Although the Bengals have made the playoffs the past two seasons, opinions are still split on the play of quarterback Andy Dalton. Depending on who you ask, you'll either be told that Dalton has led them to the playoffs or that the team made it despite him. The thing is, both perspectives ring true.
On one hand, Dalton has taken control of the team and brought stability in the wake of Carson Palmer's departure. His play has been adequate in general and even shows flashes of greatness. Certainly, having a wide receiver like A.J. Green helps out tremendously, but there is no denying that Dalton is a play-maker. His 27 touchdowns in 2012 alone are testament to that. On the other hand though, Dalton shrinks in big games. When the national spotlight is upon the Bengals, he tends to play at his worst. Perhaps it's just a consequence of playing tougher opponents or maybe Dalton struggles with the pressure. Whatever the truth is, many believe that Dalton lacks the elite skillset to push the Bengals over the hump and deliver the team's first playoff win in over two decades.
Coming into his third year, the Bengals are still touting Dalton as "their guy." And there is no reason that they shouldn't. He is still developing and it would be foolish to give up and move on now, especially given his potential. But in order to reach his potential, Dalton must overcome his mistakes and continue to elevate his game.
One area in which he can do that is taking less sacks. In 2012, Dalton was third in the league in sacks taken with 46. Some might point to that number and try to put the blame in the offensive line, but that would be a hollow argument. According to Pro Football Focus, the Bengals o-line was actually the eighth best in the league, and second overall in pass protection. Where, then, did all the sacks come from? The answer is from Dalton himself, who was outright responsible for nine total sacks. In comparison, the next closest Bengal was Andre Smith, credited with seven sacks to his name. With 46 sacks in a single season and the league's second-best pass protecting offensive line, something seems amiss.
When a quarterback gets sacked a lot, it is usually a function of holding onto the ball too long, but oddly enough, Dalton had one of the fastest releases of all QB's last year. So how did he accumulate so many sacks? That is exactly what he and Jay Gruden need to figure out by the start of the 2013 season. Whether it be better pocket awareness or quicker reads on his second-, third-, or fourth-receivers, something must be changed. The team still has a lot of faith in Andy, but he must continue to grow in order to deserve their vote of confidence moving forward.
2013 will be a big season for Dalton, and it's entirely up to him to prove that he is the future franchise quarterback this coaching staff believes him to be.