and Kyle Orton (1.23).

Whose average dips the most? Not the quarterbacks you'd expect.

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning grabs 8.66 yards per attempt when not being pressured by the blitz, but 7.41 when the opponent brings it. That's a drop of 1.25 yards per attempt and perhaps one of the reasons that opposing defenses have forced him to throw 203 passes against the blitz--second highest in the league.  Carson Palmer of the Cincinnati Bengals is second with a decrease of 1.04 yards from 7.18 to 6.14.

The next three in line are also a bit of a surprise. Matt Hasselbeck and Brett Favre each drop by 0.95 yards while Tom Brady is close behind at 0.88.

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A member of the Pro Football Writers of America, Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the network and at

Statistics referenced in this article are provided by STATS, LLC. Copyright 2009 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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