There are a lot of opinions floating around about how good Andy Dalton is, and they seem rather binary. One camp thinks he can lead the Bengals to the Super Bowl an another group think of him as a bust the Bengals fans need to move on from. I've analyzed several young QBs in #QBCorner posts and found the truth to be somewhere in the middle.
First, I'll admit, I'm not a Bengals fan, but I have followed the team closely since they hired Marvin Lewis years ago - I had some dealings with his staff at Idaho State and found them to be supremely professional. Know that I don't have feelings either way, I just wanted to see how good/bad Dalton is objectively. He definitely showed some flashes this season and the Bengals for the first time since the Carson Palmer era seem capable of putting up 30+ points on a consistent basis.
To see how the offense was doing this, I analyzed a game where the Bengals scored 42 points. I looked at every pass from that game multiple times and found some of Dalton's strengths to be:
- Game management. Dalton had a good handle on game situations including the clock, field position, point difference, etc. He adapted his game plan well to having a lead - part of protecting a lead is to avoid dumb mistakes on offense.
- Stayed away from trouble. In this game, I didn't see Dalton try to force too many throws into coverage. Outside of pass 23 to Sanu, where he was hit as he threw, the reads were decent. Several dangerous passes were mostly just bad throws.
- Stepping forward in the pocket. Of course this is easier when you play with that offensive line.
- Under-rated athleticism. When Andy did get out of the pocket, he showed good running instincts and protected himself/the ball well. He was a dual threat in his college years at TCU and Bengals' coaches would be wise to look more closely at what he can give them on the ground
Some of his weaknesses:
- Bizarrely inconsistent footwork. The other QBs I've examined, RG3, Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, had moments where their feet got out of whack. Many times it was because poor line led to rushers in their face. But for the most part, Andy's line kept him clean. On some occasions he would adjust his feet for a throw but be off by several degrees, causing some balls sail. On other throws he would get his entire body turned to the sideline. This was only 5-6 throws in a sample set of 43 called passes, but again: his pocket was clean. There is no excuse for missing on so many passes.
- Accuracy struggles even when footwork was good. Dalton struggled on passes both short and long, often making routine catches much harder for his receivers and backs.
- Reading left/right. Dalton made good depth reads but needs to show more flexibility reading both sides of the field horizontally. Looking off safeties will also help his guys get more open.
- Chemistry. Dalton has some great receivers - he needs to work on his timing with them and then trust that timing rather than gunning throws.
- Recognition of throwing lanes. Twice, Dalton barely averted disaster when a defender jumped a throwing lane. Andy needs to make better decisions with guys in his face.
Placing some things in context:
- Cincy offensive line. These guys played magnificently. When rushers were allowed through, it was largely by design of the specific plays (screens). They handled Robert Mathis, possible the defensive player of the year, without a hitch. Andy consistently had room to step forward in the pocket and edge rushers were consistently pushed far behind him.
- Cincy running game. Benjarvus Green-Ellis is nobody to write home about, but boy is Gio Bernard something. The Bengals' running game significantly outperformed the Colts' in this meeting.
- Cincy receivers. Of the QBs I've analyzed, only Philly can match Cincy's collection of A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones, Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert, and Co. None of the teams have a talent like Green, who made Dalton look good on several throws, that last TD pass exemplifying his effect.
- Colts defense. The Colts' secondary is not superb and outside of Mathis, the pass rush was nonexistent. They are not a real defense.
- Cincy playcalling. The Bengals' coaches showed a lot of faith in Dalton and his receivers. They called multiple isolation plays in the red zone despite almost none of them working. Overall, I'm a huge fan of the coaching staff, especially Marvin Lewis and Mike Zimmer - their ability to develop players is elite, especially on defense. But this offense needs to become much more creative in terms of how it gets guys open. Pick plays, wheels, downfield screens, and the like are often labeled "cute," many times in derogatory comments made about Eagles' coach Chip Kelly, but these "cute" plays also "work."
My conclusion from that game was that Dalton has clearly established himself as a viable starter, something 16 other teams don't have. At the same time, I wrote:
I watched the tape of these passes multiple times and each time felt uneasy. That's the way I feel about Andy Dalton, kind of like a richer man's version of Matt Schaub. He's more athletic, sure, but both QBs have been unable to overcome inconsistent fundamentals and ascend to the upper echelons of their profession. The Bengals are in a tough spot - with the regular season success of the last couple years, it will be difficult to move on from Dalton, but at the same time, I don't think he put the team on his shoulders and win 3-4 straight playoff games. This team will need a lot of help to seriously contend for a Super Bowl. I think of the Bears' '06 run led by that great defense and special teams, or the Tampa Bay run a few years earlier with the same catalysts. The Bengals defense is good, but after losing Geno Atkins and Leon Hall, I don't know if it's that good. Yet Dalton's probably good enough to get to the playoffs year after year and have some success in the postseason. Again, uneasy.
Trust me, Bengals fans, I'm not trying to troll you. I know that one game is a ludicrously small sample size. I hope that Andy and Marvin prove me wrong. I hope the Bengals come out today and thrash the Chargers and prove they can score in the playoffs. I really do. But while I think they will put away the Chargers today, their playoff success will really ride on the defense, the offensive line, Gio Bernard doing ridiculous things. I don't think Dalton can win a game like we saw Andrew Luck do yesterday. Dalton has improved each of the last three seasons, but his 3.4% interception rate is still too high. He has a long way to go before he can crack the top 10 at his position.
See the full analysis from the Colts game, including every significant pass, here. Let me know what you think!
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