Despite having two good seasons as the Bengals quarterback in as many seasons as a pro, Andy Dalton still isn't in the "elite quarterback" conversation. He comes under criticism from Bengals fans and the media often, so we decided to analyze the why and how.
It seems as if the critics for Cincinnati Bengals quarterback, Andy Dalton will never cease. When he came to the team in the second round of the 2011 Draft, experts devalued him for his arm strength and doubted his ability to be an effective pro quarterback. The criticism on Dalton was so heavy that it led to most prominent NFL sites having the Bengals towards the bottom of their "power rankings". A big reason why they were ranked so low was not only because of the lack of faith that the outside world had in Dalton, but also because of the ruins that Carson Palmer left the Bengals in last season with his trade demands. All that Dalton did as a rookie is lead the Bengals to an improbable playoff appearance and finish second in the Rookie of the Year running behind Cam Newton and his record-breaking year.
As with any young quarterback, we look for improvement in their second season. Fewer turnovers, improved decision-making skills and, of course, wins. When examining Dalton's sophomore campaign, he passes all of these items on the checklist while being tasked with more responsibility than he had in the offense as a rookie.
Another aspect we wanted to see in Dalton's second year was the ability to beat quality teams and/or get some quality road wins. We saw these in the form of a road win in San Diego, Washington, as well as in Pittsburgh; and a home victory against the New York Giants. He also got the Bengals over an ominous 30-year milestone in which the Bengals hadn't made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.
Statistically, Dalton has bettered his rookie stats and is knocking on the door of some of the franchise single-season records. He has 30 total touchdowns (26 passing, four rushing), which is a nine touchdown improvement from 2011. Dalton also has only three more turnovers in 2012 than he did last season and has one more game to play. After that one upcoming game, Dalton will have surpassed his stat totals in almost every category, including passing yards, yards per attempt and quarterback rating--along with the other above-mentioned categories. Despite these numbers, he was not elected to the Pro Bowl this year, but rather voted in as a third alternate. It's not likely that he will be making the trip to Hawaii with Geno Atkins, A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham (who probably will be as the first alternate).
His 26 touchdown passes rank him only behind the likes of Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Matt Ryan. Pretty elite company, right? Additionally, Dalton ranks behind only Brady with 13 touchdown passes when facing five or more pass rushers. That stat ties him with Brees and Rodgers. Did I mention that Dalton has never thrown an interception when he has his offense in the red zone? That's the very definition of efficiency.
Dalton has accomplished most, if not all, that you ask of a second-year quarterback, yet he still isn't viewed by many as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. In fact, he's not even mentioned as a top-half-of-the-league-quarterback by some NFL pundits.
The first and easiest thing to point to is the zero playoff wins. Dalton is attempting to break that 21-year Bengals streak this year, but it will have to come on the road against one/some of the league's elite teams. Nevertheless, an NFL quarterback's legacy comes with postseason success and discerns the Chad Pennington-like careers from those of Joe Montana. If Dalton wants to take another step in solidifying his status as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, he'll need to rack up playoff wins.
Unfortunately for Dalton, it would seem that a lot of the snubbing he receives is because of the lack of his ability to play "pretty football". Dalton isn't a fantasy stud and doesn't routinely have the 400-yard, five touchdown performances that we see from some of the others labeled as the "NFL's best". Dalton is a streaky quarterback, both with negative and positive spurts, and doesn't stretch the field as well as quarterbacks like Rodgers, Brady and Brees. He has notoriously missed some open receivers this year, which would have bolstered his already-impressive stats on the year.
Simply put, Dalton doesn't have the highlight reel of throws that some of the other quarterbacks do and people hold it against him. He isn't without his moments of "pretty football" entirely, as we have seen some great throws down the seam in the face of pressure, as well as ones like the deep out route to set up the game-winning field goal on Sunday was as pretty as they come.
Another argument that is held against Dalton as being an elite quarterback is that of A.J. Green "making the career" of Dalton a success. There's some merit to the argument here, as Green has been the recipient of 18 of Dalton's 46 career passing touchdowns (39%). Still, most of the top quarterbacks in the NFL have a stud wide receiver to throw to, save for Brees and Brady. Manning has a number of good options, as does Rodgers--particularly when Greg Jennings is healthy. Seeing as how the Bengals have been searching for a consistent complementary receiver opposite Green for the better part of two years, it's a wonder that Dalton has had the amount of success that he's achieved. You can argue that Green has made Dalton, but that's a reciprocated relationship that has benefitted Green's career as well.
Having a fantastic defense to lean on is another supposed crutch that Dalton critics point to. Since his time here, the Bengals have had outstanding defensive units, ranked No.9 last season and currently No.6. What people tend to forget is the struggles that the defense had early in the year where Dalton had to carry the team. He didn't (and hasn't really fo the bulk of his young career) had the benefit of a consistent running game either, putting more on his shoulder(s) that most other young quarterbacks don't have to burden themselves with. Even when the defense has stepped up, Dalton has had a number of comeback wins that he has had to engineer. This past Sunday was evidence of that.
Dalton has a ways to go to be mentioned in the same breath with the consensus league's elite and it will begin this postseason. But, when you look at the numbers and what he has done in his brief two-year career, you have to love what you've seen for the most part to this point.