QB Index: Why are Kaepernick, Cam, Wilson struggling?

After nine weeks, there are a lot of great options when choosing the best quarterback this season. I'm more interested in the group of young players still trying to reach that level.

Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, and Colin Kaepernick are all coming off some of their worst games of the season. The 49ers have a weekly identity crisis, and Kaepernick's play isn't helping matters. Jim Harbaugh might only have eight games left with him.

The Seahawks' passing game is out of synch, with Wilson going through the worst two-game stretch of his career in terms of yards per attempt. Newton, meanwhile, has seen his speed on the ground return just in time for his accuracy as a passer to vanish. He's always been a streaky player, and has followed up the best five-game stretch throwing the ball of his career with three rough outings.

We forget that this is how the maturation of a franchise quarterback is supposed to go. No one said finding consistency at the position was easy.

*On to the rankings. These are based on 2014 play only. *

Top Shelf

There is very little separating this group. Brady's arm strength stood out in windy conditions last week. No one is better at whipping fastballs up the seams. ... Luck's Monday night performance nicely encapsulated his entire season. He made more than enough insane tosses for big plays to make up for a few early misses.

This is the offense that Roethlisberger fans have always wanted. He has speedy receivers who can take advantage of his big arm, a solid running game, and an offensive line that is good enough. For the second straight week, it was striking how few improvised plays Roethlisberger needed to put up six touchdowns. It's a great sign for the next five years of his career that he's better than ever at timing throws from the pocket. He's improving, even if he's losing part of what has always made him unique.

Rivers' game in Miami was not quite the meltdown the box score indicated. I had him marked for just four bad throws before the score was 27-0, and his first interception came as he was hit. (He threw four passes on the day while hit.) After facing a huge deficit in the second half, the Rivers of 2012 came out. He forced a few passes while trying to make big plays, but the 37-0 final score was more about the dominant Dolphins pass rush and a terrible Chargers defensive performance.

Next Level

Wilson's receivers aren't winning one-on-one battles. Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin only give Wilson tight windows to throw to, and Wilson often leaves the pocket when someone doesn't break free. There were a surprising amount of miscommunication and throws against Oakland where the intended receiver wasn't even clear. His pass protection was poor, and his best plays were screens. The Seahawks' line is banged up and the return of tight end Zach Miller will help immeasurably.

To put it another way: The Seahawks defense essentially handed Wilson 20 free points Sunday. And yet the Raiders still kept the game competitive in Seattle.

Moving up

Ryan Tannehill: He's playing like a cross of 2012 Robert Griffin III and 2013 Nick Foles. Tannehill is playing under control, but the biggest improvements have come from the players and scheme around him. Jarvis Landry, Mike Wallace and Lamar Miller are making plays for Tannehill. (Landry is a keeper as a versatile, fluid wideout who can do a little of everything.) Tannehill had all day to throw against San Diego, and he's more than capable of pulling off four to five impressive athletic feats per game. He did it as a rookie, too.

Don't underestimate the impact that the read-option plays have made for Tannehill and this offense. San Diego's defense was comical in its attempts to identify who actually had the ball last week. The Chargers have truly missed Manti Te'o because his replacements and their linebacker group in general have been terrible.

Mark Sanchez: He came out firing against Houston, showing a confidence and aggressiveness that was lacking toward the end of his New York days. Sanchez has always been at his best in the hurry up offense, and he can let Chip Kelly's scheme do a lot of the work for him. Sanchez also picked up one key first down last week running that Nick Foles never would have.

Alex Smith: I hate the word "efficient" for quarterbacks, but it really applies to Smith's season. He only tried two long passes last week, and he connected on both of them. The Chiefs' offense is the equivalent of the sleeper hold. A strong game in Buffalo this week would move him a tier.

Michael Vick: He's moving up, if only because his first start was an upgrade over two poor relief outings. The biggest problem was Vick's reaction to pressure, and some bad instincts about when to run.

Robert Griffin III: Anyone killing RGIII for his start last week only saw the highlights. His interception late in the first half turned the game around and his low throw to Pierre Garcon on fourth down late in the fourth quarter essentially ended the game. He played well for the most part otherwise, with some pretty deep throws and escapes from pressure. He didn't get rid of the ball quickly enough at times, but overall it was an encouraging performance. Pin the loss on the defense giving up 22 second-half points.

Moving Down

Colin Kaepernick: The 49ers can't decide what they are. When they go to a spread attack, their tackles can't hold up in pass protection. Everyone wants them to just "run the ball" but they struggled when they tried against St. Louis. Frank Gore has 39 carries for 107 yards over the last three weeks, for less than three yards per carry. When teams blitz Kaepernick, he hasn't shown the awareness to change plays or find checkdown passes.

Carson Palmer: It's a great sign that the Cardinals can win a game on the road when they get a C-plus performance from Palmer. Even if the game was against ...

Brandon Weeden: If Kyle Orton earned himself five more years in the league with his starts this year, Weeden could have written a ticket to No. 3 quarterback status with his performance against Arizona. Every pitch is a fastball.

Austin Davis: His play seems to be devolving by the week. No quarterback has done less in a "winning" performance all season than Davis against the 49ers.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast previews Browns-Bengals and returns the game "Win Gregg's Toaster." Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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