This question has been bounced around the Bengals’ third-year quarterback like a Gio Bernard covered in Crisco, finding a hole in the backfield – you just can’t stop it.
After being called an “elite quarterback” by putting up MVP-like numbers to give him the AFC Player of the Month honors in October, Dalton has been dealing with a polarizing affect that is making him off target, staring down receivers, and not spreading the ball around the way he did in October.
Dalton was regularly targeting both tight ends, Marvin Jones, Mohammed Sanu and Giovanni Bernard when he was having some of the best games of his career that ended with his career-best, five-touchdown performance against the Jets.
All the flack that Dalton received after the disappointing loss in the playoff game last season was not exactly warranted, but the critiques did have some merit. Let’s review some of the most apparent and alarming things we know about the Bengals’ third-year quarterback.
– Dalton doesn’t have a deep ball. Those who may question this will state cases such as the Hail Mary throw to A.J Green in the OT loss to Baltimore last week that bounced off of at least two different defenders before being gift wrapped to Green.
“Well what about the 82-yard td pass to Green against the Lions?”
If we look at that pass, it was a 50-50 catch-and-run play where the ball spent 40 yards in the air. Not only was it not that deep, but Green, who had beaten his defender by close to 10 yards had to slow down to catch the ball and the cornerback almost got there in time to defend it.
Besides the Hail Mary pass to Green in the Baltimore game, the longest pass play was a 5-yard flat to TE Tyler Eifert who turned what is designed as a first down play into a 40-yard pass.
– Dalton isn’t as good in “big games” as he is in regular Sunday games.
ESPN came out with an article that addressed this point. And the numbers aren’t too alarming to the fans that are well versed in Andy Dalton. The article did a crude assessment of what constitutes “big games”; namely division games and any other game that isn’t played at 1pm on Sundays.
In summary of the article, Dalton is 7-12 in those games, versus 18-7 in regular games. His passer rating drops from 93.7 to 62.5, with a -6 touchdown to interception ratio in big games, to +25 in regular games. So it goes without saying, when Dalton plays in the playoffs, Monday, Thursday, or against divisional rivals, he’s not the same quarterback.
– Dalton’s physique is not the prototypical quarterback.
Listed at a generous 6’2″, 220 lbs., (players are always liberal when listing their size) Dalton is small in size compared with Pro Bowl quarterbacks like Roethlisberger, Manning, and Brady. This becomes increasingly apparent as Dalton is tied with Chad Henne for first place with 10 passes batted at the line of scrimmage. This can be attributed to both Dalton’s size and that he will often lock onto a receiver after the snap.
This last fact about Andy Dalton isn’t nearly as important as the first two. Plenty of quarterbacks, both past and present are around Dalton’s size and have had hall-of-fame careers. Steve Young, Joe Montana, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees are a few names of shrimp-sized quarterbacks who have had decent careers and a few Super Bowl rings on the dresser.
One intangible that Dalton lacks that can’t be quantified is his ability – or inability – to escape pressure, extend plays, and turn them into positive gains. And the argument might be, “Well duh, what NFL quarterback is good when 260lb linebackers are in their facemask.” And the answer would be very few, and only a young Ben Roethlisberger comes to mind as one of, if not the best at extending plays.
Dalton certainly didn’t show that type of prowess in the Baltimore game, suffering his worst qb rating of 52.2 on the heels of a 55.4 rating the week prior against the Dolphins. The Dolphin game was an aberration in part because of the weather-logged field that resembled wet newspapers, and a litany of dropped passes by Bengals’ players. In the Baltimore game, pressure got to Dalton and he looked very uncomfortable the entire game.
Things won’t get much easier this week with the Cleveland Browns defensive powerhouse coming to Paul Brown on Sunday. With only a 1.5 game lead against Cleveland for the top of the AFC North (never thought I’d say that in a sentence this late in the season), Dalton will need to become a quarterback he isn’t against a top ten ranked defense.
He was able to do that in October, and if the Bengals want to make a deep run into the playoffs for the first time since ’88, Dalton will have to be Mr. October from here on out. If Dalton is unable to have that break out season where he becomes a “big game” quarterback like everyone wants and takes the Bengals deep into the playoffs, then the team might have to start evaluating other options.
This is important because in the NFL the window of opportunity is very small, and with the window closing on the Bengals’ young core of players, there may not be many more chances for Dalton to prove himself.