"You can't please everyone". It's an old adage and a lesson learned the hard way by Cincinnati Bengals quarterback, Andy Dalton. The signal-caller knows well how to get his team to the postseason, but he also knows first round heartbreak equally well.
Though some of the stats might not always back it up, one could make the proclamation that he has steadily improved each year. While he broke franchise passing marks in 2013, this past season should be deemed Dalton's finest, given his low amount of turnovers and impressive level of confidence he exuded. Unfortunately, his 2015 season was cut short with a broken thumb and he couldn't see it all the way through, leaving questions of what could have been for the club. There are a number of factors working against him this year but the number one question is if he will finally be able to put all the naysayers to bed? On our list of the Bengals with the most to prove in 2016, Andy Dalton comes in at No. 6.
Why he makes the list:
Cast Changes and Injury Concerns: The Bengals lost Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu in free agency as they accepted big paydays elsewhere. Part of the reasoning in thinking it was OK to lose them was Tyler Eifert's emergence last season and believing he'll carry it over to 2016. But all of a sudden he might not be available at the beginning of the regular season, as he just had a procedure done on his foot. Aside from that, Dalton has to now work with two new wideouts in Brandon LaFell and rookie Tyler Boyd, so a major transition has taken place this offseason.
Coordinator Change: One overlooked aspect of Dalton's performances in his career is in the coordinator turnover. In just his sixth season, Dalton is on to his third offensive coordinator, as Ken Zampese takes over for Hue Jackson. Last year, the creative Jackson really helped Dalton bloom, especially with the on-field returns of Eifert and Jones. Dalton will need to ride the momentum from 2015 into this year with a new coordinator.
The Playoffs: Last year's result wasn't his fault, as he didn't suit up to play, but his previous four failures have come with poor individual performances. Even with the coaching turnover and personnel losses in free agency, the Bengals are still one of the most talented teams in the NFL. There is little reason to believe they'll fail to make a run for the postseason again in 2016, so he needs to start bucking the trend once they are in the dance.
What he needs to prove:
Unwavering Confidence: What was so masterful about Dalton's 2015 campaign was his obvious grasp of the plays and knowing where each one of his receiving weapons were going to be on the field. He also exuded great leadership qualities, willing his team to huge comeback wins like those in Baltimore and against Seattle. Through Jackson's departure and the loss of two valuable wideouts, Dalton will need to remain confident in his assets in Cincinnati, while properly lining up the new guys.
Strong Performances in the Division: While Dalton and the Bengals have improved in the division as they have matured since 2011, the quarterback's play needs some cleaning up. The 2016 AFC North crown will likely come down to the Steelers and Bengals again in 2016, but the Ravens and Browns are improving. Here's a glance at Dalton's numbers in the division in his five-year career.
|Games Played In/Started||Passing Yards Per Game||Touchdowns||Interceptions||Win-Loss Record in AFCN Since 2011|
The turnovers need to be cut down, even though it's understandable with the AFC North being one of the toughest divisions in football. And, the turnovers were cut down last year as he had only 7 interceptions in 13.25 games played. With the roster turnover on his side of the ball, Dalton needs to show poise with the often-relentless defenses in the division.
Utilizing all Weapons, new and old: The other masterful thing about Dalton's play last year was his use of different receivers. Even with the new faces brought in this offseason, Dalton will need to spread the ball around once again in 2016 to keep opposing defenses honest. It's a two-way street though, as those players will need to step up to the challenge and contribute. This will prove that Dalton can step out of Jackson's shadow so we can all proclaim him the reason the offense has improved, and not because of who is the coordinator.