As with any successful NFL team, the quarterback is the key to a championship season. So it is with the 2013 Cincinnati Bengals. Gone are the days of the Trent Dilfers and Brad Johnsons of the world being able to bring Super Bowl titles to teams. In fact, if you look back over the past few years, you'll see the names of Ben Roethlisberger, Eli and Peyton Manning, and Aaron Rodgers--all quarterbacks drafted in the first round.
There is one second round pick that the Bengals are hoping their quarterback emulates with his successful career--Drew Brees.
It's the ever-critical third season in Andy Dalton's career. The critics have been heard loud and clear, and expectations haven't been this high in at least seven years. The defensive talent is there and some nice pieces have been added on offense. It's all on Dalton to continue to improve and make a postseason run.
Here's the irony, though: for Dalton to develop, the surrounding pieces will need to help him out. The top two draft picks of 2013, tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard, will need to grow up fast and contribute heavily in their respective roles. Jermaine Gresham, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and the offensive line will all need to come together well enough to give Dalton confidence in the pocket. And, A.J. Green will need to continue to be A.J. Green.
Will Dalton need to improve on the deep ball? Yes. Will he need to continue to be efficient in the red zone, by avoiding turnovers? Of course. However, he will also need an improved running game and other targets not named Green to contribute in the passing game.
The 2013 season is on Dalton's improvement, but it's also on others to step up and help his development.