The Bengals regular season opener on Sunday against the Jets will mark Andy Dalton’s first important action since going down with a fractured thumb against the Steelers in Week 14, causing him to miss the rest of the regular and postseason. Bengals players, coaches, and fans alike will be excited to see their franchise quarterback going into his sixth year, ready to continue the impressive performance he was putting on before getting hurt in 2015. Leading up to the team’s season opener against the Jets, Dalton explained that he feels confident in his ability to put up that kind of performance again.
“I've got a lot of confidence in my ability, in what this offense can do, and the guys around me. So there definitely is a carryover,” Dalton said this week. “I mean, it was the best season that I've had, so for me it's trying to improve on that.”
In 12 games and the first 10 minutes of his 13th game, Dalton recorded 255 completions on 386 attempts for 3,250 passing yards, 25 touchdowns, and only seven interceptions. At the time of the injury, he was on track to being a serious MVP candidate. Given the Bengals’ 10-2 record at the time, the idea that he could have won the MVP race isn’t that far-fetched.
However, despite being in the middle of a breakout season, Dalton remained focused on his ultimate goal. That was playing the best he possibly could, rather than worrying about the accolades that come with great play.
“I wasn't worried about any of that,” Dalton said. “I was just trying to do everything I could to help the team and win games and score points. So that wasn't even in my thought process.”
It’s the right mindset to have, because players who get too wrapped up in the accolades that come with success have a bad habit of forgetting to keep grinding away, doing the things it takes to maintain that level of success. Dalton is still taking everything one step at a time and trying to handle things in the most professional manner possible.
For example, he knows that the Jets are a team that like to blitz and are very good at it. Over the course of his career, Dalton has improved quite a lot at handling blitz packages and keeping his cool up against pressure. For the upcoming game, he’s maintaining his focus on this key aspect, making sure that he knows how to find success.
“It's understanding the looks that you're getting and knowing how guys are going to be playing against you,” Dalton said. “That's the biggest thing. If you can get yourself protected, get yourself in good position, and know when you're not protected and get the ball out of your hands and let guys make plays, because when they're blitzing, that leaves less guys on the back end. That's just the understanding of each play, what the defense is doing against you and knowing where you're going to go to attack it.”
It’s going to come down to preparation and execution. Ultimately, that’s what the whole season is about, trying to find a spark in the shadow of Dalton’s colossal 2015 season. There may be some differences in the way the offense operates in 2016 and there may be setbacks that occur along the way, but it’s all about taking the season one game at a time. If Dalton has a chance to repeat his 2015 success, he’s going to need to be as prepared as possible each and every week. Mostly importantly, he will need to be ready to play his game and show the NFL what he is made of.
“I'm excited,” Dalton said. “Everybody's ready to go, ready to play regular-season games where these matter.”