Seemingly lost in the wake of Dalton's third consecutive playoff loss is the fact that the Bengals beat the Chargers five weeks earlier at San Diego with Dalton. And in each of his first three years, Dalton has played well during the regular season only to lay an egg in the playoffs. I'm by no means an apologist for Dalton, but I've been wondering what has happened to Dalton in the post-season beyond "pressure"?
Throughout the year (as well as the previous two), the Bengals offensive line has been regarded as one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, particularly in pass-blocking - except towards the end as injuries have presumably taken their toll. The offensive line I saw this past Sunday looked absolutely abysmal as the Chargers brought unrelenting pressure, predominantly in the second half.
It's clear that Dalton is ineffective when under pressure. Thus, his performance in the postseason isn't surprising when he's been sacked 9 times (14 total hits) in just three games.
This year, just in the final week before the playoffs, four of the five starting o-linemen (two of whom, Whitworth and Cook, were in boots following the Ravens game) were listed on the injury report and the fifth, Zeitler, was still recovering from his foot injury and attempting to get back into game shape (and eventually replaced by Pollak in the second half).
Headed into last year's playoff loss to Houston, Cook was still hobbled by his preseason ankle injury, Whitworth was practically playing on one leg, Boling was suspected of playing injured, and Andre Smith appeared to have gained 30 pounds during the season, just as he did this year (seriously, check out Andre on the right side of the picture below - that was Dalton's blind-side protection).
Sadly, it doesn't seem plausible the Bengals will be able to draft or acquire a QB who will be as effective in his first year as Dalton currently is. If Dalton remains at the helm, maintaining the health and durability of the offensive line may be critical to taking that next step in the playoffs. Perhaps limiting Whitworth's snaps (or even games) during the regular season, acquiring/drafting a replacement for Cook, and putting more pressure on Andre to stay in shape will help.