Way back around the turn of the century, the St Louis Rams were the standard bearer of offense in the NFL.
For three consecutive seasons, from 1999 to 2001, they led the NFL in point scored and reached the Super Bowl twice in that span. They were the "greatest show on turf" led by the offensive-minded Mike Martz and his impressive cast of weapons like Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk, receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, and Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, who was protected by fellow Hall of Famer, left tackle Orlando Pace.
But as great as that offense was, injuries limited Warner’s time in that offense to only two full seasons with the Rams. His successor who would take over this "greatest show on turf" became Marc Bulger.
Before playing in the NFL, Bulger played college football for West Virginia, where he had a good career but wasn’t on anybody’s list as a first-round talent. He had displayed good leadership, good technique, and good accuracy on short passes, with the ability to step up and make a big play when needed.
But he was barely 6’1", didn’t have a great ability to scramble and get away from pressure, and his arm strength was never going to be confused for a cannon.
With the Rams, Bulger was surrounded by a great cast of offensive players and good offensive minds leading the team, and thanks to this, he found success. He went 18-4 in his first two seasons with the Rams and compiled a winning record in each of his first three years.
Bulger was an efficient quarterback who wasn’t going to win any games for the Rams single-handedly, but did enough to be an effective piece of their potent offense. In four of his first five seasons, he only once had a passer rating below 92.9, and once even had a rating above 100. He made a couple of Pro Bowls and was seen as a good, though not elite, NFL quarterback.
His good, not great, quarterback play abruptly disappeared once he turned 30. Partially due to a loss of coaches, partially due to a diminished roster, and partially due to aging skills, Bulger’s career became a mere shell of its former self. He suddenly turned the ball more than he scored, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns in his next three seasons, and he saw his passer rating plummet to the low 70’s over those three seasons (from a career average in the low 90’s until that point).
Bulger’s passing yards per game fell drastically from an average of about 260 to under 200. His team’s record mirrored his struggles on the field, as the Rams suffered thru a 5-30 record over his final three years with him as the starting quarterback.
Overall, Bulger had a decent career, completing 62 percent of his passes with about four percent of those going for touchdowns, three percent of those going for interceptions, and a passer rating in the mid-80's. He was never elite, but when surrounded by enough great talent and coaching, he could produce good numbers.
With this in mind, we consider the career of Andy Dalton and his time with the Cincinnati Bengals. Like Bulger, he had a similar scouting report, as somebody who had accuracy on shorter passes, and had good leadership and was pro-ready, but didn’t have a big arm, wasn’t great under pressure in the pocket, and wasn’t on anybody’s list as an "elite" prospect.
Also like Bulger, Dalton has found success when surrounded by greatness. Since his rookie season, he has been paired with a future Hall of Fame wide receiver in A.J. Green. He has also had the benefit of a great tight end Tyler Eifert and been coached under a pair of good offensive minds, Jay Gruden and Hue Jackson.
Dalton had good protection with Andrew Whitworth at left tackle, and Kevin Zeitler and Andre Smith on the right side. Dalton has also reached a few Pro bowls, has a career passer rating in the low 90’s, and one season where he even topped 100.
As Dalton now enters his age 30 season, his career is continuing to mimic Bulger’s, and that’s not a good thing. Working under less competent offensive coordinators, and losing his best pass protectors along the offensive line, Dalton has struggled.
Like Bulger, his passer rating is now in the low 70 range (currently just below 70). And he has also seen a drop in his yards per game, which is now hovering around 200 yards per game this season. He still has A.J. Green, but without elite touchdown catching Tyler Eifert, his touchdown rate is about one-third of what it was a couple of seasons ago.
Just like with Bulger, Dalton seems to have hit a wall where is production is suddenly abysmal. He makes poor decisions with the ball and misses open receivers with his passes. Without great coaches, great pass protection, and a plentitude of offensive options to throw the ball too, he seems to be getting exposed as one who can’t get it done without all of that help around him.
So that leads us to the question of whether Andy Dalton will continue down the career path of Marc Bulger, extending the bad start of 2017 into an entire bad season, followed by another bad season or two before falling out of the league? Or will Dalton find a way to turn it around?
Andy Dalton will...
This poll is closed
Continue to struggle, following the path of Marc Bulger
Rebound from a rough start to 2017 and have a good season