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The Be Warned Review: Breaking Down Bengals' QB Andy Dalton's First Three Weeks

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How about Andy Dalton, eh?
How about Andy Dalton, eh?

Statistically, quarterback Andy Dalton has had the best two games of his NFL career in the last two weeks.

Week 2 vs CLE 24 31 318 77.4 10.26 55 3 1 128.2
Week 3 @ WAS 19 27 328 70.4 12.15 59 3 1 132.9

In his rookie year, Dalton's best QB rating was only a 111.5 (week 6 against Colts). His average yards/attempt had never been higher than 10.0 yards/attempt. Dalton only had one three-touchdown game, and his total completion percentage for the season was only 58.1%.

That should put into perspective how successful Dalton has been in the last two games. The Bengals' defense has been porous and miserable, and Andy Dalton has simply put the team on his back. He's been doing it with pinpoint accuracy on short and intermediate routes, as well as calmness and poise in the pocket. His receivers have helped him out a lot too, with tough catches and great runs after-the-catch.

Dalton has been the team's MVP so far this season, but he is still a young, developing player. His game against the Redskins yesterday was a strong showing, where Dalton was very precise and very efficient. He had 27 pass attempts and completed 19 of them. That's a 70% completion rate, and he averaged 12.15 yards per pass attempt, the highest in his career by far.

I recorded important stats during Sunday's broadcast of the game, and graded that 21 of Dalton's 27 throws were 'good' throws. Whether intermediate, deep, short, or sideline routes, Dalton's throws were accurate. He hit his receivers on the hands constantly, and only had one real 'overthrow' all day.

Of Dalton's eight incompletions, I graded five total mistakes, one miscommunication, and two drops by his receivers. Dalton's five mistakes came from one overthrow, three passes defended, and one interception. All in all, that's a pretty good day from a quarterback throwing the ball twenty-seven times.

In other recordable statistics, Dalton was sacked twice, both of which were probably 'coverage sacks'. Dalton held onto the ball a little long during both sacks. Dalton also had a nice seventeen-yard run where he decided to tuck the ball early and run.

Despite the statistical success and winning record, Dalton has not been perfect. In fact, a few, clearly-defined weaknesses have emerged over the first three games of the 2012 season.

Firstly, Dalton has been holding onto the ball too long in the past three games. He was sacked an incredible six times in the Browns' game, mostly because Dalton held on to the ball too long, or brought the ball down and tried to run. This week, the Redskins only got to Dalton twice, but both were due to Dalton holding onto the ball. Although Dalton is incredibly calm and poised in the pocket, his pocket presence (basically his feel for where the pass rushers are) has been miserable so far this year. In general, the offensive line has kept Dalton very clean, yet Dalton has already been sacked twelve times. That's the most in the entire league right through three weeks (tied with the Rams' Sam Bradford). It's not a matter of bad pass protection or receivers not getting open, it's generally been Dalton's lack of pocket presence.

Secondly, he's been staring down his receivers. Usually, it's to A.J. Green. Green has already been targeted 35 times in three games. Against elite defenses, Dalton's tendency to stare down receivers will get him in trouble. If Green is covered, Dalton needs to finish his reads and follow all the way through to his third and fourth options. He's forgetting some receivers in games because he is locking onto Green and others sporadically. That's why Andrew Hawkins has only gotten seven combined targets in the last two games (after getting nine in the first game), and why Jermaine Gresham disappears for games. It's led to sacks and bad throws into tight coverage. Against elite defenses, it may come back to bite Dalton.

Finally, Dalton's deep accuracy had been a problem in the first two games, but Dalton made major strides in this area during the Redskins game. In the first two games of this year, Dalton had only completed one deep 'bomb' (as in, those high, looping rainbow throws that we saw all last year) - a perfect throw on a 44-yard over-the-shoulder catch by Brandon Tate in the Browns' game. Otherwise, on throws further than 20 yards downfield, Dalton was miserable (1/8, 22 yards, 1 interception).`In the Redskins' game, Dalton was much better. He didn't have a successful deep 'bomb', but, on throws more than 20 yards downfield, Dalton was great (4/6, 142 yards, 1 touchdown). His two incompletions were one overthrow to Jermaine Gresham and one miscommunication with A.J. Green. And with those four completions, Dalton had more deep completions - hitting Orson Charles, Andrew Hawkins, and A.J. Green (twice) - than those from week one and two combined.

Despite these weaknesses, Dalton's performance over the past two weeks should have Bengals fans excited for the future. Dalton is quickly becoming a franchise quarterback. Like his team, he is a young player with a high ceiling. Dalton has been the best second year QB in the NFL through three games, and that's a class that includes Cam Newton.