Entering the 2013 season, the Cincinnati Bengals were a popular dark horse pick. They had the talent defensively with Geno Atkins, Micheal Johnson and Vontez Burfict and had finally provided secondary passing options to A.J. Green with the selection of Tyler Eifert and development of Marvin Jones and Muhammed Sanu. The only remaining question was whether Andy Dalton could provide consistent quality quarterback play.
Through the first quarter of the season, Andy Dalton was inconsistent and he seemed to be fulfilling the predicted narrative by limiting an otherwise explosive offense. Then he broke out with 3 straight dominant performances with 11 touchdowns and a quarterback rating in the 120s, leading to an AFC Offensive player of the month award.
It seemed as if Andy Dalton had finally figured out how to exploit the plethora of playmakers around him. But on Thursday Night Football, he showed glimpses of the old Andy Dalton with 4 turnovers that would be the deciding factor in the game.
Let’s look at how Andy Dalton’s displayed a lack of arm strength and accuracy Sunday on two out routes.
Game Situation: 2nd Quarter, 0:33, 1st and 10 at the CIN 35, Dolphins 3, Bengals 7
Offensive Personnel: 3 WR (A.J Green, Marvin Jones and Mohammed Sanu) 1 TE (Jermaine Gresham) 1 RB (Giovani Benard)
Formation: 4 Wide Shotgun
Offensive Concept: 15 Yard Out
Defensive Scheme: Zone Blitz
Pre-Snap: The Dolphins crowd the line of scrimmage with 7 defenders showing a full out blitz. The secondary are aligned in off coverage showing a Cover 4 shell over the top.
Post-Snap: The two middle linebackers drop into coverage while the slot CB blitzes off the edge, in a zone blitz scheme. On the outside the WR Green releases vertically at CB Patterson on a 15 yard out route.
The zone blitz causes confusion on the offensive line allowing a five man rush to create quick pressure against a 6 man protection scheme. Despite this, Dalton releases a pass to Green, who has broken outside toward the sideline. CB Patterson, who has been watching Dalton in his deep zone coverage, drives on the throw as it’s released.
Dalton’s lack of accuracy and velocity is evident as his throw to Green on the out route is late and arrives way behind Green. Patterson takes advantage of the poor throw and undercuts the route for an easy interception.
Summary: Simply put , this is a horrible throw by Andy Dalton. His pass arrives several yards inside of where it needs to be and gives the defender a great opportunity to make a play on the ball. This is a mistake that will never go unpunished in the NFL.
Later in the game, Andy Dalton made the same mistake in an even worse situation. Let’s look at the pick six in the red zone that changed the course of game.
Game Situation: 3rd Quarter, 8:14, 3rd and 4 at the MIA 10, Dolphins 10, Bengals 3
Offensive Personnel: 3 WR (A.J Green, Marvin Jones and Mohammed Sanu) 1 TE (Jermaine Greshman) 1 RB (Giovani Bernard)
Formation: Open Slot Shotgun
Offensive Concept: Quick Out (hot route)
Defensive Scheme: Cover 0 Blitz
Pre-Snap: The Dolphins crowed the line of scrimmage and show man to man coverage with no safety help on the outside.
Post-Snap: All 7 of the Miami defenders at the line of scrimmage rush and the secondary matches up man to man. The Bengals respond by keeping both Gresham and Bernard in to block and WR Jones running a hot route (quick out).
As Dalton hit the final step of his two step drop, he fires the ball out to Jones on the quick out. CB Grimes, who is matched up against Jones in man coverage, drives forward as Jones breaks outside.
Dalton’s throw again is criminally behind his receiver and right into the path of Grimes, who intercepts the pass and returns it 96 yards for a defensive touchdown.
Summary: Again Dalton's throw is behind his receiver on an out route allowing the Dolphins secondary to drive and undercut the route. The difference on this play was Grimes managed to escape Jones grasp and return the pick for a touchdown.
Although the horrible execution is responsible for the interception, the play call is questionable. Because the Bengals are at the Miami 10 yard line, the cornerbacks are able to be more aggressive due to the endzone eliminating the deep threat. As you can see on this play, Grimes stations himself at the 4 yard line and isn’t forced to drop or turn his hips and is instead always in a position to drive on a route.
Additionally the out route is susceptible to being undercut as the ball travels a long distance across the field. Also, if an out route is intercepted it usually results in a defensive touchdown as there is no one between the defensive player and the end zone. This is exactly what happened on this play and given the fact that AJ Green was match up one on one, a fade to the corner of the endzone seems like a better play call.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Bengals were driving to take the lead until a tipped pass resulted in Dalton's third interception. Lets look at how Dalton excited this seam route perfect yet his receiver failed to haul in the pass resulting in a pick.
Game Situation: 4th Quarter, 5:26, 2nd and 9 at the MIA 34, Dolphins 17, Bengals 17
Offensive Personnel: 3 WR (A.J Green, Marvin Jones and Mohammed Sanu) 1 TE (Jermaine Gresham) 1 RB (Benjarvus Green-Ellis)
Formation: Open Slot Shotgun
Offensive Concept: Seam Route
Defensive Scheme: Cover 3 rolled left
Pre-Snap: Miami again shows blitz with 7 at the line of scrimmage with the secondary playing off coverage with S Clemons in a deep zone.
Post-Snap: Miami rushes 5 defenders dropping their linebackers into underneath zones and providing help over the top of WR Green with S Clemons. Dalton reads this and shifts his attention to WR Sanu on the seam route.
As Sanu breaks slightly inside, Dalton step forwards and delivers a perfect strike over the top of LB Ellerbe and underneath S Jones.
Unluckily for Dalton, Sanu bobbles the ball and before getting smashed by S Jones which pops the ball out for LB Ellerbe to intercept.
Summary: After two dreadful picks earlier in the game, this was a great throw by Dalton that was intercepted due to Sanu’s inability to come out with a clean catch. Not only was the throw great but also the decision to shift from Green because of the double coverage demonstrates Dalton’s ability to quickly read defense.
While the Dalton’s completion percentage and total passing yards was good, the four turnovers, especially the two interceptions on the out routes, would prove to be fatal for the Bengals. These two mistakes directly led to 10 Dolphin points and ultimately forced the game into overtime, where a sack for safety ended the game.
Going forwards, the question for the Bengals is the same; can Andy Dalton take the leap and become a franchise quarterback? If he can’t, the Bengals won’t be able to proceed further than they have the past two seasons, but if he can they can be a legitimate Super Bowl threat.