NFL1000: Doug Farrar's Week 3 QB Rankings

Doug Farrar@@BR_DougFarrar NFL Lead ScoutSeptember 19, 2017

NFL1000: Doug Farrar's Week 3 QB Rankings

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    Bill Feig/Associated Press

    Unquestionably, the top quarterback shootout of Week 2 was New England's 36-20 win over the New Orleans Saints, a game in which Tom Brady and Drew Brees combined for 803 passing yards and five touchdowns. As usual for Brees, the leaky Saints defense made the difference in a negative sense.

    Other quarterbacks ran up against reality. Philly's Carson Wentz may have believed that his team was going to positively address the running game in his second season, but it's become clear that that's not the case, and the Eagles will continue to rely on their field general to a disproportionate degree. Meanwhile, Dallas' Dak Prescott—who threw four picks overall in 2016—gave it up twice against Denver's outstanding defense. Not that the picks were entirely his fault, but Prescott got a taste of how it works when his offensive line isn't strong and the game plan regresses.

    There's been movement from the Week 2 quarterback rankings, which you can see here.

    Our weekly quarterback rankings are decided and written by NFL1000 Lead Scout Doug Farrar and Quarterbacks Scout Mark Schofield. Doug evaluates all NFC quarterbacks, and Mark does the same with all AFC quarterbacks.

    Doug and Mark combine tape analysis and advanced metrics to give you a sense of which quarterbacks are trending up, which are trending down and which are better or worse than their reputations might imply.

    The rankings are based on recent performance, of course, but we're also adjusting for opponent, factoring in the talent around the quarterback, and considering the player's history over the last few years.

    Good news for some, bad news for others. Here are the NFL1000 quarterback rankings in anticipation of Week 3 of the NFL season.

32. Brian Hoyer, San Francisco 49ers

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Last Week: 28

    Through two games as San Francisco's starter, Hoyer has averaged 4.7 yards per pass attempt—39 completions in 62 attempts for 292 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. Head coach Kyle Shanahan's insistence that Hoyer is the man to run his complex offense doesn't make a ton of sense in retrospect—the best Hoyer can do is to present a low-risk version of that passing game, and to date, he hasn't even been able to do that.

    Hoyer has attempted just two deep passes this season, completing neither of them, and he attempted one against the Seahawks in Week 2—a deep cross-body throw to Marquise Goodwin that was sailed too far. Against Seattle's strong defense, Hoyer completed just 15 of 27 passes for 99 yards and a pick as the 49ers scored nine points. The team has 12 points and no touchdowns on the season.

    Hoyer's interception against Seattle began and ended San Francisco's second drive—he attempted a drag route to running back Carlos Hyde and completely missed linebacker Bobby Wagner setting himself as the underneath zone defender. Wagner read Hoyer's intentions and easily jumped the route.

    Aside from that, Hoyer was directed to throw a bunch of low-risk junkballs, and he couldn't even get those complete at times, missing simple Texas routes to the running backs and slants to the slot receivers. Yes, the 49ers are playing with a talent deficit, but there are many quarterbacks who could present a more dynamic passing game—including the quarterback the 49ers let opt out of his contract in favor of Hoyer.

    You may know him as Colin Kaepernick.

31. Case Keenum, Minnesota Vikings

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Last Week: N/A

    Sam Bradford was a game-time decision against the Steelers, and the Vikings scratched the star of Week 1 with a bone bruise. So, Minnesota went from the best quarterback last week to Case Keenum, a career journeyman with a limited arm and skill set. Keenum showed those limitations in a 26-9 loss, completing 20 of 37 passes for just 167 yards (a 4.5-yards-per-attempt average), and shutting the Vikings' dynamic targets out. Keenum completed two of five deep attempts for 48 yards, but other than that, the passing game was limited at best and nonexistent at worst.

    Keenum certainly doesn't have Bradford's accuracy and velocity when throwing downfield, but he did hit Stefon Diggs accurately on a deep boundary throw to the right side and threw a deep post to Kyle Rudolph. Both of those plays came in the third quarter. Beyond that, Keenum struggled with the timing of deep throws and had to maintain drives with short stuff.

    The Steelers anticipated this and brought pressure accordingly as other teams facing Keenum would. It's not yet known when Bradford's recovery will put him back in action, but as long as Keenum is the starter, the Vikings will have to rely on their running game and defense.

30. Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans

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    Frank Victores/Associated Press

    Last Week: 31

    Imagine a rookie quarterback, making his first start on the road in a short week, in front of a prime-time audience, without any of the top three tight ends on the roster. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, right? Despite the odds against him and his team, Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans went into Cincinnati and pulled out a 13-9 victory in a game that may have sent offensive football back a few years, but got the visitors back to 1-1 on the young season.

    From an evaluation standpoint, it is clear Watson has a way to go to develop into the type of quarterback Texans fans have been hoping for since draft day. He stared down a number of routes on the night and threw two dangerous passes that could have been intercepted and taken the other way for scores. He seemed to get jittery in the pocket and left a number of clean pockets trying to do too much with his feet. If you had questions about his arm strength and velocity, he did seem to struggle at times pushing the ball into windows outside the numbers and on deeper patterns.


    Late in the first half he made the single biggest play of the game, on a 49-yard scramble that was the game's only touchdown. That play came after he was blasted on an instantly meme-worthy sack, and was the culmination of a scoring drive in the closing minutes of the second quarter that began deep in Houston territory. Furthermore, Houston's final scoring drive of the game began midway through the fourth quarter and also started deep in Texans territory, and on that drive Watson completed four of six passes and had a critical scramble on 3rd-and-16 that picked up 11 yards, getting the Texans into a more manageable field-goal situation. As with any rookie, there will be struggles, and it remains to be seen if Watson can develop the traits necessary to excel as a quarterback in this league, but the leadership and competitive toughness boxes appear to be checked off already.

29. Mike Glennon, Chicago Bears

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    Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    Last Week: 26

    When the Bears moved up in the 2017 draft to select Mitchell Trubisky, they made it clear that they consider the North Carolin alum their franchise quarterback of the future. Giving former Tampa Bay Buccaneers backup Mike Glennon a three-year, $45 million deal in free agency was supposed to provide the team with a transitional plan as Trubisky got ready for the rigors of the NFL.

    The Bears didn't expect to sign a quarterback with Glennon's limitations, but that's what they have, and after two weeks, the regression in Chicago's offense is clear. Against his old team Sunday, Glennon threw two interceptions that each showed issues with his quickness in determining coverages and reacting to them, and throwing late to predetermined targets.

    Glennon missed Buccaneers linebacker Kwon Alexander dropping into coverage on a quick comeback to tight end Dion Sims, and Alexander had an easy pick. More distressingly, Glennon missed tight end Adam Shaheen wide open in the right flat. The second interception came when Bucs cornerback Robert McClain boxed out receiver Josh Bellamy on a vertical route, and Glennon threw the pass anyway. McClain returned the interception for a touchdown. Not that it would have made any difference in the Bears' 29-7 loss, but the pick-six was the capper on a day in which Glennon failed to consistently display the processing speed required of NFL quarterbacks.

    After the game, Bears head coach John Fox wouldn't commit to benching Glennon in favor of Trubisky, insisting that the mistakes weren't Glennon's fault. If Fox is just buying time until Trubisky is ready, that's one thing. But if he truly believes Glennon can lead this offense on sustained drives, that's a problem. Glennon will continue to make these mistakes.

28. Josh McCown, New York Jets

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Last Week: 30

    For the second week in a row, the New York Jets offense under Josh McCown looked competent when the game was close, but when the deficit started to grow and the passing game needed to become more of a downfield, vertical effort, the offense began to struggle. McCown completed 17 of 25 passes for 166 yards and two scores, the first of which came on a well-placed vertical route to Jermaine Kearse for 42 yards.

    Perhaps the most effective aspect of McCown's game on Sunday was his ability to make things happen with his legs. He kept more than a few plays alive with his feet, and in certain instances he was able to move the chains by tucking the football and picking up yardage running the ball.

    His second touchdown pass of the afternoon came with the game well in hand, but McCown did a good job of climbing the pocket in the face of edge pressure and delivering a strike on a skinny post route to Kearse for the score.

    The main question facing the Jets going forward is if they stick with McCown, how can the offense incorporate more of a vertical passing game to stretch the defense from the line of scrimmage into the secondary? McCown and the offense can be effective and stay on schedule with the short passing game, using running back screens and quick concepts such as slant/flat combinations and spacing designs to get the ball out quickly. But when they get behind and need to push the football, the offense is not clicking yet. For New York to turn around its 0-2 start, it needs to address this aspect of its passing attack.

27. DeShone Kizer, Cleveland Browns

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    Gail Burton/Associated Press

    Last Week: 29

    Making his first road start as an NFL quarterback against what seems to be another stout Baltimore Ravens defense, DeShone Kizer struggled, particularly when you look at the numbers. He completed 15 of 31 passes for 182 yards and three interceptions and posted a QBR of only 3.7 and a passer rating of 27.3. He also lost a fumble on a strip-sack by Terrell Suggs early in the game. Those numbers are, shall we say, less than ideal.

    So why is Kizer not the lowest-ranked quarterback in the AFC this week? The Ravens have yet again a tough defense; we'll give Kizer a bit of a boost there given the level of competition. And you can see Kizer is a more developed quarterback than the average rookie at this early point in his career.

    Here are some examples. Following the strip-sack and with his team trailing by seven early, Kizer and the Browns face a 3rd-and-17. With the crowd at M&T Stadium going wild as the defense looks to force a three-and-out, Kizer steps up in the pocket and drills a post route to his tight end between the safeties, converting the 3rd-and-long. After he comes back into the game, he executed a perfect throw on a deep out route in a Sail Concept, putting the football right where it needed to be to challenge the coverage. He also dropped in a perfect throw on a deep corner route earlier in the contest.

    Kizer has shown he can make NFL-level throws in the short and intermediate areas of the field with a decent level of consistency. He made some mistakes Sunday, and there will be more, but right now he looks like the most developed quarterback out of this rookie class and as such, gets a big of a bump here in the rankings combined with the fact that he was facing one of the NFL's most complicated defenses.

26. Jacoby Brissett, Indianapolis Colts

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Last Week: 32

    Tasked with making his third professional start for a team he hasn't been with long enough to save 15 percent when switching his car insurance, Jacoby Brissett had a fairly decent game for the Indianapolis Colts in their overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals. That is, until the one big mistake Brissett made, a late throw over the middle in overtime that was intercepted. That mistake, coming on Indianapolis' first play of overtime, set the visitors up for the eventual game-winning score.

    But until that point, Brissett was fairly solid for the Colts and probably could have used a bit more help from his teammates. He made a number of well-placed throws that were dropped that could have changed the course of the game. The offensive coaching staff kept the game plan rather simple, running a number of two-man combination designs such as curl/flat or go/flat that gave Brissett simplified reads to one side of the field. In addition, he displayed a high level of comfort when throwing to the tight ends, particularly Jack Doyle, and that bodes well for the Colts and their offensive success if Brissett is to remain their quarterback for the near future. The second-year quarterback also did a job of getting through progression reads and checking the football down when necessary. He did take four sacks on the afternoon, one of which came as he held the ball too long in the pocket. The first, however, was likely more a function of play design. Facing a 1st-and-10 in their own territory, the Colts tried a deep shot off play action, but the play required two different play-action fakes, and as Brissett came out of the second, he was under pressure and missed the chance for a big play.

    The overtime interception, however, was clearly on the quarterback. Brissett tried to throw a dig route over the middle late in the play and the placement was off, behind the receiver, allowing the defender to undercut the route, secure the interception and set the Cardinals up for the game-winning points. Given the troubles in Indianapolis right now, Brissett will need to be mistake-free if the Colts are going to win games, and as his final throw of Sunday showed, even just one mistake can be costly.

25. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Frank Victores/Associated Press

    Last Week: 24

    Following a disappointing season opener—a shutout loss at home to the Baltimore Ravens—Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals seemed to have an advantage on paper heading into their Thursday night matchup with the Houston Texans. The visitors were coming off a blowout loss, without their top-three tight ends and starting rookie Deshaun Watson on the road in a short week.

    Three field goals, no touchdowns, a loss and the firing of the offensive coordinator later, it's time to start to worry about Dalton and the Bengals offense.

    Granted, Houston came to town with last year's top-ranked defense that now has J.J. Watt back in the lineup, but the play-calling and execution were both off all night long for the Bengals. After a fumble on an end-around early in the game that almost went for a big play, speedy rookie John Ross was benched. A.J. Green, one of the top targets in the league, saw only eight targets on the night and none down the stretch, and his biggest play of the game—a 50-yard reception—came when Dalton forced a throw into coverage and Green simply outleaped two defenders.

    For his part, the quarterback completed 20 of 35 passes for 224 yards and did not turn the football over, but numbers aside this was not a good performance for the second straight week. Dalton had a chance for a huge play to Brandon LaFell on a double-move, for example, but badly overthrew his target. A touchdown came off the board to Tyler Eifert when the receiver stepped out of bounds before coming back in and catching the ball in the end zone. Clearly, that's not Dalton's fault, but he missed a number of throws down the stretch as well, and despite having numerous chances to get back into the game and perhaps come out with the victory, the Bengals fell to 0-2.

    So quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor steps into the big chair and is now tasked with turning this offense around after Ken Zampese was fired. Off an 0-2 start with two straight home losses, the Bengals now get to visit Lambeau Field and take on the banged-up Packers. Either they right the ship in a hurry, or people will question Dalton's future in Cincinnati even more.

24. Eli Manning, New York Giants

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Last Week: 23

    Though Eli Manning has regressed as a deep-ball thrower in the last few seasons, it's tough to evaluate him on his own given the New York Giants' combination of subpar pass protection and questionable play-calling decisions. Manning had Odell Beckham Jr. back for this game after his best receiver was out for Week 1 with an ankle injury, and it was thought that the combination of Beckham, free-agent signing Brandon Marshall and rookie tight end Evan Engram would regenerate a passing game that frightened nobody in 2016. But the three were rarely on the field together, and though a pitch count was understandable in Beckham's case, not using Marshall more as a big possession receiver is a weird call, especially given New York's average running game.

    That said, Manning's primary issue is his shifting and makeshift offensive line can't block for him consistently, and nowhere is that more apparent that at the left tackle position. Ereck Flowers has been an unmitigated disaster on Manning's blind side—a situation head coach and play-caller Ben McAdoo makes even worse by refusing to give Flowers help most of the time.

    Manning finished the night in a 24-10 loss with 22 completions in 32 attempts for 239 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Most of his throws were short to offset the protection, but his few big plays didn't produce big dividends.

    Perhaps the most frustrating sequence came in the third quarter, when it appeared that Manning would lead the Giants on a 75-yard touchdown drive. He hit tight end Jerrell Adams on a 38-yard pass despite pressure all around him, and followed that up with a 17-yarder to Marshall. But two penalties and a series of inefficient plays doomed the Giants to a field goal after landing at the Lions' 1-yard line.

    Manning isn't the only problem with this offense, but at this point in his career, he's not the kind of quarterback who can elevate his teammates beyond their own limitations. That might be the epitaph for the Giants' 2017 season. Held to less than 20 points for the eighth consecutive game, this offense has no power and no consistency.

23. Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Last Week: 25

    Just a week ago, everything seemed right in Jacksonville. Starting their season on the road against a divisional opponent, the Jaguars tormented Houston quarterbacks to the tune of 10 sacks. Rookie running back Leonard Fournette chipped in 100 yards rushing on 26 carries including his first NFL touchdown, and quarterback Blake Bortles was effective in the blowout win, completing 11 of 21 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown.

    That certainly changed in a hurry.

    In their home opener against another divisional opponent, the Jaguars kept things close and only trailed 6-3 to the visiting Tennessee Titans at halftime, but then the score got out of hand quickly in the third quarter, when the visitors outscored the Jaguars 17-0, en route to the 37-16 victory. Bortles did complete 20 of 34 passes for 223 yards and a touchdown, but he had two interceptions and also lost a fumble on a strip-sack from Brian Orakpo. On that play he did not have a chance, as he faced immediate pressure off the edge, tried to climb the pocket but ran out of time. Also, his first interception came on a pass tipped at the line of scrimmage and into the arms of a Titans defender. But the second pick came on a pass that was poorly placed and behind his target that was also tipped into the air and intercepted.

    As he often does, Bortles seemed to improve late in the game facing a big deficit. His best throw of the afternoon came on a deep out pattern in a Flood Concept, and he showed good anticipation on that pass with the ball coming out well before the break. He also chipped in the late touchdown after the game was in hand. But this loss made it clear that if the Jaguars can keep games close and rely on their defense and the running game, they'll have a chance, but if Bortles makes mistakes or they fall behind, it might be tough for them to get back into games and/or pull out wins solely relying on the passing attack.

22. Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Last Week: 27

    At halftime of Arizona's 16-13 win over the Indianapolis Colts, Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians was asked what the primary issue was with his offense—Arians' team had scored just three points at the half.

    "Quarterback," Arians said.

    Palmer did rally his offense in the second half, throwing a 45-yard touchdown to J.J. Nelson, but finishing his day with 19 completions in 36 attempts for 332 yards, that touchdown and an interception? More is expected of Palmer, especially in the accuracy department.

    Another big problem for Arizona's offense was the injury absence of running back David Johnson, Palmer's primary target much of last season. Without Johnson in the game, Palmer looked slow and tentative in his reads, and he had clear timing and rhythm issues with his receivers. He struggled to make the intermediate cross-body throw, a sign of declining arm strength. Palmer got off a nice 46-yard pass to tight end Ifeanyi Momah as Momah beat Indy's coverage near the end of the first quarter, but on the play, he had a clean pocket and time to set perfectly. But the Cards were unable to score on that drive—Palmer underthrew a screen pass at one point and missed Larry Fitzgerald in the end zone after throwing a 15-yard strike to get the ball down to the Colts' 1-yard line.

    The interception was another mistake—Palmer threw to Nelson as the receiver was double-covered downfield, and rookie safety Malik Hooker came down with the ball. Nelson was running a straight vertical route, but Palmer couldn't get the ball there before Hooker converged on the coverage. On the fourth-quarter touchdown, Nelson beat double coverage downfield, and Palmer got the ball past the defenders. But overall, this version of Carson Palmer struggles with the combination of accuracy and velocity required in Arians' offense, and you can see why the coach is frustrated.

21. Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    Last Week: 18

    Jared Goff wasn't spectacular in the Rams' Week 2 loss to the Redskins, but for the second straight regular-season game under new head coach Sean McVay, he looked like an entirely different quarterback than the one we saw in his rookie campaign. Goff completed 15 of 25 passes for 224 yards, one touchdown and one interception, and he faced a ton of pressure from Washington's outstanding defensive line, especially to his front side. The primary game plan was to throw short out of play action to counter the pass rush, and there were times when pressure came through so quickly, Goff couldn't even set his feet to throw.

    Still—and quite unlike last season—Goff did well under the pressure, completing four of nine passes for 60 yards and a touchdown when under duress. He still needs to work on stepping up in the pocket and resetting, but this was a guy who would sail the ball all over the place under pressure last year. Goff did botch the timing on a few deep passes, but his long pass to tight end Gerald Everett out of busted coverage showed progression in the way Goff cleared the pocket and made the throw.

    The fourth-quarter interception to Redskins linebacker Mason Foster was a misread—Goff simply missed Foster jumping the route—and it killed any chances the Rams had to tie the game. But overall, Goff availed himself well in this game and showed how well McVay is preparing him for success...not to mention how obviously the Rams coaching staff failed to do so last season.

20. Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    Last Week: 21

    After a Week 1 performance against the Eagles in which Kirk Cousins completed just 23 of 40 passes for 240 yards, one touchdown and one interception, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden made a wise schematic adaptation before facing the Rams and their combustible defense—run the ball as much as possible.

    That worked like a charm, as the Redskins loaded up on 229 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns on 39 carries in a 27-20 win. Cousins was relegated to the role of game manager, and he did that pretty well, completing 18 of 27 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown. He didn't attempt a single deep pass, and his completions came from easy first-read openings that were designed to sit under the Rams' coverages.

    Two of Cousins' incompletions came back-to-back on the same drive in the second quarter when he was unsuccessful on fade passes to receiver Josh Doctson and running back Chris Thompson. The concept of the end-zone fade in Washington's offense has been controversial for some time because Cousins has not yet developed into a top-tier fade thrower, but the coaching staff insists that it's a viable play.

    So far, no good.

    The game-winning touchdown did come from Cousins' arm, though, as he hit receiver Ryan Grant across his body out of a bunch-left formation in which Grant got open easily. As long as the Redskins can run the ball well and rely on their stout defensive line, allowing Cousins to stay in his lane, they'll be successful. Making Cousins do too much without the proper play design isn't a good idea, and it doesn't appear that the more expansive play designs survived former offensive coordinator McVay's departure to Los Angeles to be the Rams' new head coach.

19. Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo Bills

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    Last Week: 16

    With a score that more resembled a late-summer Carolina League contest between two High-A minor league baseball teams, and not two NFL offenses led by explosive and athletic quarterbacks, the Buffalo Bills dropped a close contest 9-3 at the hands of the Carolina Panthers on the road. For the second straight week, Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor was effective in the short passing game and with his legs when the pocket broke down, but when Buffalo needed to push the ball more in the passing game, there were issues.

    Taylor completed 17 of 25 passes for only 125 yards on the day, as the focal point of the offense was again the ground attack and the quick passing game. Running back LeSean McCoy was targeted the most in the passing game (seven times), catching six passes for 34 yards. The offense relied on many quick passing concepts, such as curls/spacing, curl/flat and flat/slant, trying to stretch the defense horizontally. But Carolina did a very good job in its underneath coverage, trying to constrict those throwing windows and taking easy throws away from Taylor whenever it could. Taylor did have some chances in the downfield passing game early in the contest but missed those opportunities. There was a deep-out pattern as well as a vertical route that he missed, and on both those plays, he needs to do a better job of keeping the ball in the field of play and giving his receiver a chance.

    On Bills' final drive of the game, when they needed to get the ball in the end zone, they showed a greater sense of urgency and incorporated more vertical-based concepts into the play-calling. It was then when Taylor seemed more comfortable and more dangerous as a passer. He got the ball out quicker and did seem more decisive in his reads. But on the final two throws of the game, both deep routes, he missed yet again. He overthrew a deep route into coverage, and on the final play, he had rookie Zay Jones open near the goal line on a deep-corner route, but he left the throw too far inside and the receiver could not complete the twisting catch. Taylor is trying to settle into new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison's more West Coast-based passing attack, and it seems like some kinks still need to be worked out in the passing game up in Buffalo.

18. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys

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    Joe Mahoney/Associated Press

    Last Week: 13

    The primary surprise in the Cowboys' 42-17 loss to the Denver Broncos was the poor performance from running back Ezekiel Elliott, who ran nine times for a grand total of eight yards. But the ways Denver was able to bottle up Prescott? That wasn't far behind. Prescott completed 30 of 50 passes for just 238 yards, managing two touchdown passes but throwing two interceptions as well. Prescott has developed well as a quarterback through a great rookie season and into his sophomore campaign, but his performance against Denver's excellent defense showed he has a way to go.

    The game plan for Prescott was smart, given the potential for the Broncos pass rush to carve up Dallas' offensive line—offensive coordinator Scott Linehan had a bunch of short, easy reads in his arsenal for his young quarterback, hence the low yardage total. When Prescott didn't have his first read open, however, things went south in a hurry.

    Not that Prescott's first pick was his fault—he threw a quick outside slant to Dez Bryant, who dropped the well-thrown ball, and it sailed right into the hands of cornerback Chris Harris Jr. The second pick also had Bryant as the target—Prescott threw to his top receiver, but Bryant couldn't stop cornerback Aqib Talib from boxing him out, and he took over the route for the turnover.

    Prescott threw a similar pass to Bryant earlier in the game for a touchdown, so this was a case of Talib being smart enough to know the route concept and how to adjust to it. He also hit a wide-open Jason Witten for a touchdown in a rare case of bad coverage, but for the most part, Prescott couldn't take more than the Broncos were willing to give him.

    It's not an indictment of Prescott's potential to say that in his second season, he's a quarterback who must be managed within a system. Most young quarterbacks are like this, and it's also true that as much as Prescott didn't impress, the system didn't hold up—from the run game to pass protection to receiver dominance.

17. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    Last Week: 20

    Newton completed 20 of 32 passes for 228 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions in the Panthers' ugly 9-3 win over the Buffalo Bills, but the most important number in this game was six—that's the number of sacks Newton took against Buffalo's ravenous defensive front. The sacks were for all the wrong reasons—poor protection, Newton waiting too long to throw, and good Buffalo coverage. But it was hard for Newton to get Carolina's passing game going when he was running for his life most of the time. Losing tight end Greg Olsen with a broken foot certainly didn't help, as Olsen has been Newton's most reliable receivers for a number of years.

    More than once in this game, Newton missed open receivers later in the progression; he seemed to be pre-determining his reads more than usual. And rookie running back Christian McCaffrey, who was supposed to redefine the Panthers' passing game with his versatility out of the backfield, caught just four passes on five targets for 34 yards. McCaffrey had to pass-protect when he could have been helping with route concepts; another outgrowth of the performance of the offensive line.

    Newton was looking downfield on several of his sacks and pressures, but he completed just one of two passes of 20 or more air yards. This is a new conservatism for Carolina, and it's compounded by the fact Newton is missing high on several throws. Mechanically, he's not following through consistently, and that leads to errant throws.

    Newton's team stands at 2-0 despite two sub-standard performances from the 2015 NFL MVP; eventually it'll come home to roost if things don't improve. With Olsen out several weeks at least, that challenge just became harder.

16. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Last Week: 15

    Before the 2017 season, Carson Wentz said he thought the running game would be his team's "bread and butter." That hasn't happened, of course—the Philadelphia Eagles are putting as much on Wentz as they did in his rookie season. Wentz completed 25 of 46 passes for 333 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in a 27-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Given the quality of the Chiefs defense and the amount Wentz had put on his shoulders—he led Eagles rushers with four scrambles for 55 yards—it was an impressive outing overall.

    When he was under pressure, which happened on 18 of his 56 dropbacks, Wentz was composed in the pocket for the most part. He's clearly going to make the tough throw with bodies around him before he's going to bail, and when he does bail, he's big and quick enough to create positive yardage in the run game. In this game, though, Wentz was more inclined to give throwaways—he completed two of 10 passes under pressure.

    Not that Pederson game-planned short stuff too often; Wentz had nine passing attempts of 20 or more air yards and completed three for 99 yards. He overthrew several deep balls from the pocket, and given how he did on scramble throws against the Redskins in Week 1, he might do better to roll out and get a clear vision before he lets it go.

    Wentz would be in better shape if the Eagles had a credible run game, of course, but that doesn't look likely this season. In the absence of that, Wentz will have to continue to develop at an accelerated rate.

15. Jay Cutler, Miami Dolphins

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Last Week: 22

    After an unscheduled bye week due to Hurricane Irma, the Miami Dolphins made their 2017 debut on the road against the Los Angeles Chargers. This also marked the return of Jay Cutler, who as of early summer was more likely to be calling this game from the booth than he was playing in it. But with the injury to Ryan Tannehill, the veteran quarterback came out of retirement and took over the job for his former offensive coordinator and now Dolphins head coach Adam Gase. After the first game, we can see why. Cutler looked very comfortable in the offense and completed 24 of 33 passes for 230 yards and a touchdown in Miami's come-from-behind victory.

    What stood out watching Cutler in his 2017 debut were some of the hallmarks of his career to date. Upper-level velocity and the ability to make throws off a variety of platforms were apparent yet again, as was generally very solid ball placement to all levels of the field. Cutler also did a very good job throughout the game extending plays with his feet, buying time for his receivers in scramble drill situations. For example, trailing by four early in the fourth quarter, Cutler found himself rolling to his right and looking for a receiver to break open. He spotted DeVante Parker cutting upfield late in the play and dropped in a touch pass that Parker was able to haul in keep the drive alive, and the Dolphins would go on to kick a field goal and cut into the Chargers' lead.

    Cutler also made quick decisions throughout the afternoon, and Gase worked in a number of wide receiver screens as well as shallow concepts that tried to take advantage of the ability of Miami receivers after the catch. In addition, the offense saw some of the downfield ability from Parker, who bailed Cutler out on one underthrown vertical route—the receiver simply out-leaped the defender to take the football and a potential interception away. It was just one game, but perhaps life back in the league will be better than upstairs in the booth for Cutler.

14. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Last Week: 17

    Joe Flacco was eased back into the starting lineup last week in Baltimore's season-opening victory on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals. Flacco attempted only 17 passes in that effort, and thanks to four turnovers from Andy Dalton the Ravens were able to cruise to a shutout victory. But the offensive coaching staff seemed to put more on his plate in Week 2, and Flacco responded by completing 25 of 34 passes for 217 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

    A good sign for Flacco and this offense was how effective he was in the boot-action game, something that has been a staple of Baltimore's offense for years dating back to Gary Kubiak's days as the Ravens' offensive coordinator. Flacco looked very good on these plays and showed the ability to move around and extend plays in the pocket by avoiding a number of potential sacks. Both of his touchdowns came while on the move, with his first going to running back Javorius Allen in a scramble-drill situation and the second on a sprint out to Jeremy Maclin just before time expired in the first half. 

    The interception to defensive back Jason McCourty was a bad overthrow into double coverage, and that's something we've gotten used to about Flacco's play—the occasional dud downfield. He doesn't have the effective deep passing game he used to, though that's not entirely his fault. Under offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg in 2016 and 2017, Flacco has been tasked to throw the ball in more of a possession-based offense, and it could be argued that the overemphasis on the short pass has dulled what used to be Flacco's most apparent positive trait: his downfield arm. 

13. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Last Week: 10

    Through the first two games of the 2017 season, only Houston's Deshaun Watson has faced pressure on more of his dropbacks than Russell Wilson, and Watson is a rookie quarterback whose left tackle (Duane Brown) is holding out. Any quarterback who faces pressure on 43.6 percent of his dropbacks is not going to be able to be the center of a credible and consistent passing game, and that's the fault of line coach Tom Cable and the Seahawks' front office more than it is Wilson's.

    Even Wilson's lone touchdown pass in Seattle's 12-9 win over the San Francisco 49ers—the team's first touchdown this season—came out of poor blocking. Both left tackle Rees Odhiambo and right guard Mark Glowinski let their defenders through, and Wilson would have been sacked were it not for those two 49ers defenders bumping into each other. From there, Wilson was able to sneak out of the pocket and throw up a prayer to receiver Paul Richardson on the left side of the end zone.

    Other than that, Wilson did not resemble the quarterback capable of explosive plays he's been in previous years. The offensive line issues have caused Wilson to be balkier in the pocket than before. Two of his sacks came out of coverage, and he's undergone some mechanical regression—he's dropping his arm before throws, leading him to be inaccurate high. Wilson completed 23 of 39 passes for just 198 yards; short stuff was about all he could manage with the time he had.

    Yes, Seattle's receivers dropped several passes, including two possible touchdowns, but the offensive issues start up front and have trickled down to the quarterback. That's a systemic issue that won't likely be fixed this season unless this line makes a remarkable turnaround. Wilson isn't entirely innocent, but it's tough to name a single quarterback who could survive with the protection he's given.

12. Trevor Siemian, Denver Broncos

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    Joe Mahoney/Associated Press

    Last Week: 19

    The Denver Broncos pushed their record to 2-0 on Sunday with a big victory over the Dallas Cowboys. The home team was able to take advantage of a number of mistakes en route to the 42-17 victory, including two interceptions thrown by quarterback Dak Prescott. But on offense, Trevor Siemian had another solid effort, completing 22 of 32 passes for 231 yards and four touchdowns with a single interception.

    Two examples of what has made Siemian so effective thus far came on the opening drive for Denver. The first was a pivot route he threw to Demaryius Thomas, where the quarterback got the ball out well before the break from Thomas and led him to the outside and upfield, putting the football in the perfect spot on his upfield shoulder. Later, the Broncos closed out the drive with a scoring strike from Siemian to Emmanuel Sanders. On that play, Siemian was able to drop the throw perfectly into the back of the end zone, clearing the underneath defenders while still keeping the throw in the field of play where only the receiver could get to the it.

    The one interception seemed to be the result of what Joe Buck described from the booth as a "broken play from the begnning." Siemian was under center for the snap and looked to carry out a play-action fake, but the backs peeled to the outside immediately and the fake went to no one. Siemian then tried to hit Thomas with the throw, but the timing was off as Siemian looked to throw a post route while his receiver throttled down on a curl. It was an acceptable mistake with a 25-point lead in the fourth quarter but something that Siemian and the Broncos will want to clean up going forward.

    Siemian was still strong on the day with the four touchdowns, including two on play-action boot concepts in the red zone where he can be dangerous. Sitting at 2-0, the Broncos look to be in good shape early in 2017, but after a trip to Buffalo next week they face a big test against Derek Carr and the Oakland Raiders.

11. Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Last Week: 11

    They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but after the endings the past two weeks, Philip Rivers might try to learn how to contribute on the field-goal team for the Chargers. Once again, Rivers drove Los Angeles into range in the closing moments, only this time rookie kicker Younghoe Koo missed a 44-yard attempt just wide to the right with seconds remaining.

    The miss negated another strong effort from the veteran quarterback, who completed 31 of 39 passes for 331 yards and a touchdown to tight end Antonio Gates. On the bulk of his throws, Rivers showed crisp velocity and good ball placement, and two of his incompletions were throwaways, while a third was due to route miscommunication between him and his receivers.

    There were two dangerous passes could have been intercepted. The first came on the play right before the touchdown pass to Gates, when it was clear Rivers was trying to get the tight end a few shots at breaking Tony Gonzalez's all-time record for touchdowns from the position. On the first play, Rivers floated a pass in Gates' direction in the end zone, and he was lucky it fell incomplete. Later in the game Rivers tried to hit a vertical route but forced the throw into coverage and was lucky it was overthrown, otherwise it could have been intercepted.

    However, Rivers was very efficient and accurate on the Chargers' final drive, completing all four of his throws to get the team in field-goal range. He threw four different pass routes on the drive, all with the same level of accuracy, hitting a quick out, a curl pattern, a running back circle route out of the backfield and finally a slant to get the Chargers into position. He even took a one-yard loss on his final snap of the game to get the ball centered for the kick, but it wasn't enough.

    The loss dropped Rivers and the Chargers to 0-2, and the schedule does not get any easier, as they host the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. Don't be surprised if you hear reports out of Los Angeles of Rivers hanging around the special teams' meetings this week...

10. Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Brian Blanco/Getty Images

    Last Week: 14

    The Buccaneers had to wait through Week 1 as a result of Hurricane Irma, and when Jameis Winston finally got on the field in Week 2, he looked tentative at times. Winston started his day with a couple of incompletions before getting into a rhythm with an intermediate pass over the middle to receiver Mike Evans. But the offensive fireworks expected when the Bucs signed DeSean Jackson in free agency didn't come to pass.

    Winston completed 18 of 30 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown against the Bears' middling secondary in a 29-7 win, connecting on just one of five passes of 20 or more air yards. His 13-yard touchdown pass to Evans was a masterpiece of contested-catch work by the receiver—Evans brought the ball in even though cornerback Marcus Cooper was all over him. Jackson, the ostensible centerpiece of Tampa Bay's passing game, caught three passes on seven targets for 39 yards. Winston overthrew Jackson more than once, and it could be a simple case of the two needing a bit more time to get on the same page.

    But overall, Winston's issues with the deep ball were mechanical in nature—he threw deep before he turned his throwing shoulder at times, and balls sailed on him as a result. These are minor fixes, but there are a few fundamental things Winston must work out before the Bucs' offense can live up to its potential.

9. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans

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    Logan Bowles/Getty Images

    Last Week: 7

    Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee Titans rebounded from their opening-week loss to Carr and the Raiders by going down to Jacksonville and pounding the Jaguars, 37-16. Mariota completed 15 of 27 passes on the afternoon for 215 yards and a touchdown along with one interception. While the Titans were slow to get on track offensively, they opened up a commanding lead in the second half and slowly salted the game away.

    What stood out watching Mariota on Sunday, in addition to the elusiveness he always displays in the pocket and the added dimension he adds as a ball-carrier, is how he is starting to speed up his progression reads. A prime example came on a dig route he threw to open up Tennessee's fourth drive of the game. On a 1st-and-10 from their own 14-yard line, Mariota opened up to his left to read a HOSS Concept—a two-man combination of a hitch and a seam route that is a staple of New England's offense. Seeing that covered, Mariota quickly worked back to the other side of the formation and threw a perfect pass on a dig route under duress for a first down.

    Mariota's touchdown came on a well-designed and executed tight end screen play to rookie Jonnu Smith. Facing a 1st-and-20 on the Jacksonville 32-yard line, Mariota faked a handoff before setting in the pocket to hit Smith with the easy throw. From there, it was all the rookie tight end, who took it the distance for the score.

    The one big mistake on the day was the interception Mariota threw midway through the second quarter. The quarterback broke perhaps the cardinal rule of playing the position: Never throw down the middle late. Mariota tried to hit a crossing route but the throw was well behind his target, allowing the defender to undercut the route and make the easy interception.

    Mariota and the Titans will face a tough test this Sunday when the Seattle Seahawks and their tough defense come to town. Mariota will need to be much more careful with the football, especially against that pair of safeties, if the home team is to emerge victorious.

8. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Last Week: 5

    Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter had a choice to make when facing the Giants on Monday night: Test New York's great secondary despite the injury loss of cornerback Janoris Jenkins, or use his iffy running game against Big Blue's towering defensive line. Cooter went against type and led with the run—the Lions ran 32 times for 138 yards and set the tone that way.

    So, Matthew Stafford handed over his claim as one of the NFL's pass-heaviest quarterbacks. Stafford completed 15 of just 21 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns. But when Stafford had to make big plays, he made them count.

    He hit Marvin Jones Jr. with a deep touch pass for a 27-yard touchdown in the first quarter, and eluded pressure to hit tight end Eric Ebron on the run with a second-quarter score. Stafford also added 23 yards on three scrambles.

    Stafford wasn't the big story of the night, but after a stint early in his career when his arm and athleticism overwhelmed his on-field savvy, he's become one of the NFL's most reliable and consistent quarterbacks. The Lions are off to a 2-0 start following their 24-10 Monday night win. If the running game can stick around, they could be a real threat.

7. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    Last Week: 9

    Matt Ryan didn't look like a returning NFL MVP in Week 1 against the Bears—not terrible by any means, but new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian did not present the same pre-snap movement and route creativity that former OC Kyle Shanahan did. Against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night, however, Sarkisian opened up the playbook a bit, and Ryan benefited.

    Ryan completed 19 of 28 passes for 252 yards and a touchdown in the Falcons' 34-23 win; not earth-shattering numbers, but he had 13 of those completions and 201 of those yards in the first half as Atlanta built up a 24-7 lead. In the second half, it was more about running out the clock.

    When he had to make big plays, he did. Ryan threw a beautiful deep pass to Julio Jones out of boot action on the first drive of the game—Jones ran a deep over route, and Ryan hit him with perfect anticipation. The second drive was weird, with two throwaways and a sack, as if Ryan were calibrating Sarkisian's playbook to what he was used to.

    He missed Jones a few times on open crossing routes, but this could be a case of Jones as a secondary read in the progression, and Ryan still getting used to things. The second-quarter touchdown pass to running back Tevin Coleman was encouraging—Ryan had Coleman wide open as the Falcons gave Green Bay's defense too many receivers in a flood concept to the right side. The Falcons have the personnel to take advantage of the numbers game—something Shanahan implicitly understood.

    Overall, it was a more expansive game plan for Ryan, and he responded well. Expect the Falcons offense to be more explosive in the passing game in the coming weeks as everyone gets on the same page.

6. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Last Week: 12

    If the Saints wind up with their fifth losing season in the last six years, it won't be Drew Brees' fault. But there isn't much he can do to stop it unless he can play cornerback at an All-Pro level. New Orleans' defense is simply too porous to compete. The Saints' 36-20 loss to the Patriots, which put the team at 0-2 on the year, was yet another example. Tom Brady threw for three touchdown passes in the first quarter alone, putting up a 20-3 lead. After that, the Pats played keep-away, possessing the ball for over 35 minutes.

    Thus, and as it always seems to be, it was up to Brees to make up the difference. Rookie running back Alvin Kamara is proving to be a real stud in the passing game—his 38-yard catch from Brees early in the second quarter came as Kamara ran a vertical sideline route, beating safety Patrick Chung one-on-one. Kamara should create a ton of mismatches this year for Brees.

    Brees hit receiver Brandon Coleman on a couple of nice deep balls, including a touchdown, and he hit on a gorgeous deep pass to receiver Michael Thomas with cornerback Stephon Gilmore eating Thomas' dust.

    Brees completed 27 of 45 passes for 356 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He tied with Carson Palmer and Carson Wentz for the most deep attempts in Week 3, completing three of those passes for 113 yards. He was a master on the field, but there wasn't enough time to make a comeback from the hole his defense dug him.

    Something tells me Brees is used to that by now.

5. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    Last Week: 2

    Rodgers' performance on Sunday night against Atlanta's excellent defense was a tale of two halves. In the first, he completed 10 of 18 passes for 85 yards, no touchdowns and an interception as Green Bay fell behind 24-7. But he turned things around in the second half—at least enough to make the game closer in an eventual 34-23 Falcons victory.

    Without both of his starting offensive tackles, and with top receiver Jordy Nelson hurt in the first quarter, Rodgers went with a ton of short passes early, just to get the offense in rhythm. There was a deep attempt to Randall Cobb late in the first quarter as Rodgers ran out of the pocket, but he undershot Cobb on the comeback. The interception came late in the first half, with Rodgers backed up in his own end zone. Rodgers overthrew receiver Geronimo Allison, and Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant was on the spot for the pick.

    Rodgers opened the second half with a weird response to pressure—a near-backward pass that was counted as a fumble, and Trufant recovered that for a touchdown. But he then got in a better rhythm with the short passes, and with 12:50 left in the game, he made one of those Aaron Rodgers throws most quarterbacks wouldn't dare to attempt. On 4th-and-7 from the Atlanta 33-yard line, Rodgers hit Davante Adams with a perfect cross-body throw against iso coverage from Falcons cornerback Robert Alford. The throw was amazing, made even more so by the fact that Rodgers was falling away as he threw the ball.

    This wasn't a day for Rodgers' deep balls, though—the Adams touchdown was the only completion of 20 air yards or more. This was a day when Rodgers hung in against a ton of pressure and a lot of good coverage and eventually brought his rare talent to bear. Sadly for the Packers, it took too long, and the Falcons were too explosive on offense for it to make a difference in the win column.

4. Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Last Week: 6

    Derek Carr has started 2017 with two straight masterful performances. Carr seems determined to justify his offseason contract extension, and he followed up his two-touchdown night against the Tennessee Titans in Week 1 with a three-score outing Sunday against the New York Jets.

    Carr completed 23 of 28 passes for 230 yards, with all three touchdowns going to wide receiver Michael Crabtree on short, goal-line plays. His 82 percent completion mark against the Jets was a career high. His quarterback rating for Sunday, 136.6, was his third best ever.

    More impressive is how decisive he has been in the pocket. Among all passers in Week 2, Carr displayed the fastest time to throw, according to NFL Next Gen Statistics, taking an average of only 2.11 seconds from snap to throw on his passing attempts. Carr shows this decisiveness regardless of the route concept.

    The touchdown plays were all impressive. First was a perfectly placed goal-line fade route, thrown high enough where only Crabtree was in position to make a play on the football. The second came on a vertical route to the receiver, where Crabtree adjusted well to the underthrown football and pulled in the throw, then skipped into the end zone. The third came on a sprint-out design, where Crabtree showed a goal-line fade, then broke to the outside where Carr hit him with a well-placed throw on the out route.

    Oakland now faces back-to-back road tests, first when it goes east to take on Washington and then in two weeks when it opens its AFC West slate in Denver. But given this hot start and Carr's decisiveness in the pocket to date, the Raiders are in good shape as they head into this stretch.

3. Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    Last Week: 8

    In these rankings last week, it was posited that one game does not make a season, and we would need to see more big performances from Alex Smith to start moving him up the rankings.

    Perhaps that time is upon us.

    Smith did not produce the kinds of statistics in Week 2 that caught everyone's attention on opening night, completing 21 of 28 passes for 251 yards and a touchdown, but it was the way he executed the offense in the face of tremendous pressure from the Philadelphia Eagles, and made more than a few plays with his legs that helped change the course of the game, that stood out. He began on script and showed tremendous timing and anticipation on his passes, including well-placed throws to Travis Kelce and Chris Conley on the opening drive. But as the game wore on and the Eagles started to get home on more and more plays, Smith was at his best.

    On a drive near the end of the third quarter, after the Eagles' scored to take a 10-6 lead, the Chiefs faced a 3rd-and-4 in their own territory, and a three-and-out might have kept momentum all on Philadelphia's sideline. But Smith made a quick decision on a curls concept and drilled a throw into Kelce in a tight throwing window to move the chains. On the next play, Kareem Hunt ripped off a long scoring run to give the Chiefs the lead. A punt there might have resulted in a different final score.

    Later in the fourth quarter, Smith was blitzed again on a 3rd-and-4 situation at the Eagles' 25-yard line, and turned what could have been a disastrous sack into a five-yard gain, keeping the drive alive. A few plays later, Kelce was in the end zone on a shovel pass for a touchdown, and the hosts were back in front.

    Sometimes, winning football games requires a quarterback to do the little things to lead his team. Opening night in New England, Smith did the big things that everyone remembers, but on Sunday against the Eagles, Smith did a lot of little things that only his teammates and coaches might recall but that could foreshadow a season in Kansas City to remember.

2. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Last Week: 1

    Last week's top quarterback slides back a tiny bit, thanks to the big offensive outburst from Tom Brady of the New England Patriots. But Ben Roethlisberger turned in a strong performance in his own right, completing 23 of 35 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns against a strong defense in the Minnesota Vikings. Pittsburgh started slowly, with Roethlisberger missing on his first throw, but came back to complete his next two passes, an out pattern that showed good velocity and placement and then a quick Bang 8 post pass to a Martavis Bryant that was drilled into his target for the early 7-0 lead.

    Roethlisberger did go through some up and down streaks on Sunday. He completed six straight passes on a drive in the closing minutes of the first half but ended that drive with three straight incompletions that included two overthrown passes, and the Steelers were forced to punt the football away before halftime. He then completed six straight passes over the course of two drives but ended the second with an incompletion on a screen pass and then a sack, and both drives resulted in field goals instead of touchdowns.

    Finally, he was effective in the fourth quarter, completing all eight of his passing attempts as the Steelers worked to ice the game away. Two of those came with the quarterback on the move, the first on a 2nd-and-3 play where Roethlisberger escaped the pocket and found Eli Rogers for a short gain on a crossing route, the second when the Steelers used a play-action boot concept, and the quarterback was able to find Rogers again while rolling to his right, this time for a 16-yard gain and a first down into Minnesota territory.

    With Le'Veon Bell slowly returning to game shape, and the number of weapons around Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh is a dangerous team in the AFC. 

1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots

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    Bill Feig/Associated Press

    Last Week: 3

    A week ago, there was true panic on the Boston-area airwaves. While some concern focused on the Boston Red Sox and the suddenly hot New York Yankees, the bulk of the attention centered on Tom Brady and the 0-1 New England Patriots. Coming off a disappointing season-opening loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, wide receiver Julian Edelman's injury and the fears of mortality surrounding tom Brady, tension was in the air.

    Enter the magic elixir of the New Orleans Saints' defense.

    Brady and Co. returned to form on Sunday, with the veteran quarterback completing 30 of 39 passes for 447 yards and three touchdowns, for a passer rating of 139.6 and a QBR of 91.3, both stratospheric numbers. Brady was deadly efficient when targeting mismatches in the passing game, and two of the early touchdowns came when the Patriots went after rookie linebacker Alex Anzalone. The first was on a slot-seam route to running back Rex Burkhead on a well-designed play that saw both Burkhead and fullback James Develin aligned in a slot look to the right side of the offense. The second was a long catch-and-run to tight end Rob Gronkowski, where Brady was able to buy enough time in the pocket with his feet, stay upright and then find his tight end when he turned vertical in the scramble drill.

    Bill Belichick and Brady will always find some negatives to point out, and there were two potential interceptions thrown by Brady that came off the board due to Saints penalties. The first came when Brady caught New Orleans with 12 men on the field and snapped the ball, but then floated a curious pass into coverage that was intercepted. The second was a dig route that Brady threw behind Gronkowski that was undercut by the defender, only to have that play erased due to a defensive holding penalty.

    So there were mistakes for sure. But on the whole, Brady was able to take advantage of the New Orleans secondary and settle some of the nerves back in New England. With Deshaun Watson and the banged-up Texans coming to town on Sunday, another performance like this might be in the works to further ease minds in the Boston area...unless those Yankees keep winning.

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