Remember when Andy Dalton threw four interceptions on opening day? Remember when some Bengals fans wanted to see their quarterback benched? I do, but barely.
On Sunday, the Bengals took a business trip to Cleveland in search of their first win. Dalton would help them find it, but the fashion in which the team won is what stands out.
The Bengals looked anemic during the first two weeks under offensive coordinator Ken Zampese, scoring a grand total of nine points in two games. Dalton threw for zero touchdowns but gave the ball away five times. His passer rating in Week 1 was a paltry 28.4, the lowest single-game total of his career. Since the takeover of new coordinator Bill Lazor, Dalton has been red-hot. His Week 4 performance against the Browns earned him a rating of 146 (which is not far from a perfect 158.3). Not to mention, he passed for four touchdowns for the first time since the 2013 season.
“We want to make sure we keep Andy on progression,” head coach Marvin Lewis said after the win. “He’s done a nice job. He’s felt comfortable with it, and we’ve just got to keep going and keep building.”
The culmination of Dalton’s improved passing helped destroy the winless Browns. Dalton started out on shaky ground, fumbling and going three-and-out on his first two drives. But something clicked and Dalton soon put the game out of the reach. The Bengals would go on to score on each of the team’s next five drives to go up 31-0. Dalton completed 16 passes in a row after missing his first attempt, and eventually ended with a 83.3 completion percentage, the highest completion percentage of his career. Dalton completed 17 of his 18 passes for 215 yards in the first half, adding three touchdowns and a near perfect rating of 156.
Perhaps if the game was closer, he would have been allowed to continue his hot streak. But because the Browns were so far behind, the second half was mostly conservative passes and runs.
“The last two weeks he has had high completions and good yardage,” Brandon LaFell said of his quarterback. “Last week, he only had seven passes incompletions and this week, I think, only five. When he is out there going, our offense is flowing.”
After the team’s outing in Cleveland, Dalton should be happy with his performance.
A.J. Green, Tyler Kroft, and Giovani Bernard were all contributors to Dalton’s incredible effort. Green and Bernard each connected with Dalton for a score. Dalton found Green with a fade route to the corner, while Bernard caught a screen and ran for 61 yards without so much as being touched. Meanwhile, Kroft made us forget about his fellow tight end also named Tyler when he received two touchdowns from Dalton.
“I think as people go down, we always preach next man up has to come up and make a play,” Kroft said after his first-ever two touchdown game. In fact, Kroft only had one touchdown in his first two NFL seasons combined. “With any injures across this team, we’ve got guys and depth at each position.”
If the stats don’t jump out at you, the film from this game should. Dalton made just about every throw in the book: screens, lobs, fades, bullets all while under varying amounts of pressure. He made throws from inside the pocket and on the run. Except for one fumble early on Sunday in Cleveland (which was Jake Fisher’s fault) Dalton hasn’t turned the ball over since Week 1.
If the Bengals are going to turn their season around, they made the right decision going with Lazor. Dalton has thrown for six touchdowns in the two weeks Lazor has been in charge. That, after dropping goose eggs for the first two weeks (the only points in that span came in Week 2 with field goals). Even though the competition against the Browns was weak, the Bengals are getting into a rhythm that they will hopefully carry over into their next game against the hot Buffalo Bills. The changes the Bengals have made are coming into fruition, and as fans, we couldn’t be happier.
It should be noted that Dalton ran for 29 yards on four carries on Sunday, making him the team’s leading rusher in Week 4. It should also be noted that he did all of this behind a line made out of Swiss cheese.