QB Index, Week 3: Russell Wilson stuck in a loop

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Russell Wilson and the Seahawks' offense are stuck back in their September version of "Groundhog Day." No matter how they change the offseason narratives -- the reshuffled offensive line, Wilson's health regimen, the ability for Wilson to make it "his" offense -- the Seahawks wake up, only to re-live the same start to the season. It always begins slowly.

This can be comforting. The familiarity of early season offensive struggles should prevent panic in the streets of Seattle. Improvement will come. But with Wilson turning 29 years old in November, in his sixth NFL season, everyone involved should be getting tired of this script.

The systemic offensive line problems in Seattle are well-documented, with general manager John Schneider sharing blame with the players and with coach Pete Carroll's loyalty to offensive line coach Tom Cable. What's less clear is how the line's struggles continue to impact Wilson. During Sunday's 12-9 win against the 49ers, Wilson often left the pocket early, anticipating pressure before it ever arrived. He ran into a few sacks on his own and uncharacteristically missed open throws high with an elongated throwing motion, mostly failing to create the improvisational magic the team has come to rely on. Wilson threw six straight incompletions at one point, and the Seahawks fell behind the 49ers at home in the fourth quarter before he eventually saved the day. Like he always does.

If this all sounds familiar, well, it happened almost exactly the same way last year. Wilson escaped from a depressing outing with a late touchdown drive to beat Miami, 12-10, in the 2016 season opener. The Seahawks lost their first road game a year ago (against the Rams in Week 2) without scoring a touchdown, just like they did in their first road game this season, in Green Bay in Week 1. After two weeks, the team has the lowest-ranked left tackle by Pro Football Focus (left tackle Rees Odhiambo) and the third-lowest ranked guard (Mark Glowinski).

Wilson does a great job compensating for his surroundings, but it's taking a toll. He's 30th (!) in yards-per-attempt (5.39) on this young season, and he doesn't rank among the top 20 quarterbacks in Football Outsiders' DVOA or Pro Football Focus' ratings. He will problem-solve and get better, but probably not enough to have that MVP season so many envisioned for him, that dream season where Wilson's talent and his historic defense crested at the same time.

Perhaps this is just who Wilson will be in Seattle, forever fighting uphill on offense while benefitting from Carroll's defense. I just thought there would be more.

This is the Quarterback Index. I grade every QB start throughout the season and will rank them based on 2017 play alone soon enough. Since there are only two games to evaluate thus far, this week's top 15 is based on answering one simple question: Who would I want as my quarterback for the 2017 campaign?

THE GREATS

1) Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers (Last week: 1)

2) Tom Brady, New England Patriots (LW: 2)

Brady's first half against the Saints comprised some of the best 30 minutes of his entire career, combining his pre-snap mastery with his ability to adjust mid-play to almost anything.

("Whatever, it was against the Saints," replies someone who clearly didn't watch the game.)

Tony Romo did a fantastic job on CBS pointing out how Brady can quickly deliver the ball from uncomfortable platforms. It's remarkable that Brady's defining early-career trait, his pocket presence, is now in some ways improved, because he's undeniably better at avoiding the pass rush. There was simply no defense for some of his throws in New Orleans.

TOP SHELF

3) Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers (LW: 3)

4) Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons (LW: 5)

5) Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders (LW: 6)

6) Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints (LW: 7)

7) Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions (LW: 10)

8) Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks (LW: 4)

9) Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers (LW: 9)

10) Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys (LW: 8)

11) Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers (LW: 11)

In a league marked by caution and calculated decision-making, it remains a treat to watch Roethlisberger and the Steelers always go for it. Nursing a three-point lead over the Browns in Week 1 with under three minutes to play, when most teams would be draining the clock, Big Ben let it fly downfield to a well-covered Antonio Brown. Game over. Against Minnesota on Sunday, Roethlisberger kept going deep with impunity, as if he earned extra points for air yards. My favorite throw against the Vikings traveled 57 yards downfield, thrown by Roethlisberger flat-footed just before he was hit, in the first play of the second quarter. The ball struck receiver Martavis Bryant in the helmet, but Bryant drew a pass-interference penalty, setting up Roethlisberger's second touchdown toss of the day three plays later.

Stafford has evolved into that franchise quarterback who plays at a reliable level week after week. He looks so comfortable in offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter's offense, and his "sublime" pocket movement, as Chris Wesseling once put it, was on display for a national audience on "Monday Night Football." Stafford's performance against the Cardinals was my second-highest graded Week 1 effort, behind only Sam Bradford. It helps that Stafford's pass protection is improved, aside from left tackle Greg Robinson. Always a streaky player, Stafford has established a much higher baseline game. It's amazing to think he was benched for Dan Orlovsky less than two years ago.

NEXT LEVEL

12) Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (LW: 12)

13) Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans (LW: 13)

14) Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs (LW: 15)

15) Trevor Siemian, Denver Broncos (LW: unranked)

Winston's first GamePass appearance of the year was highly anticipated (by me) based on the score of the Bucs' 29-7 win over the Bears, which is why I was mildly disappointed to see how little was required from Jameis for Tampa to go up 26-0, through no fault of his own. Any game from Winston without a near-interception or fumble is a step forward, and coach Dirk Koetter will take as many unflashy wins as he can get. Winston just missed on three deep shots to DeSean Jackson, so look for that connection to gain traction this week.

Broncos starter Trevor Siemian deserves a deeper dive at some point, but analysts and fans need to stop talking about the former seventh-round pick's limited "ceiling" as a player or some bogus narrative about him as a "game manager." If anything, he stood out last season because of his flash, for all those completions that required arm strength and a high degree of difficulty. He's started 16 NFL games and has 3,851 career passing yards, 24 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and 7.1 yards per attempt. Imagine if Jared Goff, Carson Wentz or virtually any other first-round quarterback put up those numbers.

Siemian is showing an improved sense of when to run this season and has a natural feel of how to move away from pressure to give him more time to throw. That will be especially important following the injury to left tackle Garett Bolles. Denver's running game and run defense look dramatically improved this season, but the team's pass protection through two weeks remains among the league's worst. Siemian will be required to keep completing those low-percentage throws while some talking head yammers on about his lack of "talent."

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

Check the Air Index each week to see which quarterbacks are delivering at the top of their game, just like FedEx Ground delivers with fast and affordable shipping.

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