Some Clarification is in Order: "Clutch" Part 4: 3rd Down

Von Miller's job was to make quarterbacks jobs hard on 3rd down, though it seems Andy Dalton didn't feel the pressure much, ranking among the best 3rd down quarterbacks. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

This is the 4th part of my study looking at the idea of the clutch and we'll be reviewing the same group of quarterbacks that we've been looking at how quarterbacks perform on 3rd down. The last two articles we've looked at the 4th quarter, which is considered one of the best metrics for measuring clutch, if you are of the mindset that you can look at clutch from that way. Here is a quick review of the past few articles as well as previewing the last article in this series:

  • How coaches and players view the clutch
  • 4th quarter comebacks
    - This one is most commonly associated with clutch, and while not perfect, should be included in any study
  • Improvement in the 4th quarter over the first three quarters
    - As mentioned above the 4th quarter is tied to the term clutch, and the level of play of a quarterback in the 4th compared to the first three should be looked at.
  • Performance on 3rd down (This is today's topic)
    - How a player performs on a 3rd down is key, and is one of the most pressure-filled situations in game.
  • Playoff numbers compared to regular season (Next time)
    - This one is important because each game in the playoffs is high pressure, and improvement under these circumstances are a good sign.

For many the 3rd down isn't as closely tied to the idea of clutch as the 4th quarter, but when a quarterback messes up consistently on 3rd down, it's clear fans think of that player as anti-clutch or a choker. Having said that as we get into the article we'll take a more indepth look at what makes a good 3rd down quarterback.

The Importance of 3rd Down:

Just like the 4th quarter, what you want from a quarterback may actually go against practical thinking. For example when you jump to this table you may immediately look for touchdown percentage, this would be a mistake, ask yourself "When my quarterback takes that snap on 3rd down, are you thinking touchdown or conversion?" Likely conversion. When it comes to 3rd downs a few statistics are more important than others:

- Completion percentage is key because you want a high level of accuracy on those critical attempts
- Turnover percentage is key because a fumble or interception is horrible, it's one thing to not complete the pass, it's another to turn the ball over.
- Sack percentage is key because a sack is a similar outcome to a turnover, it's a failed conversion and hurts field position, a sack on 3rd down is just terrible.

These are the three categories are what you look at when you judge a players 3rd down performance, touchdowns are nice, but few coaches see that as the goal on a 3rd down. The same can be said for yards per attempt, while a great statistic it doesn't matter as much, as long a quarterback tops 5 yards per attempt that is longer than the average 3rd down length.

So when you look at this, a few things to try and study could include:

- Combine sack % and turnover %, this way you can see how often the 3rd down ended in a bad result
- Compare conversion % and completion %, you are able to see how accuracy correlates between success
- Compare touchdown and turnover % to see if the player was a low risk/low reward or high risk/high reward player or something in between.

The Table:

As with last time I'll be using the same list of all-time greats along with a few young guns and players who are connected to the Broncos. So in this table we'll be comparing quarterbacks play on 3rd downs. Here are the categories we'll be looking at and the title it will be displayed on the table will be in ():

- The quarterbacks passer rating (Rating)
- Passing completion percentage (Comp. %)
- Yards per pass attempt (Y/A)
- Touchdown (both passing and rushing) percentage (TD %)
- Turnover (interception and fumble) percentage (TO %)
- Sack percentage per drop back (Sack %)
- 3rd down conversion percentage (Conv. %)

Note: Sadly there just isn't accurate data on a number of quarterbacks who have been out of the league for a while so there will be dashes through the areas for which we have no data. And while there may be no data for those quarterbacks, I included them in this table to keep continuity throughout this series. Please remember that this includes both rushing and passing statistics so it includes rushing and passing touchdowns as well as including fumbles into the formula

Name Rating Comp % Y/A TD % TO % Sack % Conv. %
Manning, P 85.9 61.6% 6.9 5.8% 3.8% 3.5% 42.9%
Marino 77.6 56.9% 6. 5.3% 4.1% 3.7% -
Elway 85.4 52.9% 7.1 6.5% 3.9% 8.1% -
Favre 76.9 57.1% 7.0 6.1% 6.0% 10.6% 31.7%
Testaverde 73.6 54.5% 6.7 4.9% 4.9% 7.2% -
Tarkenton - - - - - - -
Unitas - - - - - - -
Montana 83.6 57.9% 6.3 4.4% 2.1% 4.4% -
Moon 81.5 55.6% 6.9 5.4% 3.4% 8.7% -
Bledsoe 74.9 55.5% 6.7 3.9% 3.5% 8.1% -
Kelly 80.6 53.7% 6.8 5.4% 2.8% 11.3% -
Fouts - - - - - - -
Brady 90.8 57.8% 7.4 6.2% 3.4% 7.1% 45.5%
Roethlisberger 91.2 61.4% 8.1 6.0% 4.7% 12.6% 41.1%
Brees 95.8 63.0% 7.6 6.2% 3.5% 5.8% 52.2%
Starr - - - - - - -
McNabb 78.3 55.0% 6.6 4.4% 3.3% 9.9% 44.1%
Manning, E 79.5 55.5% 7.1 5.7% 4.9% 6.7% 44.2%
Stabler - - - - - - -
Namath - - - - - - -
Griese, B - - - - - - -
Bradshaw - - - - - - -
Aikman 75.0 58.5% 6.4 4.1% 3.7% 4.9% -
Dilfer 69.5 51.9% 6.6 4.0% 4.1% 10.1% -
Romo 92.4 60.5% 8.0 5.6% 3.9% 6.3% 40.4%
Staubach - - - - - - -
Young, S 100.4 64.9% 7.5 5.6% 3.5% 12.2% -
Rivers 87.0 57.9% 8.0 6.7% 5.7% 6.8% 54.3%
Cutler 76.3 57.9% 6.9 5.6% 5.7% 9.7% 39.1%
Ryan 89.8 60.1% 7.3 5.5% 3.8% 6.7% 42.9%
Sanchez 67.8 49.6% 5.9 4.5% 3.5% 6.8% 27.3%
Smith, A 82.5 56.2% 7.6 3.4% 2.2% 11.2% 31.0%
Freeman 77.0 58.1% 6.8 3.6% 2.8% 6.9% 45.7%
Warner 97.6 62.9% 7.8 7.0% 4.9% 9.3% -
Orton 67.1 50.7% 5.6 4.6% 3.4% 8.9% 43.1%
Tebow 66.8 44.8% 5.5 6.2% 3.9% 11.4% 26.9%
Dalton 84.4 50.6% 5.7 6.5% 1.3% 3.2% 37.1%
Rodgers 111.2 63.7% 8.6 8.2% 2.4% 8.5% 51.5%
Skelton 55.9 49.6% 5.8 2.0% 2.4% 9.9% 32.2%
Graham, O - - - - - - -


Notes and Thoughts:

- I know I don't want Ben Roethlisberger as my QB on 3rd down, on nearly 20% of 3rd downs he's either sacked or turns the ball over. Brett Favre is in a similar boat, with both quarterback you might get a touchdown, but more than likely you'll end with a bad result.

- Others like Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are 3rd down genius's, they had high completion %, conversion % and touchdown % while having low turnover % and sack %.

- There are a number of young quarterbacks like Andy Dalton who are actually up there with the greats.

- On a Tim Tebow note, the Jet's currently have two of the worst 3rd down quarterbacks.

So there's a few of my thoughts and I'd love to hear yours.

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