Andy Dalton has single-handedly managed to create a house divided among the Cincinnati Bengals fanbase. On one hand, he took the reins of a team with no expectations and led them to the playoffs four consecutive times.. On the other hand, he's struggled with consistency and taking his game to the next level, leaving many fans and pundits alike to argue whether he can be the long-term answer for Cincinnati.
However, at least one person – someone closer to the situation than most of us – sides with the upside of Dalton's future. I recently had the opportunity to speak with renowned quarterback coach, Todd Krueger. Krueger was originally drafted by the Buffalo Bills out of Northern Michigan, but after his playing career didn't pan out, he turned to coaching. Krueger spends his time working with quarterbacks of all ages, and one of his focuses is on helping high-school quarterbacks attain athletic scholarships at the college level. Bleacher Report identified him as a top-ten college quarterback coach in America.
When talk of the controversial quarterback came up, Krueger was very much in support of Dalton.
"People have to understand that at the pro level, there's such a fine line for quarterbacks between success and failure, and I think Andy Dalton's in that category of successful quarterbacks," he said. "He transitioned right away to become the starter, they've made the playoffs for multiple years, and he's had a lot of success."
However, the success of the Bengals has not been due to Dalton putting the game on his shoulders, Kreuger explained – by no means is he a prospective Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. Rather, he compares the Bengals signal-caller's game to that of Russell Wilson. This is not a brand new parallel that is being drawn. Football analysts have consistently compared the game-manager playing styles between Wilson and Dalton. And though the former has had more success, it doesn't mean the potential for the latter has run out.
"It's really hard in the NFL to get to the playoffs," Krueger continued. "And I know Bengals fans are really unhappy they haven't gotten deeper in the playoffs, but it's one completion here, one big play there, maybe a sack of the quarterback and a fumble – and on Andy's part in those crucial games, maybe one less interception or bad choice on a decision, or his accuracy – I think you need to work on his accuracy a little bit better to improve in the big games."
And Dalton seems to be trending in that direction. Over the last four years, the Bengals quarterback has increased his accuracy from 58.1% to 64.2%, with the only decrease between consecutive seasons coming between 2012 and 2013 – a slight drop of 0.4% when he was throwing the ball a lot more. However, his game-to-game accuracy more closely resembles the truth behind Krueger's statement. Inconsistency with missed passes and costly turnovers have plagued the Bengals in big-game situations; these are certainly categories in which the quarterback will need to improve on during his fifth year in the league.
Still, as Krueger points out, Dalton represents an above-average leader in a league where those are very tough to find.
"That window and the expectations for playing as a pro quarterback are so high, that if you're asking for if Dalton's the answer, I wouldn't go another direction. I'd stay with Andy Dalton. I don't think he's peaked yet."
And the playoff losses? Well, it's not a one-trick pony masquerading as a football team. The lack of a playoff win over the last few years can't be tied to just one player on a team game.
"The thing about playing the quarterback position, in the NFL especially, is you get too much credit when you win and then too much blame if you lose," said Krueger. "If you lose, it's the quarterback's fault. Well, there's 22 guys playing. I don't think Andy's the reason they haven't gone farther. I think it's because of a team effort, and I would keep Andy Dalton as your starting quarterback."