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Week 6 Patriots vs Bengals: The Dalton Dispatch

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Goodness! Andy Dalton put on a passing clinic early in the game in New England. Too bad no one will remember it.

Cincinnati Bengals v New England Patriots Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Andy Dalton came into Foxborough firing (and delivering), completing his first 10 throws to start the game. His success continued into the second half, as he would find Brandon LaFell for a five-yard touchdown that put the Bengals ahead 14-10. But the quarterback’s fortunates would change with 7:05 left in the third quarter, when he was sacked by Dont’a Hightower in the endzone for a safety. The Patriots scored on their ensuing possession, and things spiraled out of control from there. New England would go on to win 35-17.

The Data

After starting the first half 13/16, Dalton finished 21/31, for 254 yards, 1 passing touchdown and 0 interceptions. Dalton also recorded a rushing touchdown and 17 yards on the ground. His quarterback rating was 103.4, and his QBR was 94.0, the fourth highest of his career. Dalton was sacked twice and hit four times.

Deconstructing Dalton

Similar to what we saw in Miami, Dalton looked determined and played aggressively. Had the Bengals been up against almost any other team, that would have been enough for a victory. However, the Patriots seize opportunity.

And that opportunity came when Russell Bodine and Clint Boling failed to recognize a blitzing Hightower, and running back Jeremy Hill guessed wrong when trying to chip the linebacker. Those combined failures allowed Hightower to essentially casually stroll into Cincinnati’s backfield. By the time Dalton realized he had no help against Hightower (Boling appears to try to hold him, but it’s a little too late), he had a fraction of a second to figure out what to do. His natural reaction was to try and evade the sack, which wasn’t really a bad decision. Had he thrown it away, it would have been intentional grounding, as he was still in the pocket, and the ball would have been placed (in the best scenario) on about the 1 inch line.

What stands out to me about this play is that, similar to when Cedric Thornton of the Dallas Cowboys sacked him, Dalton made his frustration entirely evident by somewhat carelessly zipping the ball in the direction of the ref.

As a self-proclaimed expert in body language, my interpretation is that the normally stoic captain of the Bengals’ offense has had just about enough of this offensive line. Haven’t we all, Andy?

The safety was the low point for Dalton, which, in reality, was the low point for the team. Unfortunately, the Bengals are not the type of team that responds well to adversity against superior opponents. The Patriots would rattle off touchdowns on their next two drives, while the Bengals were simply... rattled. The offense only managed three points the rest of the game, and during the following quarter and a half, the defense allowed Rob Gronkowski to rumble off 121 yards and a touchdown, and fellow tight end Martellus Bennett to add 48 yards receiving. But we can’t let the game-turning safety and ensuing mess make us forget the many positive plays for Dalton and the Bengals’ offense.

On that safety, Dalton couldn’t compensate for the sometimes mind-boggling, sometimes frightening, but mostly infuriating offensive line play we’ve seen so far in 2016. However, he did find ways to work around the extended summer vacation of his offensive line for much of the day. Take, for instance, this throw on the run to Tyler Boyd early in the third quarter.

At one point, the quarterback was drowning in Patriots defensive linemen (and his own offensive linemen). See if you can identify Dalton in the picture below (hint: he’s not wearing a striped red and white sweater):

And yet he emerged with his head above water to complete a crisp 27 yard pass that not many quarterbacks can make on the move.

Another big play Dalton made was on 3rd and 8 early in the second quarter. Again, with minimal time to throw and no receivers wide open, Dalton had to get creative. This time he used his 5’9” running back as a deep threat, just narrowly avoiding a sack by Hightower (you’d think Bodine and Boling would have taken note of Hightower’s pass rushing capabilities on this play...).

From a second angle (below), you can see Dalton’s eyes, and how quickly he goes through his reads. He saw there was a safety helping deep against A.J. Green and LaFell. He then saw that over the middle, Devin McCourty turned to help against tight end C.J. Uzomah, leaving Giovani Bernard some space along the right sideline. Dalton dropped a nice, feathery ball into the hands of the lovable little guy, who rarely catches a pass that far downfield.

And when Dalton did have enough time to throw? Well, his accuracy was impeccable.

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

And, exhibit C:

You really can’t throw a football much better than that, folks. Just imagine the damage this offense could do if Dalton had that kind of time on a regular basis.

On Deck

Dalton and the Bengals welcome the 0-6 Cleveland Browns, who are allowing a very generous 8.3 yards per pass attempt, and have surrendered 16 passing touchdowns (most in the NFL) to only 6 interceptions. The Browns have allowed opposing quarterbacks to notch an average QB rating of 104.0, which might be worth mocking if the Bengals weren’t even worse (allowing a QB rating of 105.3).

Dalton’s Direction

Slightly upward. Through the first 2.5 quarters, this was Dalton’s most impressive performance of the season, and arguably one of the most impressive of his career. Against New England, Dalton showed NFL fans that he is a premier passer, one who has all the tools of a top flight quarterback. However, like most quarterbacks (save the once in a generation talents), he can only do so much when he doesn’t have time to throw. As shown above, he was on target when given the chance, and he even made things happen early in the game even when he didn’t have time. But when the Patriots started piling up the points, the Bengals’ flaws were exposed, and the offense stalled, gaining a total of three or fewer yards on two of Dalton’s final three drives.

While he functioned as a one-man offense most of the game, Dalton and the Bengals came up short in a game that highlighted the importance of coaching. On one sideline you had Bill Belichick, the greatest strategist in the NFL. And on the other, you had... Marvin Lewis, God bless his soul. But despite this huge disadvantage, Dalton made the most of the situation early on, outsmarting the Patriots on a number of occasions, like this pre-snap adjustment, where Dalton calls for a run to the left out of the shotgun after seeing the Patriots overload on the right.

On the right side, Dalton saw Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon double teaming Green, and Jabaal Sheard acting as an added rusher. Meanwhile, on the left, LaFell would draw Malcolm Butler to the corner of the endzone. That meant there was only one player who could prevent an easy rushing touchdown to the left: defensive end/outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich (#50). After changing the play, Dalton deftly fakes to Hill, making Ninkovich look like a nincompoop in the process.

And with that high note, I will end this week’s Dalton Dispatch. By the way, I’m sorry for not making a video, but ratings were pretty low for the last one. I don’t blame my dear readers, but rather the Cincinnati Bengals for giving us little reason to re-live that Cowboys game.