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MAILBAG: On Andy Dalton's Perceived Sophomore Regression

Lately, we've noticed an increased questioning of Andy Dalton truly being the Bengals quarterback of the future by Bengals fans. We take a closer look at the situation and see if he's truly regressing.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Had enough of the Dalton talk, yet?

Ever since the Cincinnati Bengals made another early exit in the postseason, fans have been pointing at a number of people as to the reason of the disappointing end of their year. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has come under scrutiny for his odd game plan against the Houston Texans and tight end Jermaine Gresham didn't have his best showing as the game plan's focal point, but quarterback Andy Dalton has come under fire the most.

In our recent posts about Gruden being a head coaching candidate and about offseason strategies for the team, we noticed that the unrest with fans about Dalton leading the Bengals going forward. Many fans are citing an obvious "regression" in his sophomore season, citing an inability to properly read defenses at times and find open receivers. The lack of success against quality teams and defenses are a point of contention with fans as well and the tension level is high just two years into the Dalton level appears to be very high.

Is Dalton truly regressing though?

Statistically speaking, he really isn't. Dalton improved his touchdown total from his rookie season by ten--seven of them passing. He threw for more yards (3,669 in 2012 over 3,398 in 2011), had a higher completion percentage by over four percent, and had a higher passer rating by seven points. He did have four more turnovers (20 total versus 16 total in 2011), but that seems to be negated a bit with the big increase in overall touchdowns. His 47 touchdowns in his first two seasons are the third-most ever in that span. Who rank ahead of him? Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino and the future Canton-bound Peyton Manning. Not bad company.

The other knock when pointing to Dalton's perceived regression is in the win column and the lack of quality ones. In 2011, the biggest wins that the Bengals had to their credit was an early season victory against a 3-0 Buffalo BIlls team that ended 6-10, and a non-playoff 9-7 Tennessee Titans team. It wasn't a resume that Hall of Fame careers are built on to say the least.

In 2012, Dalton led the Bengals to a big early season win on the road against the Washington Redskins who won the NFC East division, as well as a home victory against the reigning Super Bowl Champion New York Giants. As a rookie, Dalton was winless against the AFC North bullies in Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, but beat them each once in 2012 (yes, Dalton played only a half against the Ravens, who in turn only played their starters for a quarter in Week 17, but he gets credit for the win). His resume looks a bit better after this year's wins--plus he had one more overall win than last year. Let's also not forget that Dalton helped break a 30-year curse of the Bengals not making the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.

Improvement in major statistical areas, an increase in wins and another playoff berth. All signs of continued growth from your second year quarterback, right?

However, sometimes stats and film tell two different stories. It's no secret that Dalton has missed open receivers--the most recent example was seen in the missed deep ball attempt to A.J. Green late in the Wild Card game against the Texans. Also, as our own Josh Kirkendall has pointed out recently, most of the alarming amount of quarterback sacks allowed towards the end of the season were found to be Dalton's fault (courtesy of the folks at ProFootballFocus). These are two major no-no's for any NFL quarterback.

If you want to see the definition of a true sophomore slump, it can be found with Cam Newton's 2012 season in comparison to his rookie year. Though it was hard to replicate his record-setting rookie season, Newton threw for less touchdowns and yards in 2012 than he did in 2011, and had a lower completion percentage, as well as more overall turnovers. He did have one more victory, but improving off of six wins is quite a bit easier than improving off of nine, as Dalton did.

If you want our assessment, Dalton seems to have exhibited some of the classic errors and flaws of a young quarterback. In some respects, Dalton is the victim of the inexperience and inconsistency of the players around him. As we discussed on Monday, the Bengals need to surround Dalton with a number of weapons. He, like so many other of his offensive teammates, are still growing into the NFL game and Gruden's system. What's one major indication of a young and talented team? Streakiness. And that's an adjective you can use for Dalton and this offense--for better or worse.

I believe that once Dalton continues to grow and the surrounding talent around him gains a sense of consistency, you'll see some great things from him. Yes, he's had a great defense to lean on, but he also hasn't had a consistent running game or a stable No.2 wide receiver in his two years in Cincinnati. These are pieces that all young quarterbacks need to be successful.

As was talked about on Monday, Dalton's two-year record, which includes two playoff appearances, is 19-15--good for a .558 winning percentage. His regular season record is 19-13, which equates to a .684 winning percentage. Just a friendly reminder: that's a better record than former Bengals greats Ken Anderson, Boomer Esiason and Carson Palmer in their first two seasons. It's also better than the three quarterbacks drafted ahead of him in 2011 with Newton, Jake Locker, and Blaine Gabbert.

The question isn't if Dalton is regressing--the stats show that he isn't. The question should be if we've seen the best that there is from him. We don't have a crystal ball and can't say with certainty, though signs seem to point up.

So, as of today, is there room for improvement from Dalton? Of course. But, is there also reason for major optimism in the very near future? I'd say so.