There will only be one first matchup between Andrew Luck and Marcus Mariota, and it was sweet. The AFC South hasn't enjoyed much in the way of quarterback duels since Steve McNair and Peyton Manning were jousting more than a decade ago. There aren't a ton of great quarterback divisional duels throughout the league overall. Luck-Mariota should develop into the matchup we thought Kaepernick-Wilson would be.
For most of the Colts' 35-33 win, Luck looked like the rookie and Mariota looked like the fourth-year pro. Mariota didn't blink when stuck with a 14-0 deficit that was not of his doing. Last year's Titans would have been blown out in that scenario, but Mariota led the Titans to a 27-14 fourth quarter lead. His footwork and ability to find secondary reads is special. He throws a nice fastball up the middle, but also can drop beautiful touch passes into zone coverage holes. He was duly punished for his one big mistake of the game -- a fourth-quarter interception -- but showed resilience leading the Titans on a great two-minute drill.
Mariota has quickly raised the bar. He throws for 367 yards and no one blinks. He ranks in the top seven in touchdowns and yards per attempt through three weeks, and it doesn't feel remarkable. He outplayed Luck head-to-head. He looks ready to be an above-average starter now, just like Luck was as a rookie.
Luck's sore shoulder could help explain his early season struggles, although his pass protection and decision making are his primary problems. Sunday's win was an uneven performance filled with big mistakes and gutsy throws when it mattered. The team's 98-yard, fourth-quarter drive, including a 30-yard touchdown on third-and-20, should go down as the turning point for this Colts season. It's the type of drive that top-shelf quarterbacks pull off when absolutely necessary. Luck has not played like a top-10 quarterback thus far, but it's the type of drive that makes me believe he will turn it around.
*This is the Quarterback Index. After four games, we'll start to rank all 32 starting quarterbacks solely based on 2015 play. While collecting evidence in the meantime, the rankings below represent the last week where the quarterbacks will be ranked based on one question: What QB would you want running your team for the rest of the season? *
The Big Three
The reaction to Rodgers' PFF grade was both random and understandable. There are a lot of eye-opening individual weekly grades, but most of the time no one notices. It's worth noting that the site bumping up his grade upon further review, even if Rodgers still fell below the day that Nick Foles put together while burning the Steelers for six points. As we discussed on our recent podcast, it's difficult to measure what Rodgers does before the snap and before the throw. That said, it's hard to see how that performance wouldn't be well above replacement level.
My wildly amateurish grading system had Rodgers far higher relative to other quarterbacks, although he was beat out by a few players this week. The number was actually lower than Rodgers' other two starts this season. That shows the ridiculous level Rodgers is playing at. ... I wanted to leave Big Ben here for now just because he played so well through three weeks. His first half against the Rams showed maturity. After bombing his previous two opponents, Roethlisberger took what the Rams' defense gave him.
There are few quarterbacks better at spinning beauties than Cam Newton when he's protected well. He won ugly in the first two weeks before a terrific outing against the Saints. New Orleans' ball control offense limited Newton to only three first-half drives, yet he calmly abused Brandon Browner and the Saints' secondary when given the chance. Newton was dominant deep all game. It's a great sign the Panthers kept throwing the ball with the lead in the second half.
It's hard to evaluate Rivers behind this injured, awful offensive line. I counted five drives against Minnesota that were killed by immediate pressure. The Chargers can't run block at all either, setting up third and longs. Anecdotally, they would be my pick for the worst line in the league. And the ProFootball Focus ratings agree! It's amazing Rivers is averaging 8.7 yards per attempt, good for fifth in the league.
Flacco is a great example of why win-loss record is a misleading "stat" for quarterbacks. He's playing better than a season ago and the team is 0-3. He hits passes every week that other quarterbacks don't try. Like the guy ranked after him. ... It appears that Peyton Manning is done taking snaps under center. This week's matchup against the Vikings' defensive line will be a great test for his progress. ... Eli, like his brother, is less fun to watch than he used to be. The Giants are a ball control offense built on short passes. That makes sense considering their lackluster defense, but it makes us long for Eli's 2011approach.
The confusing middle
Tyrod Taylor and Derek Carr both make a big leap this week. If they keep it up, they'll move up further when I transition to 2015-play-only rankings next week. Taylor hasn't been touched in two of his three starts. He looks to go down the field and has shown great accuracy. Rex Ryan has finally found an offensive coordinator in Greg Roman that doesn't sit on the ball and Taylor is lighting up the scoreboard despite very little help from Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods. Taylor still has to show he can survive when teams do pressure him, but his third-and-long completions last week were impressive.
Carr is also now routinely converting third-and-long situations when last season he specialized in the five-yard pass on third-and-11. It's fun to watch his aggressiveness this year. Oakland's pass protection has been outstanding and Carr's receivers are making big plays for him. We can't just ignore his 61-yard Week 1 effort, but his performance in Cleveland was even better than the breakout game against Baltimore. ... Sam Bradford's display in the Eagles' win was more depressing than the week before. Now Week 2 feels like less of a fluke. Bradford's accuracy was all over the place, even on easy throws. He did very little despite good protection.
Bridgewater's start has been disappointing because steadiness was supposed to be his calling card. He threw in a stinker on Monday Night Football in the opener, a nearly flawless game against Detroit, and a mediocre effort in Week 3 against San Diego. It's rare to see a quarterback do less to lead a game 31-7. One huge positive for Bridgewater is his ability to avoid the pass rush. He's already one of the best at dodging free rushers and can be electric scrambling with the ball when he chooses to.
I'm not going bury Kaepernick yet. Like Bridgewater, he's had one stinker, one middling game, and a quietly great performance. Kaepernick's meltdown against Arizona was as bad as it gets, but he's put too many great things on tape over the last three seasons to count him out. That includes his Week 2 game against Pittsburgh. He had essentially done nothing wrong before his teammates built a 29-3 deficit. What followed was a string of wow throws that were reminiscent of 2013. His running ability is unquestioned. He has to show he can handle a blitz this week because teams will keep testing him.
Tannehill hasn't shown the ability to overcome a dreadful situation around him. It's the same old story. He's still good throwing up the seams and not to the outside. And he started forcing bad decisions last week after falling behind. Aside from two and a half good quarters against Jacksonville, Tannehill has struggled all season. ... Dalton's rise as a vertical passer was one of my early big surprises of the season. I won't repeat myself here, but he's playing with a ton of confidence.
The Cowboys could not have asked for more from Weeden, who took advantage of the team's terrific offensive line. He even showed off some nice pocket movement, a sign of hope the Cowboys can win some games with him. ... McCown played frenetically against the Raiders, which is how he's always played the position. There will be a few great plays mixed in, usually on the run, with a lot clunkers and wild tosses. The last drive of the Browns' loss was typical. He pulled off a few gutsy throws before a game-ending interception. ... The Kirk Cousins we saw on Thursday Night Football is the one I expect to see every few weeks until proven otherwise. His lack of arm strength and consistent brain cramps are a tough combination. That performance came on a night where he barely faced pressure.