While Peyton Manning ambles around the checkout counter on Sunday mornings, his football spirit lives on in New Jersey.
The low-percentage throws down the field are largely gone. The heaves under duress, which so often led to magic or disaster, are out of the repertoire. Instead, we see a quarterback who takes what the defense gives him. He dinks and dunks in a clean, boring fashion only livened up by his flashy young receivers. We see Peyton.
No quarterback has faced less pressure this season, according to Pro Football Focus, which can be partly attributed to Manning's quick decision making. Eli was always an expert at winning before the snap, but this transition to a safer quarterback has gradually taken over since coach Ben McAdoo hit town in 2014.
I chart a handful of categories each week while watching quarterbacks, including bad passes, great plays and near interceptions. Eli, much like Joe Flacco, used to consistently fill up the notebook in every category, good and bad. Now Eli is playing closer in style to low-risk quarterbacks like Alex Smith, a trend in this short passing league. Matt Ryan plays closer to the vest than he once did. Philip Rivers is headed down this path.
None of this is what you'd call aesthetically-pleasing fun, but Eli doesn't care. This is his formula to avoid that checkout line for as long as possible.
This is the Quarterback Index. As a point of reference, you can check out the pecking order in last week's Quarterback Index. Starting after Week 3, I'll rank all 32 starting quarterbacks weekly, based on 2016 season play alone. Those rankings will get weird, trust me. For one more week, though, the top 10 is based on answering one simple question: Who would you want as your quarterback for the 2016 campaign?
The big five
The Packers' offense is stale. Perhaps coach Mike McCarthy can turn things around trotting out the same players, formations and personnel groupings snap after snap, but the sample size is growing that something needs to change. Rodgers was No. 30 in yards-per-attempt last season and is No. 31 thus far in 2016. After a solid opening game, Rodgers' Week 2 performance in Minnesota was worse than any game I charted from last season, combining a failure to consistently hit throws in rhythm and a failure to improvise. The offense is not stretching the field.
There is every reason to believe Rodgers and Wilson will turn things around, so they still rank high when looking ahead to the rest of the season. But they're both likely to fall out of the top 10 next week, when these rankings are about 2016 play alone.
The next five
Luck's Week 1 performance against Detroit is my highest-graded game of the young season. He received too many excuses for his inability to perform an encore in Denver. There's no doubt that Luck's defense and running game failed him, as they will most of the season. The offensive line gave up pressure to the Broncos -- like every team will. Yet Luck was forced to admit this week that he missed way too many open throws, especially early in the game.
The bar is incredibly high for Luck and no one will blame him if he doesn't rise above the house of cards general manager Ryan Grigson built around him. But didn't we think Luck, now in his fifth year, was the type of quarterback who could erase organizational ills with his talent? He will need to play near an MVP level to make the Colts winners again -- and he is capable of that level. We just haven't seen it consistently in a while.
Most likely to hit the top 10 next week
Stafford's numbers last week would have looked much different if not for Detroit's avalanche of dropped passes and penalties. There was a nice mix of smart, short passes on third down and the occasional across-the-body throw 30 yards downfield to Anquan Boldin. The addition of Marvin Jones has made up for early signs of Golden Tate deterioration. (DeterioTation?) There also has been an uptick of Stafford yelling, Stafford throwing blocks, Stafford running over defenders and generally acting like a madman. His approval rating is rising.
Class of 2014: Update!
The ranks have thinned out considerably from this group. Teddy Bridgewater is out for the season. Johnny Manziel is out of the league. And Zach Mettenberger is barely holding on as a No. 3 quarterback on his third team of the year. That leaves Derek Carr as the steadiest performer, Blake Bortles as the early disappointment and Jimmy Garoppolo as a tease.
Bortles does so many difficult things well, which makes it easy to get intoxicated with his wow plays. But he still struggles with managing game situations and hitting his targets. He just couldn't shoot straight against San Diego.
Garoppolo is reason No. 4,080 that the preseason is confusing. He's looked so much better when it counts, not unlike Cam Newton in his rookie season. Garoppolo's shoulder injury stifled a fascinating story that was developing in New England. Without Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy G was moving the Patriots' offense like it was 2007. He looked off defenders and went through his reads like a Bradybot. He used his athleticism and moved in the pocket to constantly pick up third-and-long conversions. In just six quarters, he significantly raised his trade value. Small sample sizes have a way of making quarterbacks rich.
Don't-turn-into-a-pumpkin club: Update!
Last week, I briefly hit on three quarterbacks off to rough starts to their post-breakout seasons. Ryan Fitzpatrick responded with perhaps the best game of his career, tossing up a barrage of alley-oops to Jets receivers. The performance broke Rex Ryan's brain open, as the Bills leader became the first head coach to fire an offensive coordinator for a disastrously stubborn defensive game plan.
The signs aren't nearly as good for Tyrod Taylor or Kirk Cousins. There is little reason to think Rex can provide a safe workspace for any quarterback, while Cousins is overthinking each play into stasis.
Biggest Week 3 tests
The traits that Carson Wentz showed off in his first two starts are undeniable. Each time he changes the play at the line of scrimmage or delivers a frozen rope with a pass rusher in his face, another Browns fan cringes. But there's also no denying Wentz has faced two of the worst defenses in the league today to start his career. Rookie days are on the way. Will Sunday's game against Pittsburgh be the first?
With Wentz showing well in Philly, the Eagles' trade of Sam Bradford to Minnesota has the early look of a win-win. Bradford already has one more memorable performance as a Viking than he did in St. Louis or Philadelphia, although he can't be expected to overcome a terrible offensive line every week -- a unit that is now without starting tackle Matt Kalil (hip). It only gets tougher this week in Carolina.
Marcus Mariota would make my short list of early-season disappointments. He melted down in Week 1 and was slow to make decisions against Detroit, showing poor accuracy and little ability to stretch the field. I'm hopeful that Mariota's final two drives vs. the Lions, including a clutch 9-for-9 performance in the game-winning march, can turn Mariota's season around.
After two weeks of the Brock Osweiler experience in Houston, we know a few things:
1) His wide receivers are even better than expected.
2) He's a sneaky-fun watch because he's not afraid to throw into tight coverage.
3) Coach Bill O'Brien is going to take advantage of Osweiler's physical advantages over last year's primary starter, Brian Hoyer.