Few NFL players have had both the amount of regular season success as Andy Dalton has experienced in his first five years, as well as the amount of critics he has amassed in that span. Setting Bengals single-season passing records and never missing the playoffs in his five seasons as the team's quarterback just haven't been enough for people to ignore his winless playoff record as a pro. Dalton also couldn't quiet most of his critics after having a breakout year in 2015 that was cut short by a fractured thumb.
Many associated with the game, be it as a fan, player or coach, greatly respect the data-gatherers at Pro Football Focus. Recently, PFF explored just how high quality of a season Dalton had last year and compared it the present example of the pinnacle of NFL success at the position: Tom Brady. Josh Liskiewitz at PFF ran through a bunch of areas in which Dalton excelled in 2015--both in standard stats, and in their own metrics.
While many will scoff at this notion and reference the Bengals’ recent record in the playoffs, Dalton likely isn’t being given enough credit — at least in the short-term for how well he played last year before his thumb injury against Pittsburgh in Week 14 ended his season.
In 13 weeks, Dalton threw 25 touchdowns to just seven interceptions, and his NFL QB rating of 106.3 was almost 20 points higher than his previous best output of 87.0 in 2013. His QB rating on play-action was third-best (fourth-best without play-action), and his rating when getting rid of the ball in 2.5 seconds or less was 115.7, best in the league.
He also ranked in the top 10 of every measurement of adjusted completion percentage we chart at PFF, most notably sixth on throws under pressure and fifth on throws 20-plus yards downfield.
The latter two stats are areas in which Dalton greatly improved in 2015 from his previous four seasons. In the earlier years of his career, many questioned Dalton's arm strength and/or ability to nail down the deep ball, which was a major frustration with an All-Pro receiver in A.J. Green. There were also pre-2015 examples of Dalton being skittish in the pocket and sensing pressure that may not have truly been there. Almost cracking the top-five in the league in passing efficiency while under pressure points to a major jump in the quarterback's development last year.
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One thing about metrics and data is that it can't measure intangibles. With all of the statistical progress Dalton showed in 2015, PFF doesn't have a way to gauge an increase in leadership and other areas where Dalton seemed to also to have improved last year, too. The efficiency under pressure does gauge poise, in a sense, but it's in grabbing the team by the haunches and assuming control in a way we hadn't seen before that made 2015 a banner year for Dalton.
It's a trait Tom Brady is continuously praised for and one that new Bengals receiver Brandon LaFell recently corroborated after working with Dalton over the past couple of months. "They both go out there and get us in the best place possible," LaFell said recently about both Brady and Dalton. "Don't matter what the defense is showing, and the way they deliver the ball on time."
LaFell took his sentiments a step further this week, via ESPN in saying, "If we continue to take the steps we're making, Andy could be a similar player like that," comparing Dalton to his former quarterback, Brady. "Everybody respects him just like everybody respects Brady. How Brady demanded the best out of everybody, Andy's doing the same thing here."
Of course, while some recent accolades are great for a player who has been good for Cincinnati on and off the field, some narratives still need to be broken by the Bengals quarterback. Consistency and playoff wins will be the only way critics are quieted, and if Dalton can manage to achieve those things, he just might be in the MVP conversation once again.