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Russell Wilson may be the best QB in the NFL when under pressure, which he is way too often

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NFL: NFC Divisional-Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

As part of a continuing series looking at the quarterback statistics published by Football Outsiders over the offseason, the topic at hand today is performance under pressure. This series includes topics such as play-action splits, which have not been released yet for 2016, passing plus-minus, which I previously discussed here, and pressure stats, the topic of this article. As I mentioned last time, the usefulness of these stats is that they use their tracking data to provide context to each quarterback’s performance. For example, play action splits describe how often quarterbacks utilize play action passes and how they perform when using play action relative to when they do not.

The yearly quarterback pressure articles are written by various Football Outsiders staff members, debuting in 2014 (covering the 2013 season) and written by Scott Kacsmar this season. The most recent edition was released on Tuesday and contains effusive praise of Russell Wilson:

There's a good argument that Russell Wilson, since he entered the league in 2012, has the best overall stats of all these quarterbacks. His DVOA with pressure is second only to Roethlisberger, and his DVOA without pressure is the best in the league, even surpassing Brady's. The problem is that Wilson is easily the most-pressured quarterback in the league, facing it on over a third of his plays for the Seahawks.

Here are the numbers:

Russell Wilson under pressure

Year Pressure freq. (%) Pressure rank DVOA under pressure (rank) DVOA not under pressure (rank)
Year Pressure freq. (%) Pressure rank DVOA under pressure (rank) DVOA not under pressure (rank)
2013 36.6 2 4 6
2014 39.1 1 5 3
2015 31.7 4 4 1
2016 34.9 3 14 13
2012-2016 (combined) 33.9 1 2 1
Source: Football Outsiders

Taking the final line in the above table as an example, which encompasses the five years of Wilson’s career, Wilson has been pressured 33.9% of the time he has dropped back to pass. Of the 18 quarterbacks with enough dropbacks to qualify for this time period, no one has been pressured at a higher frequency than Wilson. For reference, the three least-pressured QBs during this period were Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger, and Drew Brees, which in hindsight is not surprising since they all have enjoyed very good offensive line play in recent years. Dalton, the least-pressured quarterback in this period, was only pressured on 19.2% of attempts, which seems unfathomable as a Seahawks fan.

Of the four years for which I could find data, Wilson was pressured most frequently in 2014 (39.1%) and least frequently in 2015 (31.7%).

In addition to the frequency with which Wilson has been under pressure throughout his entire career, the other interesting part of the numbers here are that Wilson excels, relative to other QBs, both when pressured and when not pressured. 2016 is an outlier because of the injuries, but in the three years prior to that, Wilson was top five in DVOA when pressured and top six in DVOA when not pressured every season. More remarkably, from 2012 to 2016, only Roethlisberger has performed better under pressure than Wilson, and not a single quarterback has performed better when not pressured.

However, because the difference between DVOA under pressure and not under pressure is so great, constantly being under pressure makes it relatively more difficult for Wilson to excel statistically. Even though Wilson excels under pressure, he has still posted a DVOA of -41% under pressure in his career, compared to 69.9% when not under pressure. To the extent that offensive line play contributes to pressure rates, every improvement in Seattle’s line should translate into better production from Wilson.

I’ll close by leaving us with Scott’s optimistic note:

Wilson has never finished higher than third in DVOA in a season, but if his distribution of pressure to non-pressure plays was more like the league average, then his overall stats would certainly improve. If the Steelers were able to improve their pass-protection issues over time, then there is still hope that Wilson will one day have an adequate line in front of him too. He'll just likely be in his early-to-mid 30s, and one of the most veteran quarterbacks in the league as time winds down on this golden age of passers.