You have to admit, you didn't expect it. When Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis spoke to the media about quarterback Andy Dalton needing to becoming a stronger leader on Wednesday, following up comments that he needs to play better from Monday's presser, it shifted attention towards the context within the message and boldness in which he presented it.
"We're looking for our quarterback and our middle linebacker to take hold of our football team, and I think that's important for us. I think both guys are such good people, that you've got to be a little bit of a (jerk). You do. That's what these guys we're talking about have. That's part of it.
"Andy has a great deal of confidence, self-confidence, internal confidence, confidence in the guys around him. But at some point you step out of your skin and you go. And it's time to go. It's time to step out of our skin, both places, all throughout. We've wallowed around here in mediocrity. Let's go. That's the thing we've got to do. These guys that have it, they've got it and they've done it. And everybody around them, there's got to be a confidence level, too, of anticipation and then clicking on those things."
Debates surfaced on several fronts. Were Lewis' comments too risky, jeopardizing his relationship with the players for making it public? Is this something within Dalton's personality? How many comments about Rey Maualuga ended with "bench him and move Vontaze Burfict inside" (despite mostly playing inside anyway in nickel packages)?
In regards to Dalton, it might be more than that.
We've argued that Dalton's season shouldn't so much be defined as the standard "sophomore slump". He's still generating impressive statistics, on pace to set career-highs. Yet there is something missing. We've all said it. The leadership, the moxie when the pressure peaked and how he responded to that, isn't there right now. During the first half of his rookie season, Dalton thrived. Since then it's been more disappointment than talking point.
Yet part of that "sophomore slump" isn't so much about the quarterback, rather as Pro Football Weekly describes it, the league is simply learning about the player.
Dalton is in his second NFL season, and by Year Two, "the defensive coordinators get the book on you," one experienced personnel man told PFW, speaking generally about the position.
If not this year, Dalton will mount an impressive growth spurt soon.
According to the personnel man, it can take a quarterback until Year Three or even Year Four to become "the guy" in the offense — the leader and tone setter.
It's a very realistic and natural perspective to call this year could be a wash, indirectly allowing these guys continued development without the pressure of postseason implications. Not the most popular philosophy but we suspect that most of you have already started abandoning playoff hopes this season already.