When an offense isn't producing, the quarterback usually takes most of the blame.
That's shouldn't be the case with Andy Dalton, who actually performed admirably this past season, given the circumstances surrounding him. Between having one of the NFL's worst right tackles, an inexperienced group of receivers, pass-catching back Giovani Bernard missing six games with an ACL tear, Tyler Eifert missing half the season and A.J. Green missed the final six (but really seven) games, this was an eerily similar disaster we saw in 2014, if not worse.
That 2014 season saw the Bengals lose Marvin Jones to a season-ending foot injury, while Eifert suffered elbow and shoulder injuries that cost him 15 games. Both Bernard and Green were in and out of the lineup with various injuries. That led to Dalton posting arguably his worst season as a pro: 19 touchdowns vs 17 interceptions and a QBR of 52.4, a mere two points higher than his rookie mark of 50.4.
But this time around, Dalton was able to overcome the offensive deficiencies and actually have a good season, all things considered. He finished with 18 passing scores vs just eight interceptions and three fumbles lost, giving him just 11 total turnovers, a career low for a 16-game season.
That’s why Marvin Lewis rightfully called 2016 Dalton’s best season as a pro. He’s certainly had, and will have, better statistical seasons, but he’ll never get enough credit for everything he had to work through this season just to put up the kind of numbers guys like Alex Smith, Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford put up with far better offenses.
Did we mention Dalton did all of this with a new offensive coordinator, his third in six seasons? While the jury is still out on how god Ken Zampese ultimately will be as the Bengals’ offensive coordinator, he’s clearly the worst offensive coordinator Dalton has had, which isn’t actually that big a of sleight. Considering Jay Gruden and Hue Jackson are two of the NFL’s better offensive minds, even being ‘good’ would be a downgrade from them.
All things considered, Zampese was happy with Dalton’s performance in 2016, but it’s still something that needs to continue to get better.
“We put a lot on him to handle. I think it’s a little harder when you’re breaking in a lot of new people. I thought he did a good job. I’m always wanting more,” Zampese told Bengals.com. “After him, I’m probably his toughest critic. That’s the relationship and the demands of that position and how much it affects wins and losses, so much than any other position. You just want to so much from it.”
Zampese even seemed to suggest Dalton will need to be more of a risk-taker going forward. Avoiding turnovers is nice, but you need to throw touchdowns, too, and make them count.
“We were very low on turnovers, which is great. But if you don’t score enough it doesn’t make that much difference,” Zampese said. “It’s about scoring and we didn’t. The low turnovers are fantastic, but you have to do both and we didn’t. There were some positives to be taken away in the way he produced, certainly.
“But we didn’t win. Quarterbacks are here to win and we didn’t win enough. There are some different things that went well for him and for us in the passing game and you appreciate those things, but we need more,” Zampese said.
It would have been easy for Zampese to exclusively sing Dalton’s praises, but it’s good to see him demanding more instead. That’s what your starting quarterback must do every season, get better, and Dalton is still young enough (29) to continue making small improvements as the Bengals work toward becoming a title contender.