Make no mistake about it-- Andy Dalton is tough as nails. In Week 1 against the Jets, the Bengals quarterback was sacked seven times, but bounced back repeatedly on the road in an emotional game, leading his team to a thrilling 23-22 victory over the New York Jets. For analysis of his two best throws and an evaluation of his performance, watch the following video:
Dalton was 23/30, for 366 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception. He also ran for 7 yards on 5 carries.
After a rocky start, the sixth year signal caller caught fire. Dalton completed only three of his first seven passes, but then 20 of his final 23. More importantly, after the Jets took a 22-20 lead with a little over three minutes remaining in the game, he drove them 55 yards to set up the game winning field goal. Dalton relied heavily on A.J. Green on the drive, completing three short passes to the superstar receiver.
While the yardage is impressive, Dalton's mental toughness was the most encouraging aspect of his scintillating performance. After being sacked twice and intercepted once on his first two drives of the first quarter, he responded with a 54 yard strike to tight end C.J. Uzomah that set up a 33 yard Mike Nugent field goal on the team's third drive. On his fifth drive, Dalton was sacked on consecutive plays. But after that, he decided to neutralize the Jets' pass rush by making quick reads, going 8/8 for 62 yards on the very next drive, which resulted in another field goal. And it was this strategy that carried the Bengals to victory, as Dalton went 4/4 for 33 yards on Cincinnati's game winning field goal drive.
Next week will be the Bengals' first matchup against the hated Pittsburgh Steelers. While their AFC North rivals do not have a particularly talented secondary, Dalton struggled against them last year, throwing 3 interceptions, almost half of his season total (7). This was despite only playing one series in the second game. But that's the nature of these intense showdowns. Just ask Ben Roethlisberger, who threw 4 interceptions in two regular season games against the Bengals.
Dalton is a smart QB, as he demonstrated against the Jets, countering the lack of production from Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard and a constant pass rush with quick strikes to Green. While the running backs probably won't be limited to 3 yards a carry again, expect Dalton to similarly rely on quick reads at the line of scrimmage to get his offense in a rhythm. This will allow for the occasional shots down the field. Remember, Dalton already found success throwing deep to his new targets, including a 54 yard pass to Uzomah, a 49 yarder to Brandon LaFell, and a nice throw to rookie Tyler Boyd that resulted in a 25 yard pass interference penalty against New York. And that was in their first meaningful game together, demonstrating that the concern about his new targets was clearly blown out of proportion. If the Steelers put up 38 points again (as they did against Washington in Week 1), Dalton may have to cut his new playmakers loose, something that could be a very good thing.
Slightly upward. After a bit of rust and a lot of pass rush threw him off his game, Dalton responded like a true leader, something this team and city are thirsty for. The Jets game was reminiscent of the comeback against the Seattle Seahawks last year, when he showed fans just how fearless and confident he really is.