I have been an unapologetic supporter of Andy Dalton since he was drafted in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. I have stood behind him, defended him, and been there for him every step of the way. I know that was rarely a popular stance to have as a Bengals fan, but I have always believed that Andy Dalton has the talent to lead the Bengals to glory.
After watching Andy on Sunday, I just have one question for him. What were you trying to do out there? Did you not understand what the defense was doing? Were you so rattled by your flimsy offensive line that you forgot how to play the quarterback position? What happened?
What possible explanation could there be as to why Dalton, who threw only eight interceptions all of last season, threw four in one game this past Sunday? There must be reasons as to why his effectiveness was among the worst we have ever seen in an NFL game. Somewhere within the statistics, there must be an answer to my questions.
I am starting to fear that my longtime defense of Andy Dalton, after all these years, was all for nothing.
There is no denying that during the regular season, Andy has been a formidable Quarterback for defenses to try to stop. While he has never been as prolific a passer as Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady, he certainly will not create many turnovers. He has averaged just 14 interceptions per season as a Bengal, which is right around the league average from 2016 of 13 interceptions. That number for Dalton includes a career high 20-interception year in his third season. On top of his interception totals, during his last three seasons, Dalton has completed nearly 65 percent of his throws, which is slightly above the league average of 63 percent.
A major hit on Andy has been his success rate in the playoffs. Admittedly, he does not have a good resume in the postseason. In four career playoff starts, all of them losses, he has thrown just one touchdown pass, while he has given opposing defenses six interceptions. Not a good ratio for any quarterback, let alone a three time Pro Bowl quarterback in Dalton.
The blame does not fall fully on Andy for these playoff miscues. When the defense you face during your first two playoff starts features NFL All-Pro defensive end JJ Watt, you really do not have a chance to have a good game. Houston held Dalton to a combined 57 percent completion percentage in the 2011 and 2012 playoffs, not allowing Andy to throw for a single touchdown and forcing four interceptions.
On a side note, Houston has had their way with Andy Dalton during the regular season as well; having defeated an Andy Dalton led Bengals team six out of seven times, including the two playoff games.
It could be argued that Andy Dalton has actually regressed as an NFL quarterback over the years. I would not make that argument, but I know some who would. I would argue, Andy has found success despite facing increasing adversity with each successive season.
In 2016, it was put up or shut up time for Dalton. He had just lost two of his top receiving threats – Marvin Jones and Mohammed Sanu – to free agency, leaving the Bengals very thin at wide receiver. Coming off the thumb injury he suffered in late 2015 that kept him out of the playoffs, Andy had heavy pressure on his performance going into 2016. The question on everyone’s mind was could he produce good results without some of his best weapons at his disposal? As it turns out, he could.
In a season where Andy lost Sanu and Jones, followed by later losing both Tyler Eifert, his best Tight End, and later AJ Green, one of the best receivers in the entire league, Andy still had one of his best seasons as a pro. Dalton threw for 4,206 yards, just 87 yards shy of his career high. Andy also scored 22 total touchdowns and only threw eight interceptions, a career best for interceptions for a full season. He also achieved the second highest quarterback rating of his career, a measure which indicates how efficiently you throw the ball, at 91.8.
Despite this spectacular season for Andy Dalton, the Bengals still struggled to a 6-9-1 record. The team outscored opponents 325-315 for the duration of the season. In fact, the 315 points allowed by the Bengals defense was eighth best in the NFL for 2016. In fact, Dalton was deemed to have had such a stellar 2016 season that he was selected to his third Pro Bowl.
As the weeks, months, and years move forward, I continue to believe that Andy Dalton is capable of winning in the NFL. However, what is becoming increasingly clear to me is that Andy Dalton alone cannot win you a Super Bowl. He needs superior talent around him, and superior coaching above him. Unfortunately, for Andy, he has neither of those things this season.
When Dalton was at his best, he had at his side wide receivers such as AJ Green, Marvin Jones, Mohammed Sanu, Tyler Eifert, and Jermaine Gresham, along with running backs such as Jeremy Hill, Gio Bernard, and Rex Burkhead. While Bernard, Hill, Eifert, and Green remain, the value of players such as Jones, Sanu, Gresham, and Burkhead is beginning to be felt in Bengals Country. Defenses can now double cover Green without having to worry about secondary threats from Jones and Sanu, while Eifert cannot seem to stay healthy for an entire season.
Coach Marvin Lewis has attempted to replace Jones and Sanu with young, unproven players such as Tyler Boyd and John Ross, but neither player as of yet has been able to prove their worth. Additionally, Joe Mixon in the backfield, all of his off the field issues aside, certainly looks talented enough to become the next Le’Veon Bell, but he is still just a rookie and has yet to play any meaningful snaps in an NFL game. I would love to sit here and say that Boyd is the next TJ Houshmanzadeh and that Ross is the next Cris Collinsworth, but there is no way of knowing if things will pan out that way or how long it will take us to find out. I am sure Dalton would love for those proclamations to come true for the sake of his team’s success.
That brings me to the coaching staff. Dalton has played under two of the best offensive coordinators in recent memory, with his first two coordinators eventually taking head coaching jobs in the form of Jay Gruden with Washington and Hue Jackson in Cleveland. The creativity of Gruden and Jackson allowed Dalton to have several options during any given play, and allowed the offense to feel relaxed and open. Andy experienced some of his greatest success under these systems, throwing for 33 touchdowns during one such season, and achieving a 106.1 passer rating during another.
Sadly, Ken Zampese is very different from Jay Gruden and Hue Jackson. Zampese has somehow taken Andy’s creative offense and turned it into a vanilla, boring, predictable offense, and defenses are quickly figuring out how to stop it. Just see the opening game of 2017, when Andy Dalton played the worst game of his career, and possibly the worst game for a quarterback in the history of the Cincinnati Bengals. As a child who grew up during the embarrassing 1990’s run of Bengals teams, if I am telling you it was that bad, then it was that bad. Dalton did not throw a single touchdown, instead he threw four interceptions, took five sacks, and lost a fumble, having completed only 51.6 percent of his passes. When you run such a simple offense with very little creativity, it does not take long for the rest of the league to catch up to you
While all of this would seem to rest blame on the coaching above him, Dalton must bear some of the responsibility. He must stand up and demand a better offensive system. If he does not stand up for himself, then the Bengals will be sitting at home in January once again. Unfortunately for the Bengals, I don’t think Andy will make that demand, at least not during the season.
The story of Andy Dalton as a Cincinnati Bengal is quite complex. He was regularly surrounded by some of the best talent and coached by two of the best offensive minds currently in the game. Dalton had every opportunity to shine, and for the most part, he did. You might wonder then how he has had so many issues as an NFL quarterback. He had the right teammates and the right coaches. Then it was taken away.
What Dalton had was suddenly replaced by an offensive coach with no creativity and young, unproven players. Gone were the days when he could call a play and know that it would work. In were the days when Andy would be running for his life behind a subpar offensive line, hoping to find the one open receiver whom nobody had heard of.
I do not think the story of Andy Dalton is over. He is a quarterback who has only been in the league for six seasons, so you have to think that the best may be yet to come. For his sake, I hope it is.
After seeing this team up close and personal tonight, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that if Andy Dalton had an offensive coordinator that knew what he was doing, then he would be twice the quarterback he currently appears to be. Andy is not perfect, but in the system within which he plays, he has no chance. Andy completed only 57 percent of his passes for 224 yards, once again failing to throw a touchdown against Houston.
Maybe we will see just that in 2018 and beyond. Maybe we will see an Andy Dalton with no limits, once again throwing to some of the best players in the NFL at their position. Maybe we will see an Andy Dalton comfortable standing back and watching the play develop. Maybe we will see an Andy Dalton smiling as he takes the snap, knowing the defense has no idea what kind of trickery is in store for them.
Then again, maybe the Andy Dalton that has reared its ugly head at times is the Andy Dalton we will see for the rest of his career. That is to say, we have seen and will always see a quarterback who is good when he’s allowed to play loose and free, but will never win when the pressure of the playoffs is born on Andy’s shoulders.