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QB Index, Week 5: Tom Brady unfair, Alex Smith on fire

Tom Brady is the NFL's best quarterback at 40 years old, throwing the ball deeper, moving better and carrying an uneven Patriots roster more than he ever has in his 18-year career. None of this feels sustainable, but that's been true for years.

The start of Brady's season is so impressive because it's been so different. Teams are daring him to throw deep and he's making them pay. No quarterback has attempted or completed more passes that have traveled 20-plus yards this season, which isn't usually his strength. Brady hasn't finished in the top five in deep completions since 2007, according to Pro Football Focus' numbers.

Brady is also quicker when evading the rush, which has been more necessary with his offensive line struggling. PFF ranks the Patriots' pass protection 23rd in football and only four quarterbacks have been sacked more. Brady is not used to taking so many big hits and it's worth wondering how long this can keep up. A mediocre running game and the league's worst defense have forced Brady to put up more than 30 points per week just to compete -- and he's obliging.

Of all the achievements in Brady's career, I find his accomplishments since returning from last year's suspension the most stunning. In his past 16 regular-season games, he's thrown for 4,893 yards at 8.3 yards per attempt, with 38 touchdowns and two interceptions. The greatest quarterback of the Super Bowl era is following up perhaps his greatest season with an even better encore thus far at age 40. Precedent left the picture a while back.

This is the Quarterback Index. For the first time this season, each QB is ranked based on 2017 performance only. So what's happened in previous seasons and what I think will happen moving forward doesn't matter. It's only about evaluating this season. Let's get weird:

The book on Brady has been to take away the middle of the field and make Patriots receivers win one-on-one on the outside. Brady is ripping the pages out of said book with his teeth.

 **2017 stats:** 4 games | 66.5 pct | 1,399 pass yds | 9.0 ypa | 10 pass TD | 0 INT 

If not for Brady, Brees' body blows against Father Time would be a bigger story. The 38-year-old's season has been as unflashy as the three scoring drives of 10-plus plays the Saints executed in the second half of their win in London. I was a little surprised at how high Brees' steady efficiency landed in my amateur grading system, then found out he's ranked third by Football Outsiders and second by PFF thus far, too. He's a constant in an inconstant season.

 **2017 stats:** 4 games | 69.1 pct | 1,135 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 8 pass TD | 0 INT 

This is like the normal Alex Smith, but with roughly 2-3 extra huge plays added every week. These plays are often improvised, like Smith's beautiful throw on the run to Albert Wilson on Monday night to beat Washington. Three game-winning drives in four weeks and an 8.8 YPA helps Smith to his highest QB Index ranking in my five seasons doing the column.

 **2017 stats:** 4 games | 76.0 pct | 1,067 pass yds | 8.8 ypa | 8 pass TD | 0 INT | 89 rush yds | 1 rush TD 

He's played better every week, managing a difficult situation with his starting tackles missing for most of the season. Rodgers' game against the Bears -- getting the Packers into the right plays while mixing in impossible throws on the run without forcing anything -- showed the most talented quarterback in football can impersonate a "game manager" in the best way possible.

 **2017 stats:** 4 games | 66.9 pct | 1,146 pass yds | 7.2 ypa | 10 pass TD | 3 INT 

Stafford's high ranking -- despite a disappointing Week 4 in Minnesota -- speaks to the strength of his first three weeks and how erratic the quarterback position has been as a whole. Thirty games in, it's now safe to say Stafford's gains in the Jim Bob Cooter era are sticking around.

 **2017 stats:** 4 games | 63.8 pct | 887 pass yds | 6.4 ypa | 7 pass TD | 1 INT 

Some of Ryan's good fortune from his MVP season has flipped, with three of his five interceptions bouncing off receivers' hands. The Falcons still lead the NFL in yards per drive, with Ryan not looking that different than a season ago.

 **2017 stats:** 4 games | 65.2 pct | 1,109 pass yds | 8.2 ypa | 5 pass TD | 5 INT 

At some point, it's probably safe to stop pining for some consistent, mystical Seahawks passing game that consistently moves the chains and just enjoy the streaky attack that can include six plays over 20 yards in one game, with a long rushing touchdown from Wilson, to boot.

 **2017 stats:** 4 games | 61.7 pct | 1,024 pass yds | 7.3 ypa | 7 pass TD | 2 INT | 138 rush yds | 1 TD 

I've read enough about what Taylor can't do. What he can do is scare the daylights out of the league's best defenders like Von Miller, who guarded Taylor on one Week 3 play as if the QB was LeBron James about to take Miller to the hole. Taylor responded by flipping a pass across his body 31 yards down the field to tight end Nick O'Leary. These moments are incredibly common for a quarterback ranked 31st in pass attempts.

 **2017 stats:** 4 games | 65.7 pct | 744 pass yds | 7.5 ypa | 5 pass TD | 1 INT | 118 rush yds | 0 rush TD 

It's amazing the Rams' offense is high-powered enough to score 35 points in Dallas while barely using its outside receivers. Goff looks more comfortable in part because he has more time. He has the third-longest time to throw -- at 2.92 seconds on average, according to Next Gen Stats -- and he's using that time to find receivers who are often wide open.

 **2017 stats:** 4 games | 66.7 pct | 1,072 pass yds | 9.2 ypa | 7 pass TD | 1 INT 

It's been a strange start to the season for Roethlisberger, with a lot of just missed bombs down the field and drama off it. Maybe that's not so strange for Big Ben.

 **2017 stats:** 4 games | 62.1 pct | 957 pass yds | 6.8 ypa | 6 pass TD | 2 INT 

The Raiders' passing attack struggled to put points on the board for seven straight quarters before Carr injured his back. That sudden slowdown was one of the biggest surprises of this young season after Carr looked unstoppable in Weeks 1 and 2.

 **2017 stats:** 4 games | 67.9 pct | 753 pass yds | 6.9 ypa | 7 pass TD | 2 INT 

Prescott is making a living off death-defying scrambles where he slips the tackle of players like the Rams' Aaron Donald. Few quarterbacks try to go deep less, and Dak's connection with Dez Bryant (16 catches on 40 attempts) has been extremely inefficient.

 **2017 stats:** 4 games | 60.8 pct | 941 pass yds | 6.6 ypa | 8 pass TD | 3 INT | 89 rush yds | 1 rush TD 

Just when Mariota and the Titans appeared to have turned the corner, he gets hurt in a game in which they were already getting lambasted on the road against a division rival. (The same story happened last year in Jacksonville.) Hopefully Mariota's hamstring injury won't limit his running ability, which the Titans were using to greater effect this season.

 **2017 stats:** 4 games | 60.0 pct | 792 pass yds | 7.2 ypa | 3 pass TD | 3 INT | 116 rush yds | 3 rush TD 

Stop calling him a game manager. If anything, Siemian trusts his arm a little too much to complete passes only Aaron Rodgers could pull off. A little irrational confidence is not a bad thing.

 **2017 stats:** 4 games | 62.7 pct | 888 pass yds | 7.0 ypa | 7 pass TD | 4 INT 

Speaking of trusting his arm too much ... Winston still hasn't met a play he's willing to give up on. His excellent use of secondary receivers like Adam Humphries, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate against the Giants was a great sign that Winston's season is ready to take off.

 **2017 stats:** 3 games | 63.0 pct | 864 pass yds | 8.0 ypa | 6 pass TD | 3 INT 

Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson is asking Wentz to do less in his second season and it's working. The most imposing running quarterback to enter the league since Cam Newton, Wentz still lacks the timing and pocket presence to consistently win from the pocket. He often appears a half-tick behind pulling the trigger on tough throws, but his crazy athleticism makes up for it.

 **2017 stats:** 4 games | 60.5 pct | 1,058 pass yds | 7.2 ypa | 6 pass TD | 2 INT | 97 rush yds | 0 rush TD 

Sometimes offseason narratives come true. His attempts, completion percentage and passer rating on throws under 5 yards have gone way up this season in part because of Christian McCaffrey. Newton is also leaner and more slippery as a runner than a season ago. I'm expecting him to find his way back to the top 10 after a slow start.

 **2017 stats:** 4 games | 65.2 pct | 882 pass yds | 7.9 ypa | 5 pass TD | 5 INT | 90 rush yds | 2 rush TD 

I can't wait to see where Watson goes from here. He's only ranked in the middle of the pack because of his first six sluggish quarters. Since then, he's made enough next-level throws with wild elusiveness, resulting in the Texans becoming more watchable as a franchise than ever before.

 **2017 stats:** 4 games | 64.9 pct | 811 pass yds | 7.1 ypa | 7 pass TD | 4 INT | 148 rush yds | 2 rush TD 

Keenum has given everything the Vikings could want in a backup quarterback, including plenty of chunk plays he's created on his own after escaping pressure. The loss to the Lions was not on him -- his teammates fumbled the ball three times and had other costly breakdowns.

 **2017 stats:** 3 games | 61.0 pct | 755 pass yds | 7.6 ypa | 3 pass TD | 0 INT 

It appears that Cousins has shaken off his early-season slump even faster than he did a year ago, despite a higher degree of difficulty. Cousins is trying to incorporate a lot of new parts to the offense while his old reliables ( Rob Kelley, Jamison Crowder and Jordan Reed) haven't been very reliable.

 **2017 stats:** 4 games | 66.1 pct | 1,004 pass yds | 8.3 ypa | 7 pass TD | 1 INT 

He's a rhythm quarterback who hasn't been in rhythm often this season. Listening to his disheartened press conference after a third straight loss in Los Angeles, it's easy to imagine Rivers relieved to end this extended homestand.

 **2017 stats:** 4 games | 63.3 pct | 1,107 pass yds | 7.4 ypa | 6 pass TD | 4 INT 

The physical skills are still there. The scheme fit, with a lack of vertical weapons or the time to find them open, may no longer be so perfect alongside Bruce Arians.

 **2017 stats:** 4 games | 59.0 pct | 1,282 pass yds | 7.0 ypa | 5 pass TD | 5 INT 

Manning and Alex Smith have both thrown 14 passes of 20-plus yards this season. Smith's have gone for 376 yards and three touchdowns, while Eli's have gained 98 yards with one score and an interception. This is a limited offense.

 **2017 stats:** 4 games | 69.9 pct | 1,113 pass yds | 6.7 ypa | 6 pass TD | 4 INT 

Dalton joins Cousins and Watson as the only quarterbacks on this list to have improved scores in my grading system each week this season. Dalton should get better.

 **2017 stats:** 4 games | 66.7 pct | 892 pass yds | 7.3 ypa | 6 pass TD | 4 INT 

Old enough to have backed up Jake Plummer, Jeff Blake, Shaun King and Kurt Warner on the Cardinals before traveling to seven other NFL teams, McCown is playing better with this motley crew of Jets than he has any right to.

 **2017 stats:** 4 games | 70.1 pct | 826 pass yds | 7.1 ypa | 3 pass TD | 3 INT | 38 rush yds | 1 rush TD 

Throwing four touchdowns in London followed by 4-yards-per-attempt in New Jersey nicely sums up Bortles' maddening career. He's holding his franchise back.

 **2017 stats:** 4 games | 54.5 pct | 732 pass yds | 6.0 ypa | 7 pass TD | 3 INT | 98 rush yds | 0 rush TD 

I've enjoyed watching Brissett, a man with deceptive speed who uses pump fakes, a variety of throws and other crafty maneuvers like a 10-year veteran. Time will tell if he can be a starter, but he's already shown he has a place in the league for a long time.

 **2017 stats:** 4 games | 59.1 pct | 683 pass yds | 7.3 ypa | 2 pass TD | 2 INT | 69 rush yds | 2 rush TD 

The poor mechanics are familiar, but the complete lack of creativity or pop on his throws are surprising. Perhaps it was Miami's never-ending road trip that wore this offense down, but Cutler's physical skills just haven't looked the same.

 **2017 stats:** 3 games | 66.7 pct | 614 pass yds | 5.8 ypa | 2 pass TD | 2 INT 

There was a lot of talk about Hoyer putting up sneaky-great fantasy stats in Kyle Shanahan's system. After three games out of four without an offensive touchdown, that talk has ended.

 **2017 stats:** 4 games | 58.1 pct | 858 pass yds | 5.8 ypa | 2 pass TD | 4 INT 

There was a time when Flacco was a fun quarterback to watch because he could make every throw possible, but now the Ravens don't even let him attempt them.

 **2017 stats:** 4 games | 61.9 pct | 601 pass yds | 5.1 ypa | 4 pass TD | 6 INT 

Kizer has at least a few plays each start that make me want to see more. But the Browns lack the regular chain-moving completions that sustain an offense, and the boom-or-bust approach went bust against the Bengals.

 **2017 stats:** 4 games | 51.4 pct | 764 pass yds | 5.4 ypa | 3 pass TD | 8 INT | 97 rush yds | 2 rush TD 

After a solid opener, Glennon turned the ball over too often and didn't fit with the Bears offense. Perhaps he could succeed in a Bruce Arians-like vertical approach elsewhere, but for a fraction of the $16 million he's earning this season from the Bears.

 **2017 stats:** 4 games | 66.4 pct | 833 pass yds | 6.0 ypa | 4 pass TD | 5 INT 

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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