The recent struggles facing the Cincinnati Bengals has predictably been leveled at quarterback Andy Dalton. The coaching staff remains publicly confident in him, and Dalton himself is confident.
So why the struggles?
Production on first and second down have forced Cincinnati into difficult third down scenarios, writes Len Pasquarelli with the National Football Post.
There’s been a perception that Dalton has struggled of late because Cincinnati has faced such daunting third-down situations the past three games. And in fact, the average yards-to-make for the Bengals on third down in those games was nearly 7.5 yards. Eighteen times in the three games, an average of six times per game, Cincy confronted third-and-10 or more. Six times, Dalton and the Bengals were looking at third-and-13 or longer. Little wonder Cincinnati converted only 16 of its 53 third-down plays (30.2 percent) against Miami, Baltimore and Cleveland. The Bengals had a decent 42.1 percent conversion ratio (which would rank among the top 10 in the league), by comparison, over the first eight games of the season.
The lack of a productive running game (ranked 19th in the NFL) could be a factor, but Cincinnati is also averaging 5.14 yards per first-down rush, writes Pasquarelli.
Penalties, sacks, and incomplete passes on first and second down are leading factors. Offensive holding, false starts, offensive pass interference, low blocks, tripping, have all contributed to 12 stalled drives this season. Of the 26 times that Dalton has been sacked, 17 have been on first and second down (with 11 on second down alone). Over the last three games (10 sacks with five against the Dolphins and Ravens), defenses have changed their pass rushes, focusing more on the inside rush instead of the parameter.
Opponents have crowded the inside against the pass and the run. The perception in the league is that the Bengals aren’t as physical inside on the line – with left guard Clint Boling, center Kyle Cook and right guard Kevin Zeitler – and so they play Cincy accordingly. They overplay the inside run and, on many passing downs, emphasize pressure up the middle, in Dalton’s face. The quick pressure – which, ironically, was a staple of the Cincinnati defense, before tackle Geno Atkins was lost with a season-ending knee injury – has forced Dalton into some dubious decisions.
It boils down to the same talking points we've presented over the past month. Clean up the mistakes from the offensive line (blocking and pressure issues), the wide receivers (drops and misreads/miscommunication and bad routes), to running backs gaining more on the first two downs. Dalton isn't the type of quarterback that can put it all on himself. He needs everyone playing their best. And when they do, this offense is lethal. They just haven't been.