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QB Index: Unfamiliar Peyton Manning sights

It's not all about the arm strength. The discussion surrounding Peyton Manning's struggles naturally focus on his fluttering out routes, but that's not a new phenomenon. There were far more unfamiliar, jarring Manning sights in Denver.

The tempo of Denver's offense was vastly slower. The Broncos have finished an average of eighth in offensive pace since Manning joined the Broncos in 2012. They were 27th in pace in Week 1, according to Football Outsiders. Even Manning's "Omahas" felt more drawn out.

The Broncos' offense used to score in avalanches. Throughout the preseason and Week 1, they have worked so hard for first downs. Manning made a number of difficult third-down completions against Baltimore to tightly covered receivers. Instead of open spaces, Manning is forced to pull off good plays just to gain six yards. Their first drive was typical, taking 15 plays just to kick a 56-yard field goal. The best drive of the game came in the fourth quarter. Seventeen plays, 10 minutes and another field goal.

Manning getting hit so hard by Ravens' pass rushers was also disarming. No one in NFL history has been more skilled than Manning at avoiding taking sacks. He was sacked three times in his last preseason effort, more than any single game last season. He was sacked four times by the Ravens and took some real shots. This is where Manning's mostly young, remodeled offensive line bears the blame.

We noticed many times when the offensive line and Manning's running backs didn't recognize Baltimore's blitzes. Manning's pick-six came on a cornerback blitz. Manning's ability to recognize and adjust protections remains one of his greatest strengths. His line and running backs are compounding his problems adjusting to Gary Kubiak's offense.

Life doesn't get easier Thursday night against Kansas City with Justin Houston off to another dominant start. The return of linebacker Derrick Johnson can't be overlooked and rookie cornerback Marcus Peters has already added juice to the secondary. Look for another defensive struggle, the type of game these Broncos are still built to win. These Broncos are essentially the bizarro version of the mid-2000's Colts.

*This is the Quarterback Index. We will break down the good, bad and ugly of quarterback play each week. After four games, we'll start ranking the quarterbacks solely based on this year's play. While collecting evidence in the meantime, there are rankings at the bottom of the column based on one criteria: What QB would you want running your team for the rest of the season? *

Class of his own

My top quarterbacks on last week's list -- Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger -- had my top two grades after re-watching Game Pass this week. (Note: My grading system is amateurish and wildly subjective and better left unexplained. My notes are also almost illegible.)

Rodgers is such an incredible player that his performance was barely discussed this week. He made impossible throws, and James Jones helped him out with some outstanding catches. He rarely saw his first read open and it didn't matter. He can throw it 50 yards off his back foot under pressure. The fantasy numbers have been higher, but it was nearly a perfect performance.

Top Shelf

Big Ben typically wasn't as clean as Rodgers. Instead, Roethlisberger put four or five vertical beauties right on the money to remind everyone he still looks like the best deep ball thrower in football. As great as Tom Brady was in the opener, Ben was even better overall. ...

Andrew Luck's opener wasn't as poor as I expected because he still completed four throws few quarterbacks could make. The constant Bills pressure got to Luck, though, and he rushed throws. It reminded me a lot of some of his rookie games, with moments of brilliance balanced by wild streaks. ...

Seattle's poor offensive line exacerbates Russell Wilson's worst tendencies. He couldn't help but bail from the pocket too soon against St. Louis because there rarely was a pocket.

Next level

As much attention as Peyton Manning struggled in the opener, the Super Bowl winning quarterback across from him was having arguably a worse day. An offense in which Flacco doesn't have the time (or the coaching staff?) to throw deep is an offense that wastes Flacco's best skills.

Alex Smith's game against Houston wasn't so different than many of his Chiefs starts. He had rhythm and found Travis Kelce alarmingly wide open, but the Chiefs did very little in the second half and Smith only made a few impressive throws. The most promising part of his game were some tosses downfield he didn't complete, showing the willingness to try to push the ball into tight windows. The Chiefs' line play was not great, and will be tested Thursday night.

Chris Wesseling often says only "traits" matter in the preseason. Carson Palmer showed off a huge arm in August, and it's carried over into the regular season. This should be the best offense Palmer has run since the 2005 Bengals with T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Chad before he was named Ochocinco, and Rudy Johnson. Palmer was very sharp against the Saints and his protection held up great. Then again, he was only facing Bad Santa.

Stuck in the middle

Yes, it was only one game. But the debut of Nick Foles in St. Louis with new Rams offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti was promising. Cignetti helped get targets open for Foles, who came up with a few big throws in crucial situations. I couldn't help but think the Rams lose that game if Brian Schottenheimer was still the coach there. ...

You knew Marcus Mariota's debut was going to be special when he made Lavonte David look so bad with his ball-handling and quick throws into small windows. It was all very reminiscent to Robert Griffin III's debut, except Mariota wasn't looking to run. He also showed off some subtle skills like a nasty hard count and accuracy on the run. ...

Tyrod Taylor is hard to take down. He makes good decisions on when to run and almost played a flawless game in his first start. He didn't have to make a ton of third-and-long throws, but came through when he needed to. He's got another great matchup this week to move up the rankings below.

Question marks

Fitzpatrick quietly had one of the better Week 1 performances. It's a reminder that when he's on, he's often really on. He completed a number of tough throws against Cleveland and looked very comfortable back in Chan Gailey's season. ...

There will be tougher days ahead, but it was almost depressing to watch Jameis Winston in comparison. Winston often didn't trust his offensive line or what he saw in coverage. It's hard to blame him when tackles Donovan Smith and Gosder Cherilus were getting blasted or making penalties every other down. ...

Brian Hoyer's unceremonious benching was the fastest about face on a Week 1 starting quarterback since the Browns traded Charlie Frye to Seattle two days after he started the opener in 2007. Cleveland went on to win 10 games with Derek Anderson that year, but it's hard to imagine Ryan Mallett pulling off the same feat. Mallett showed off serious gas under pressure on multiple completions after replacing Hoyer in the fourth quarter last week. (Poor Frye didn't make it to halftime.)

It was easy to see why Hoyer was replaced. We aren't sure what the opposite of poise is, but that's what Hoyer displayed. He actually made some nice throws, but was not accurate and too often played with the panic of a young player. O'Brien might as well see if Mallett has higher upside.

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