Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is facing some serious demons in Cincinnati. Throughout the offseason, we were led to believe from the team, analysts, and the quarterback himself, that he's ready to make the leap, take control of the offense, and become the franchise quarterback that he was destined to become. Prior to training camp earlier this year, Dalton told Andrew Hawkins that he's striving to become an elite quarterback in the NFL, hoping to quiet those with objections regarding Dalton's future in Cincinnati.
"That's exactly what I'm striving to be," Dalton said. "That's what all of the work I've put in from my whole career, from college, for what I've done so far, it's get to the elite level. I'm trying to do everything I can to put our team in position to get to the playoffs and then win games in the playoffs. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to achieve that yet, but that's what I'm going for. I'm excited about this year. I'm ready to get this year rolling because there are some doubters, but all I can do with my performance, with the way I play, is to prove them wrong."
Unfortunately, he hasn't.
With A.J. Green, Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard thirsting to make their own impressions in the passing game, along with Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones, Dalton hasn't made the impact with the weapons that the team has surrounded him with.
Dalton is currently on pace to throw a career-low 16 touchdowns and tie a career-high 16 interceptions, including his first red zone interception in his career on Sunday. From the Patriots nine-yard line, Dalton scrambled (with good protection) and rolled out while keeping his eyes downfield. Eventually, the third-year quarterback threw an inadvisable pass across his body where Brandon Spikes stepped in front of Tyler Eifert for the interception.
"It was a terrible one," Gruden said. "Never throw the ball across your body. Every high school coach in America teaches that. I guess we forgot this week."
"It wasn’t very smart," offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said. "This guy almost got a perfect grade on his Wonderlic (pre-draft test) and straight A’s (in college), then goes and does something really stupid like that. It makes us all look bad."
Twice against the Patriots, the Bengals were resolved to run the ball cautiously rather than attempt a throw to generate a first down to further consolidate an expiring clock.
Cincinnati, with first and ten from their own seven-yard line with 0:57 remaining in the second quarter, called upon BenJarvus Green-Ellis' to run it on three consecutive plays. Perhaps the shadow of Chicago was heavy on their minds, where Dalton threw a poor pass to A.J. Green that stopped the clock and gave Chicago an opportunity to kick a field goal at end of the first half; the Bengals lost that game by three points. New England, who received the ball back with 37 seconds remaining, would tie the game with a 42-yard field goal as the first half expired.
With 2:32 remaining in the game, leading by a touchdown, the Bengals used clock and forced New England to use two timeouts behind Green-Ellis' three consecutive runs... again. Had the Bengals completed a pass to convert third-and-five, the Patriots opportunity to score would have been severely be impacted. Thankfully, the defense dominated New England and won the game for Cincinnati.
Now, obviously Jay Gruden is in a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation in both scenarios. Hindsight quarterbacks will breakdown every situation (the Bears had less timeouts, the Patriots expected the run, blah, blah, blah). The right call in hindsight was exactly what Cincinnati did, only because the defense bailed them out. Maybe Gruden could have used Giovani Bernard, rather than Green-Ellis, on a few of those runs. But it worked for Cincinnati and they won the game.
It does warrant the question if the Bengals coaching staff is starting to lose faith in Dalton. In fact, Albert Breer with the NFL Network hints that Dalton isn't guaranteed a contract, even when he's eligible to negotiate an extension next March.
"Cincinnati has been to the playoffs twice behind Dalton and built a youth movement around him," writes Breer. "So the Bengals will take care of their quarterback when he becomes eligible to negotiate a new contract after the season, right? The answer isn't so easy."
Last week, Michael Silver with the NFL Network wrote that the coaching staff is babying Dalton more than "admonishing him to improve."
Sources say Dalton also routinely produces uneven efforts on the practice field and that coaches, rather than admonishing him to improve, tend to offer primarily positive reinforcement.
"We’re still trying to get him going, and he’s playing solid football," Gruden said. "But some games he’s going to have to play great. Right now, he’s playing good, but there are always like five or six plays where you go, ‘Andy!’ "
And when Cincinnati coaches went back and looked at the tape from last week's loss in Cleveland, they saw at least two game-changing opportunities that Dalton missed. It's not that he didn't see the chances -- it's that he didn't make the throws. This is interesting because the Bengals' quarterback decision in the 2011 draft came down to Dalton and Ryan Mallett, who could make every throw but had character questions. The real question about Dalton is whether or not he can get the most out of the loaded cast around him.
That's a question that everyone is asking... at least until he forces us not to.