CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 11: Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals throws a pass during the NFL game against Houston Texansat Paul Brown Stadium on December 11, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
In a word, pocket presence (I guess that's two words).
It seems so long ago when we used to call Palmer elite that I barely remember that player. I recall him moving around better in the pocket and even showing some straight-line speed once he decided to run with it, but all of that seemed to die after Kimo Von Oelhoffen obliterated his knee and destroyed his confidence. Since that fateful moment, Carson has been sacked 130 times and suffered through many injuries and pains. From '06-10, he never gained back the instinctual third eye needed to avoid sacks, turnovers, injury and ultimately losses. Any comfort in the pocket was, and still is, a very tenuous sense of safety for him. When things get hairy, most times his eyes come off the receivers and he goes down for a loss on the play; escape ability is not on his scouting report.
That isn't to say the man is completely devoid of such skills. As hard-edged as we Bengal fans might be toward old No. 9, he is still an adequate NFL quarterback. I think Raider Nation got a little tipsy from the kool-aid when the native son first returned to California—they were positively bathing in the stuff—but his arrival did instill a heavy dose of credibility to Oakland's season once Jason Campbell went down.
Since his donning of a silver helmet, though, Carson has been fair at best. Sure, he's in a new system with new receivers a new offensive line and so on, but watching him play, he's the same quarterback as last year. I think fans on both sides of the trade wondered aloud if the change of scenery would kick-start the magic for him again; if Palmer really was the shackled phoenix waiting for another chance to burn, or just another QB in the later portion of an okay career. He still makes some good throws and occasionally surprises me with his play-making ability, but he also still frequently has his what-were-you-thinking moments and has not yet led his new team to a comfortable position within their division.
On the other hand, the force is strong with Andy Dalton. When the pocket breaks down behind him he can feel it. It isn't something that can be taught—you either have it or you don't—and Red's got it. His calmness has guided an offense through seas that should have been stormier for a rookie Bengal quarterback. His play has been nowhere near perfect—he must improve on his accuracy—but his intangibles are what excites the onlookers.
What I like so much is his balance between playing wily yet careful football. He plays with a backyard style, allowing his instincts to guide him into the right position to make a play, but then if he isn't satisfied with the coverage he sees as he moves around, he lofts the ball out of bounds and lives another day. His game-management skills are more consistent and trustworthy than are Palmer's and he knows his limitations on his throws.
As for his throws, I feel that while Palmer can throw farther, Dalton can throw faster. Dalton's delivery is shorter and he can really zing it on close-range throws. His deep balls are not yet amazing—Jeff Blake remains the best in that category in Bengal lore—but he gets a lot of help by his tall and supremely talented outside receivers (mostly AJ Green) when he just hucks it up there for them.
I also like his leadership skills more. While Carson always said the right things, from the outside, he never seemed to embrace the one-of-the-guys mentality. There was Mike Brown, Marvin Lewis, Carson Palmer and everyone else. The Bengals may have thrust this persona on the guy and demanded he conduct himself as more than just another player, but Dalton goes about his business in a humble and unassuming way. He shrugs off the negative and laughs easily. He's comfortable around large groups of fans; he's big when he needs to be and small when he needs to be, and that's not easy for everyone. The city loves him, the media loves him, and his future is solid gold as of now.
It wouldn't be fair to omit the fact that Dalton is playing under a much more sensible playcaller than what Carson was subjected to for his entire Bengal tenure. Perhaps Jay Gruden could have revived No. 9's career and put up the same kind of wins, but Hue Jackson had a sterling reputation as a playcaller before Palmer arrived. Once Carson was a Raider, Hue said he would install some Bengal stuff in the playbook to ease the transition, but I think that has been part of the problem for CP3. The old Bratkowski way never came to any success, yet Oakland looks like Bengal West with the likes of Palmer, Jackson, Chuck Bresnahan and even T.J. Houshmanzadeh. Once Chad Ochocinco hits the market again would anyone be surprised to see him as a Raider? I think Rudi Johnson is available too if they're interested.
When Palmer "retired" and Dalton was drafted, we figured it would take some time to get back to watching a competitive quarterback in Stripes, but the kid dazzled from the get-go. By Week 14, Dalton underwent a winning streak, a losing streak, some squeak-out wins and heartbreak losses. He has displayed a ton of heart, poise and composure, a stronger arm than most had thought, solid mobility, and most importantly, innate pocket presence.
Since Palmer has begun to play football again, he has displayed everything he was last year: a turnover machine who does not excel at improvising and consequently has trouble winning games.
I'll take the ginger, please.
Mojokong—and I still can't believe what they traded for him.