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Things I Learned From the New PFR Play Finder: QBs in the Clutch

Posted by Neil on September 5, 2012

Might as well face it -- most people are going to use our new Play Finder tool to search for clutch stats on quarterbacks. How do I know this? Because, when Basketball-Reference rolled out its Play Index+, the most popular searches (by far) involved some combination of Kobe Bryant and clutch/late-game shooting splits.

And if there's anything fans love more than the fabled NBA "closer", it's the crunch-time QB.

So let's do this. Much like I did in the clutch receivers post, I'm going to dig up clutch stats for QBs from a variety of different angles. There is no one single, unifying definition of "clutch", but we can at least try to get close to a consensus by using the splits most people would think about when looking for clutch performances.

The first leaderboard I'm going to show is a list of QBs in do-or-die down & distance situations -- 3rd/4th and long (7+ yds to go) -- over the past 3 seasons (min 100 att):

Player Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Rate AY/A
Michael Vick 63 106 59.4% 1037 7 3 102.6 9.8
Aaron Rodgers 141 228 61.8% 2005 9 5 94.3 8.6
Matt Moore 66 104 63.5% 960 4 4 90.2 8.3
Tom Brady 122 223 54.7% 1783 9 3 88.8 8.2
Ben Roethlisberger 124 214 57.9% 1882 8 7 85.8 8.1
Jason Campbell 101 164 61.6% 1246 7 2 94.2 7.9
Tony Romo 124 211 58.8% 1712 8 6 85.7 7.6
Eli Manning 162 279 58.1% 2457 12 13 82.1 7.6
Philip Rivers 138 251 55.0% 2258 11 13 78.4 7.5
Drew Brees 163 253 64.4% 2113 12 11 88.3 7.3
David Garrard 94 154 61.0% 1164 9 5 90.4 7.3
Josh Freeman 137 218 62.8% 1728 6 6 85.2 7.2
Matt Schaub 109 179 60.9% 1323 4 3 84.1 7.1
Brett Favre 86 140 61.4% 1185 5 7 79.6 6.9
Peyton Manning 97 153 63.4% 1251 3 6 79.2 6.8
Shaun Hill 65 107 60.7% 783 1 2 78.5 6.7
Joe Flacco 163 282 57.8% 2157 13 12 79.8 6.7
Sam Bradford 80 156 51.3% 1011 5 2 77.2 6.5
Kyle Orton 105 183 57.4% 1205 6 3 81.4 6.5
Matt Ryan 150 259 57.9% 1863 9 9 77.4 6.3
Matt Cassel 129 211 61.1% 1613 7 10 76.2 6.2
Carson Palmer 123 221 55.7% 1677 9 11 72.9 6.2
Matthew Stafford 95 178 53.4% 1263 10 10 71.4 5.7
Colt McCoy 56 102 54.9% 631 6 4 76.9 5.6
Alex Smith 120 205 58.5% 1325 4 7 70.1 5.3
Matt Hasselbeck 144 248 58.1% 1566 5 9 68.4 5.1
Donovan McNabb 85 172 49.4% 1099 2 6 59.2 5.1
Jay Cutler 114 209 54.5% 1474 5 12 61.0 4.9
Ryan Fitzpatrick 112 202 55.4% 1330 8 12 64.2 4.7
Mark Sanchez 142 272 52.2% 1731 8 15 58.9 4.5
Chad Henne 84 167 50.3% 1020 4 12 47.5 3.4

OK, how about QBs in do-or-die clock situations (4th qtr/OT, tied or trailing by a TD or less, min 65 att)?

Player Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Rate AY/A
Aaron Rodgers 71 107 66.4% 962 5 2 102.6 9.1
Tony Romo 118 195 60.5% 1683 10 4 97.0 8.7
Ben Roethlisberger 87 156 55.8% 1246 6 1 92.0 8.5
Eli Manning 100 165 60.6% 1351 11 4 98.8 8.4
John Skelton 43 73 58.9% 558 4 1 95.6 8.1
David Garrard 57 91 62.6% 708 5 2 95.9 7.9
Jason Campbell 52 80 65.0% 661 3 2 92.8 7.9
Peyton Manning 62 104 59.6% 846 5 3 89.7 7.8
Drew Brees 142 204 69.6% 1531 11 4 101.2 7.7
Matt Schaub 104 162 64.2% 1276 5 7 80.7 6.5
Josh Freeman 78 133 58.6% 1061 6 7 77.3 6.5
Jay Cutler 84 140 60.0% 1016 10 7 85.3 6.4
Matt Hasselbeck 48 79 60.8% 519 3 2 82.2 6.2
Matthew Stafford 68 124 54.8% 776 8 4 81.9 6.1
Carson Palmer 88 145 60.7% 963 5 4 80.3 6.1
Brett Favre 67 114 58.8% 844 3 5 72.4 6.0
Kyle Orton 73 130 56.2% 922 5 6 72.0 5.8
Matt Ryan 95 166 57.2% 1097 8 7 75.8 5.7
Joe Flacco 97 167 58.1% 1096 6 6 74.8 5.7
Tom Brady 68 118 57.6% 773 7 6 76.0 5.4
Cam Newton 36 74 48.6% 448 2 2 65.6 5.4
Philip Rivers 98 171 57.3% 1159 5 8 68.3 5.3
Donovan McNabb 61 114 53.5% 697 1 3 64.1 5.1
Matt Cassel 68 129 52.7% 893 6 8 64.5 5.1
Alex Smith 60 110 54.5% 701 3 5 64.2 4.9
Mark Sanchez 85 176 48.3% 1073 5 8 58.3 4.6
Colt McCoy 36 69 52.2% 298 3 1 72.0 4.5
Rex Grossman 50 85 58.8% 554 2 5 61.6 4.3
Ryan Fitzpatrick 91 158 57.6% 941 4 8 62.2 4.2
Andy Dalton 38 80 47.5% 447 1 4 48.3 3.6
Chad Henne 58 124 46.8% 637 4 7 49.7 3.2
Jake Delhomme 38 69 55.1% 365 1 4 50.7 3.0
Sam Bradford 34 67 50.7% 303 1 3 49.5 2.8

A compromise between those two splits leaves you with these QBs on 3rd/4th down and 5+ yds to go, with the score margin +/- 7 points in the 4th qtr/OT (min 20 att):

Player Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Rate AY/A 1D/TD Succ%
Tony Romo 26 48 54.2% 528 5 0 127.8 13.1 15 31.3%
Eli Manning 31 50 62.0% 554 7 1 131.2 13.0 21 42.0%
Josh Freeman 24 35 68.6% 449 2 1 118.5 12.7 16 45.7%
Ben Roethlisberger 32 57 56.1% 571 4 1 106.7 10.6 25 43.9%
John Skelton 15 22 68.2% 227 1 1 98.1 9.2 8 36.4%
Drew Brees 36 52 69.2% 509 5 3 108.6 9.1 26 50.0%
Matt Ryan 29 48 60.4% 374 3 0 105.7 9.0 24 50.0%
Matt Cassel 23 37 62.2% 364 3 2 99.4 9.0 14 37.8%
Carson Palmer 26 39 66.7% 329 2 1 99.2 8.3 16 41.0%
Peyton Manning 13 24 54.2% 266 1 2 72.6 8.2 10 41.7%
Rex Grossman 12 22 54.5% 192 1 1 80.1 7.6 8 36.4%
Andy Dalton 11 26 42.3% 169 1 0 77.2 7.3 7 26.9%
Tom Brady 18 37 48.6% 212 2 0 84.5 6.8 15 40.5%
Aaron Rodgers 18 32 56.3% 220 2 1 85.4 6.7 11 34.4%
Matt Schaub 19 34 55.9% 278 2 2 77.8 6.7 12 35.3%
Jason Campbell 14 25 56.0% 147 1 0 86.6 6.7 5 20.0%
Jay Cutler 17 33 51.5% 244 2 2 70.8 5.9 9 27.3%
Joe Flacco 26 58 44.8% 379 4 3 68.1 5.6 19 32.8%
Matt Hasselbeck 15 25 60.0% 170 0 1 63.8 5.0 9 36.0%
Kevin Kolb 10 22 45.5% 174 1 2 50.2 4.7 4 18.2%
David Garrard 10 20 50.0% 119 1 1 64.4 4.7 6 30.0%
Kyle Orton 17 32 53.1% 217 1 2 59.0 4.6 6 18.8%
Sam Bradford 12 25 48.0% 139 1 1 61.9 4.6 5 20.0%
Brett Favre 19 38 50.0% 242 3 3 63.7 4.4 13 34.2%
Ryan Fitzpatrick 15 36 41.7% 174 0 1 45.4 3.6 8 22.2%
Mark Sanchez 31 67 46.3% 407 0 4 41.1 3.4 26 38.8%
Philip Rivers 20 51 39.2% 345 1 5 29.9 2.7 16 31.4%
Matthew Stafford 12 31 38.7% 132 1 2 36.0 2.0 9 29.0%
Donovan McNabb 11 37 29.7% 86 1 1 37.3 1.6 5 13.5%
Alex Smith 10 21 47.6% 85 1 2 34.9 0.7 4 19.0%
Chad Henne 14 46 30.4% 135 0 8 0.4 -4.9 8 17.4%

One final split: who has the biggest difference between their clutch (in the broadest definition yet) Adjusted YPA and their AY/A in every other situation?

Clutch All Other Situations
Player Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int AY/A Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int AY/A Diff
Eli Manning 69 116 59.5% 1113 11 4 9.9 1032 1651 62.5% 12915 83 49 7.5 2.4
Josh Freeman 52 88 59.1% 733 6 3 8.2 728 1206 60.4% 8035 43 43 5.8 2.4
David Garrard 35 57 61.4% 438 6 2 8.2 495 791 62.6% 5634 30 20 6.7 1.5
Matt Moore 36 57 63.2% 465 3 2 7.6 338 571 59.2% 3914 26 19 6.3 1.4
Jason Campbell 53 79 67.1% 598 4 1 8.0 561 904 62.1% 6495 35 25 6.7 1.3
Matt Schaub 56 86 65.1% 781 4 2 9.0 864 1330 65.0% 10584 63 31 7.9 1.1
Tony Romo 58 102 56.9% 963 7 4 9.0 829 1254 66.1% 9752 63 23 8.0 1.1
Matt Ryan 75 118 63.6% 842 7 2 7.6 910 1502 60.6% 10077 71 35 6.6 1.0
Ben Roethlisberger 67 120 55.8% 1001 7 2 8.8 867 1351 64.2% 10977 57 32 7.9 0.9
Vince Young 31 52 59.6% 319 3 0 7.3 268 461 58.1% 3512 21 19 6.7 0.6
Rex Grossman 29 61 47.5% 383 4 2 6.1 313 539 58.1% 3685 19 23 5.6 0.5
Aaron Rodgers 58 97 59.8% 819 9 2 9.4 1044 1573 66.4% 13346 102 26 9.0 0.3
Carson Palmer 56 109 51.4% 706 5 2 6.6 786 1273 61.7% 9027 54 46 6.3 0.3
Matt Hasselbeck 43 75 57.3% 457 2 1 6.0 851 1413 60.2% 9305 51 48 5.8 0.2
Tom Brady 71 121 58.7% 910 15 4 8.5 1133 1720 65.9% 13766 98 33 8.3 0.2
Ryan Fitzpatrick 48 90 53.3% 505 4 1 6.0 666 1112 59.9% 7435 48 44 5.8 0.2
Andy Dalton 28 51 54.9% 288 1 0 6.0 299 507 59.0% 3367 19 16 6.0 0.1
Matt Cassel 48 99 48.5% 677 5 5 5.6 640 1110 57.7% 6937 46 30 5.9 -0.3
Drew Brees 93 139 66.9% 1058 11 5 7.6 1340 1914 70.0% 15102 116 42 8.1 -0.5
Joe Flacco 69 136 50.7% 964 7 6 6.1 941 1533 61.4% 10675 65 33 6.8 -0.7
Brett Favre 40 78 51.3% 605 6 5 6.4 567 845 67.1% 6450 43 22 7.5 -1.1
Sam Bradford 32 62 51.6% 322 2 2 4.4 486 844 57.6% 5112 20 18 5.6 -1.2
Jay Cutler 57 102 55.9% 634 8 6 5.1 743 1243 59.8% 8977 57 44 6.5 -1.4
Mark Sanchez 78 166 47.0% 863 4 6 4.1 777 1370 56.7% 9170 57 47 6.0 -1.9
Alex Smith 38 82 46.3% 444 4 3 4.7 701 1145 61.2% 7921 50 23 6.9 -2.1
Colt McCoy 26 51 51.0% 245 1 2 3.4 357 606 58.9% 3823 18 17 5.6 -2.2
Peyton Manning 46 78 59.0% 551 4 5 5.2 864 1274 67.8% 9434 65 27 7.5 -2.3
Matthew Stafford 39 75 52.0% 360 5 3 4.3 668 1104 60.5% 7860 58 36 6.7 -2.4
Kyle Orton 45 86 52.3% 478 2 3 4.5 734 1207 60.8% 8714 48 27 7.0 -2.6
Chad Henne 47 104 45.2% 543 3 8 2.3 592 949 62.4% 6504 28 29 6.1 -3.7
Donovan McNabb 28 74 37.8% 268 1 2 2.7 597 985 60.6% 7523 39 25 7.3 -4.6
Philip Rivers 45 98 45.9% 628 3 10 2.4 1022 1554 65.8% 13219 83 34 8.6 -6.2

So who has been the best clutch QB in recent seasons? As I said earlier, no list or set of criteria is going to please everyone (or even a fraction of football fans), but from these lists it looks like Eli Manning and Tony Romo should be near the top of anyone's list... an appropriate pair, given tonight's matchup to kick off the 2012 season!

This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 5th, 2012 at 9:55 am and is filed under Announcement, Features, Play Index, Pro-Football-Reference.com. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

4 Responses to “Things I Learned From the New PFR Play Finder: QBs in the Clutch”

  1. Neil, that is interesting stuff. If you would do that for only the playoffs, it might give us some insight into why some QB's seem to have more success than others when it comes to winning their biggest (championship) games. I can only imagine where my guy (Marino) would come in if you included retired guys as well. I'm well aware of all the negative value games he provided for our team in the PO's thanks to Chase's study a few years ago.

  2. Love this new tool. I have gotten lost sometimes doing research using these tools.

  3. These statistics are very insightful Thank you so much. I am a big Patriots fan, but I have a soft spot in my heart for Tony Romo. I feel like Tony Romo is the most smeared quarterback since Terry Bradshaw.

    Tony Romo is a great quarterback with the #2 career (read ALL-TIME) QB Rating and yet commentators on TV continue to malign the guy and everyone acts shocked when Tony Romo performs well in the 4th quarter... when in fact his career statistics put him above Marino, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady significant statistical categories.

    I hope that you are able to get these stats in front of the media so that they can begin to correct the damage they have done to Tony Romo's Legacy!

  4. Id say QBs with only 80+ attempts make the cut...even though Campbell did have the Raiders in 1st place before his injury.

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