When it comes to scrutiny and fan criticism, no other professional sports position experiences the sheer volume that the NFL quarterback gets every week. Coaches will always be second guessed, and the players will fail to live up to expectations because fans are accustomed to regurgitating the numbers of the legends in sports as par for the course.
For Cincinnati Bengals’ quarterback Andy Dalton, living with the criticism after a loss is just part of the job. After a memorable comeback victory against the hot Green Bay Packers, Dalton had his worst outing on the season against divisional rivals the Cleveland Browns last Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.
The game saw a very subdued Cincinnati offense that couldn’t generate anything in the air or on the ground as Dalton went 23 of 42 for 206 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and a horrid quarterback rating of 58.2. One of the key characteristics NFL teams look for in quarterbacks aside from arm strength, speed, intelligence, and more recently agility; resilience is always a characteristic that is less talked about, but one of the more valid attributes teams look for. Although Dalton’s critics have reasonable grounds to criticize Dalton’s accuracy, especially concerning the deep ball, he is one of the best quarterbacks coming off a poor performance.
After last season’s blowout in the season opener against the Baltimore Ravens, Dalton led the team to three straight wins against Cleveland, Washington and Jacksonville. He went on to throw eight touchdowns to three interceptions for an average of 297 yards and a QB rating of 199 during that span.
Better yet, after his career-worst rating of 56.4 against the Steelers in Week 7 heading into the bye, Dalton had another strong stretch of games against the Broncos (loss), Giants, Raiders and Chiefs. In those games, Dalton had 10 touchdowns to one interception with a QB rating of 107.
Dalton knows that he is under the microscope week in and week out, but he also is cognizant that he is at his best when things seem to be at their worst. After the loss to the Browns on Sunday, Dalton expects to have another turnaround this week against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots at home on Sunday.
“I think ever since I have been playing the game when things haven’t gone right I feel like I’ve bounced back pretty quickly and bounced back and done some really good things,” Dalton told Cincinnati reporters. “I expect that going into this week.”
One of the aspects of Cincinnati’s game that can prove beneficial to Dalton’s numbers is how much he passes. In games that Dalton has thrown 33 passes or less, his completion percentage is 75 percent – 71 percent against Green Bay (28 attempts) and 79 percent against Chicago (33 attempts) – with four touchdowns against three interceptions.
In games where Dalton goes to the air more than 33 times, his completion percentage is 55 – 56 percent against Pittsburgh (45 attempts) and 55 percent against Cleveland (42 attempts) – and he has a lethargic one touchdown against one interception.
He is best served to keep the passes under 20 yards and let his Pro-Bowl receiver A.J Green, and two big TE’s Gresham and Eifert collect the yards after catch. Dalton will have opportunities against the Patriots whose defense ranks league average in passing and rushing.
The one area where Dalton will have to be especially mindful of his passes is the red zone. The Patriots’ defense is especially stingy in the red zone, giving up only 14 points a game, which ranks 6th in the NFL.
However, if Dalton is going to go to the air against a decent defense, the Bengals are going to have to use ground ‘n pound to open things up in the secondary. While New England fairs well against the run, they will be without veteran nose tackle Vince Wilfork who was placed on the season-ending IR after tearing his Achilles against the Falcons, which should help the Bengals’ running game that has been absent the last few weeks.
For Dalton, this week will be his chance at redemption and proving the critics wrong once again.