Lost in the madness of Sunday's miraculous win over the Seahawks was how Andy Dalton made several critical audibles that led to big plays for the Bengals.
One of Dalton's strengths when entering the NFL was his ability to make great pre-snap reads and put his guys in good positions to make plays. He wasn't always the best at executing these plays the past four years since joining the Bengals, but he's been getting it done far more consistently in his fifth season in the NFL. Another of his biggest improvements that's revealed this strength is his ability to change plays outright in the huddle or at the line of scrimmage.
The biggest example of this on Sunday came late in the fourth quarter when he called his own number on a QB sneak near the goal line that saw him score to cut Seattle's lead to 24-21. It was a five-yard score on 2nd-and-5 with 3:38 left in the game as the Bengals had a pass play called, but Dalton saw Seattle was spread out enough that he had a good shot of making it to the end zone if he kept it. As much as Michael Bennett, Bobby Wagner, Cliff Avril and the rest of the Seahawks' defense had battered Dalton in this game, he wasn't afraid to go right at them when his team needed it most.
On the play, the Bengals were in a five-receiver formation with Dalton lined up to take a shotgun snap.
However, Dalton would see the potential for a sneak right into the end zone was there, so he changed the call and ended up getting the score.
"Yeah, there was a good look," Dalton said of the play. "Everything was wide open on the inside, and it gave me an opportunity to just take it myself. It was a great play design and it worked. It was one of those things where you get those looks, you practice them throughout the week, and we got it and we executed it exactly how we wanted to."
Against the Ravens last year, Dalton called his own number on 4th-and-Goal from the 2-yard line and ran right at Baltimore's defensive line through Brandon Williams and Haloti Ngata for the score.
This has been something the Bengals coaches have seen more of throughout the season, and it's something they've needed from Dalton, as offensive coordinator Hue Jackson told ESPN's Coley Harvey.
"There used to be a time you would just play system football; whatever coach calls, that's what you do," Jackson said. "To be good in this league and to be really good, you have to be bright enough, smart enough and understand what you are trying to accomplish when the defense changes."
"He is well-schooled that way," Jackson continued. "That's something that takes time on his part, a lot of time on the coach's part, and he does it as well as anybody I've ever been around. He's taken himself to another level."
Much of Dalton's first three years under Jay Gruden as offensive coordinator left the offense more in Gruden's control and less in Daltons'. Once Gruden left in 2014, Dalton was slowly given more control of the offense by Jackson. However, a plethora of injuries at wide receiver and tight end forced the Bengals into a run-heavy offense where Dalton's play-changing had fewer chances to be showcased.
Now that Dalton has had a year with Jackson as his offensive coordinator along with all of his weapons back and healthy, watching Dalton now is like watching a different quarterback than we've seen through his first four years. While he's clearly improved in many areas of his game, having as much control of the offense as he does is what's really making him great.