Through two preseason games, Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton struggled early but found some sort of rhythm as the games went on. He hasn't been great but he hasn't been terrible either and that's good considering his situation -- starting as a rookie at the toughest position on a rebuilding team in a league that's coming out of a lockout.
However, even though Dalton seems to settle down and find a rhythm when he's been in the game for a little while, he has yet to be able to throw the deep ball. The deepest passes he throws seem to top out around 12 or 13 yards and when he does throw the ball deep, the ball often floats over the receiver's head and has ends in an interception.
The Cincinnati Enquirer's Joe Reedy Tweeted about this on Wednesday.
Dalton on downfield throws this preseason (in the air 10 yards or more) -- 2 of 8 for 23 with 3 INTs
Dalton's longest pass completed in the air -- 12 yards #bengals
Dalton's longest completion this preseason has been for 33 yards but that was on a screen pass to Leonard (35 yards after the catch)
I know that the playbook was cut down massively by the lockout and Jay Gruden is likely installing new passing plays a little at a time. I also know that the Bengals will be running the West Coast offense which is a mixture of a power running game and short to intermediate passes.
Unfortunately for the Bengals and for Dalton, the NFL is a passing league.
Even though you should never base expectations of the season based on what a team does in the first two preseason games, I think it's safe to assume that we won't be rooting for the Bengals to make a playoff push in 2011. It's just not going to happen. However, if the Bengals at least want to finish the season with a .500 record, they will need to learn to move the ball through the air in greater incements than 10 yards at a time.
The long pass keeps a defense honest. Without it, an entire defense will collapse in on an offense and turn every pass into a short gain and shut down the running game. The Bengals have two receivers that are capable of stretching the field in A.J. Green and Jerome Simpson and it would be nice if the Bengals could utilize their speed and ability.
I know that Dalton is young and I know that the entire playbook has not yet been installed and I also know that the offensive line hasn't been able to give Dalton enough time to wait for a receiver to get open deep. However, I also know that there aren't many teams that can win in the NFL if they can't throw the occasional deep pass without turning the ball over.
I hope that I'm worrying about nothing and Dalton throws a handful of deep passes against the Panthers Thursday night. I hope that by the time the Bengals head to Cleveland on Sept. 11 that this isn't a problem. However, based on what I've seen so far, I think this is going to be one of the offense's biggest problem this season.