In a way Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton confuses me.
If you print out his statistics after two years on your dot-matrix printer, you only notice progression. Touchdowns, completion percentage, yards passing, he's clearly showing an upward arrow, leading many to conclude the necessity of weapons-building around him. Cincinnati selected running backs that won't just help the rushing offense; they'll give Dalton options out of the backfield. There's Tyler Eifert and year two of Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones.
In other words, those excuses that surround Dalton are fading.
Dalton is a good quarterback by most measures. Physical limitations are noted, but not significantly debilitating that's hurt Cincinnati's overall production. Granted. His arm causes inaccuracies during the deep pass and 15-yard out patterns freak us out a little. But Dalton has led fourth quarter comebacks since day one, even putting Cincinnati in a position to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers on one of those 15-yard out routes to A.J. Green that setup Josh Brown's game-winning field goal.
That being said, Dalton has something to prove.
Can he learn to perform under pressure? Last year Dalton faced pressure on 101 passing attempts, according to Pro Football Focus. He completed 39 passes (38.6 completion percentage), threw three touchdowns and was picked off five times. His passer rating under pressure is a poor 47.3. Let's compare the AFC North when quarterbacks are facing pressure:
Then there's the whole, winning the big game, stigma.
Though it's short-sighted to blame one player for a team's successes and failures (there are 21 other starters and 45 other players that contribute to any given game), the Bengals aren't beating better teams.
In four career games against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dalton's career passer rating is 62.7, completing only 52 percent of his passes. Until his amazing fourth quarter pass in week 16 that setup Josh Brown's game-winner, he was winless against Pittsburgh. Dalton's passer rating improves to 67.8 against the Baltimore Ravens, earning his first win during last year's regular season finale -- a game that he didn't complete as both squads rested starters for the playoffs.
And then if we talk postseason, Dalton has completed 41 of 72 passes for 384 yards in two playoff games (both against the Houston Texans). His career 48.6 passer rating is obvious from the lack of touchdowns (none) and four picks. If we combine the Steelers, Ravens and the playoffs, Dalton has a career rating of 61.8, throwing only six touchdowns while being picked off 13 times.
Dalton is a good quarterback. We're not disputing that or taking away from his accomplishments. He's done impressive work after only two seasons. Now it's time to prove he can make that greatest leap. The Bengals depend on it.