Andy Dalton has been around long enough to see just about every coach and player the NFL has to offer.
Facing Bill Belichick and the Patriots is easily one of, if not the toughest challenge Dalton has and may ever face. During Dalton’s time in the league, New England has made five AFC title games, two Super Bowls, and hoisted one Lombardi Trophy.
And it’s seemingly been a different team each year in how they were built to win, and rarely keep enough tendencies for uncommon opponents to get used to.
“When you look at them on tape, they do a lot of different things,” Dalton said Wednesday. “Each team they play, they may do something different. So you have to figure out the different looks they have.
“You have to prepare for all of it. That’s the biggest thing. Because they’re not the same way every single week, they’ve got different looks that they’ll give. You have to be ready for all of that.”
The Patriots have many weapons on offense. At wide receiver there's Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola. At tight end, the team now has a top duo with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett. At running back it's LeGarrette Blount and James White. Simply put, it’s hard to defend against so many playmakers at every position.
On defense, some of the big names include Rob Ninkovich at defensive end, Malcom Brown at defensive tackle, Jamie Collins, Dont'a Hightower and Jonathan Freeny at linebacker, Malcolm Butler at cornerback and Devin McCourty at safety.
“They do a good job of scheming up to what they want to do to stop your best guys,” Dalton said. “That's why they’re a tough team to prepare for, just because you don’t know what you’re going to get.”
Dalton knows he and his teammates are in for a dogfight anytime they face the Patriots, especially in New England. Unfortunately, the one and only time Dalton has led Cincinnati into Foxborough, they were buried by halftime en route to a 43-17 shellacking.
The Bengals were riding high off a 3-0 start and were a trendy Super Bowl pick, but quickly were brought back to reality by the Patriots. That’s a scenario Dalton doesn’t have to worry about this time.
“I don’t know if that’s a positive (laughs),” Dalton said. “They came out and they played really well. We didn’t do enough to win. We know the kind of atmosphere we’re going into, so we know what to expect there. So we’ve got to come and play our best.”
Another reason why Cincinnati won’t be riding high this time is the 28-14 debacle in Dallas, which served as a clear message that Dalton has to rally his teammates and be the kind of leader required of a franchise quarterback.
“Being a leader on this team, you have to do whatever you can to make sure everybody’s playing the best they can play,” Dalton said. “And just getting guys going — that’s the biggest thing. We’ve got to focus on us right now. If we do that, we’ll put ourselves in a good position.”
Adding more intrigue to this game is the fact that it will also serve as the homecoming for Tom Brady, who returned from his four-game suspension last week, but will be making his 2016 regular season home debut on Sunday.
Whether it’s his first game or 16th of the season, facing Brady is always going to be a tall task, even for the opposing offense that must find a way to keep pace with the Hall of Fame passer.
“He’s so efficient. He gets the ball out of his hands quick. He gets his guys the ball. Guys make plays for him,” Dalton said of Brady. You can tell he’s got full control over everything they’re doing on offense. He’s so good because he gets all the guys to play for him, regardless of who’s in there. He’s won with a lot of different guys out there. That’s why he’s one of the best.”
Dalton hasn’t been too shabby himself this season. In five games, he’s already up to 1,503 passing yards, the second most in the NFL. It also puts him on pace for 4,810 yards for the season, which would be a career high, now in his sixth season.
He’s also up to a 67.4-percent completion percentage, the eighth best in the NFL and a rate that would also mark a career high for him, if he keeps at this pace. Dalton will need to be playing at that level, or better, for the Bengals to be competitive Sunday and hopefully pull out a win.