Andy Dalton, the man who didn’t even wince after fracturing his thumb last year, was seen limping late in the third quarter of the Bengals’ 24-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. He also took a shot to the back that knocked off his helmet, and was forced to swap helmets in the middle of a drive. And yet, he didn’t miss a snap. In fact, he threw for 366 yards for the second week in a row (what are the chances!), and was on quite the roll before a controversial call essentially ended Cincinnati’s chances. For highlights and analysis of Dalton’s performance (including his two best throws) watch the following video:
Dalton was 31/54 for 366 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions, and a QB rating of 84.3. He also ran twice for 7 yards.
The Bengals are seriously struggling in the running game, whether it’s due to the offensive line, the new personnel, the new offensive coordinator (Ken Zampese) or the running backs themselves. Add to that the fact that A.J. Green torched the New York Jets for 180 yards a week earlier, and the Steelers were simply not going to let Dalton throw deep. Bottling up Green was their top priority. That is why Dalton averaged less than seven yards per attempt, and most of his passes didn’t travel far beyond the line of scrimmage.
The Bengals started five drives backed up at their own 10 yard line or worse, in large part due to rookie return man Alex Erickson’s poor decision making in calling for fair catches on punt returns.
But despite such adversity, for the second week in a row, Dalton almost pulled out a victory by getting rid of the ball quickly and completing short passes, as running backs Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill combined for 12 receptions for 137 yards. Perhaps most encouraging is the fact that Dalton was able to incorporate rookie receiver Tyler Boyd into the offense, finding him six times for 78 yards, including this gorgeous 29 yard pass on 1st and 25.
And Dalton came up big when his team needed him the most, completing 11 of his final 12 passes. While deep passes are impressive, it’s important to note that Dalton was only sacked once despite being pressured on 15 of his 57 dropbacks (according to Pro Football Focus), and he didn’t turn the ball over. So his methodical approach really gave the Bengals a lot of yards. Not working in his favor, however, was the fact that it is a bit difficult to score points when teams expect you to pass on almost every critical down.
Dalton and the Bengals face Denver on Sunday. The Broncos defense has picked up where it left off last year, holding quarterbacks Cam Newton and Andrew Luck under 200 yards passing in their first two games, and to only 1 touchdown and 1 interception apiece. Linebacker Von Miller already has four sacks, including a late strip sack that sealed the game against the Colts. Of course, Denver will be without their second best pass rusher, DeMarcus Ware (two sacks this season), who is expected to miss about a month after undergoing surgery on his forearm.
Whether or not the Broncos are still able to get as much of a push up front without Ware, the bigger issue for Dalton and the Bengals may be Denver’s airtight coverage in the passing game. In their last 11 games (including the playoffs), the Broncos have allowed seven or more yards per attempt just once (against Ben Roethlisberger in the AFC Divisional Round), despite facing Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Tom Brady and Newton twice each. Having said that, Dalton is perhaps better prepared to work his way around the Broncos’ strengths than some of those quarterbacks. As demonstrated in the first two games, Dalton is willing to let the game dictate his targets, and will not hesitate to throw the ball to Bernard 11 times (as he did against the Steelers) when his top target (Green) is receiving a disproportionate amount of attention.
No change. While he missed on some throws in the redzone (including one to Brandon LaFell that was broken up by Artie Burns as well as the controversial catch by C.J. Uzomah), it was an admirable effort for Dalton. Just a week after getting sacked 7 times, he did a fine job of avoiding pressure. Nonetheless, both Dalton and Zampese must find a way to utilize the team’s talented star receiver against average secondaries (like that of Pittsburgh), even when teams gameplan against him.