Despite heavy criticisms, Andy Dalton is making his mark

Al Bello

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is producing with only two seasons in the NFL. Yet the third season is a critical season for Dalton.

An insufferable question with blanket prognostication is constantly being asked for the sake of tuning out the static: How much will Andy Dalton improve in his third year?

It's a necessary question based on certain performances covering the quarterback's first two seasons. It's even a common question for most quarterbacks entering their third season. Yet in Dalton's case, it's a matter of improving from mediocre to average. At least from varying perspectives around the league (and even Cincinnati's own fanbase).

During's ranking of best quarterbacks aged 25 years or under, Greg Rosenthal writes.

But Dalton cracked the top 10 quarterbacks who are 25 or under list less for standout traits and more for keeping the Bengals alive in games by avoiding mistakes.

We'll ignore the five four quarter comebacks and seven game-winning drives in his young career. Additionally, no quarterback selected during the 2011 NFL draft has more touchdowns thrown than Dalton (47). Let's amend that. No quarterback selected in the 2010 NFL draft has thrown more either, even with the one-year head start.

Colin Kaepernick is the only quarterback from the 2011 class with a higher completion percentage than Dalton. Yet if you account for the final seven starts between Dalton and Kaepernick, the numbers are close -- though favoring San Francisco's rising star.

Final 7 games in 2012 CMP ATT PCT YRDS TDs INTs
Kaepernick 120 192 62.5 1,608 10 3
Dalton 126 213 59.2 1,340 9 5

Obviously Kaepernick has the legs, rushing for 238 yards rushing (compared to Dalton's 45 yards, mostly scrambling) in the final seven games of 2012. Then again, Dalton has as many rushing touchdowns (2) as Kaepernick and if you expand to the final eight games, Dalton's three touchdowns reigns supreme.

Yet, the comparisons are null. The darling Kaepernick is catered with rose pedals, drink, and song while Dalton is the head-scratching quarterback that's better than Christian Ponder and Blaine Gabbert. Going back to's ranking of the top-ten quarterbacks aged 25 years and younger, Dalton ranked at No. 9 with Sam Bradford and Ryan Tannehill drawing more praise while Kaepernick rubs elbows with Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck at the future Hall of Fame table.

We're not taking anything away from Kaepernick either. He's a special talent with a strong arm, surrounded by Pro Bowl talent (like Dalton), a quality running game with his own decisive legs eyeing a potential opening for a big gain. He was on target against the Atlanta Falcons. And against the Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl, Kaepernick hit Randy Moss on a 32-yarder, then scrambled for a 15-yard touchdown to reduce Baltimore's lead to two points with under ten minutes remaining.

And while Dalton isn't the hard throwing ace with a surplus of talent, the third-year quarterback has started every game in the past two years and helped Cincinnati earn a postseason berth during each season he's been in the league. Dalton is on pace to crush Ken Anderson's franchise record of 192 touchdowns thrown with over 50 less games played than Anderson. Furthermore, Dalton has a higher touchdown/game ratio than Boomer Esiason.

That being said, a vastly improved Dalton in 2013 is a desired luxury that could complicate things for Cincinnati's opponents. He needs to improve the deep ball to help break apart the congestion underneath and show more confidence in the pocket. Most quarterbacks slowly progress and given time, everything suddenly clicks. Considering that Dalton has already established himself as a good quarterback with a will to win, that day will be worth waiting for.

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