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Andy Dalton draws nice praise and strong criticism from PFF

Andy Dalton is a sleeper fantasy candidate, but he needs to handle pressure better to be a more reliable option.

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NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at New England Patriots Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Andy Dalton has drawn his fair share of criticism and praise throughout his NFL career.

When Dalton has a good supporting cast to work with, he’s shown he can play at a high enough level for his team to win and make it to the playoffs. However, we’ve also seen Dalton struggle to carry his offense when he’s not playing with a full deck of cards, something most quarterbacks have to do at various points in their careers.

Case in point, Pro Football Focus featured Dalton in two separate articles this week, one in a positive light and the other in a negative light. The first was that of Dalton being part of PFF’s top fantasy football quarterback breakout candidates:

It might be cheating to list a quarterback here that already has a top-five season under his belt (2013), but after several years as a fringe QB1/QB2, I think it’s time to anoint 2017 as the return of the red rifle.

Dalton just got a massive upgrade at receiver with first rounder John Ross and his 4.22 speed. TE Tyler Eifert has missed 11 games over the last two years combined, but still leads all tight ends in touchdowns over that span (18). A.J. Green played only 10 games last season, but was on his way to career-defining campaign. He was on pace for 106 receptions for 1,542 yards and 6 touchdowns — a top-five wide receiver finish. The Bengals also added RB Joe Mixon to the group and his diversity will allow him to enter the huddle without the Bengals tipping their hand to either a run or pass play.

One major reason I believe Dalton is a buy low is positive touchdown regression heading his way. Dalton posted a career-low touchdown rate of 3.2 percent last year, finishing with just 18 passing touchdowns. Prior to last season he had a career touchdown rate of 5.0 percent. Dalton has a 33-passing-touchdown campaign under his belt, so we know he is capable of putting up big numbers. He now has the weapons around him to repeat.

However, PFF is also offering some sharp criticism of Dalton with a piece that focuses on his struggles when under pressure. It’s no secret that Dalton doesn’t handle pressure well, but even his biggest detractors may have not realized it’s this bad:

Last season, Andy Dalton posted a passer rating of 91.8. This ranked 16th-best among all 30 quarterbacks with at least 300 pass attempts.

When under pressure, his passer rating fell to 57.1, which ranked seventh-worst.

When blitzed, he posted a passer rating of 76.2, which ranked fourth-worst.

I’m not sure this is just a one-year outlier either. Since he entered the league, Dalton ranks 14th-worst in passer rating when under pressure, among all 39 quarterbacks with at least 1,000 pass attempts over that stretch.

Bengals quarterbacks were sacked 28 times last season, which ranked third-most. Our data suggest Dalton was more to blame in this category than the offensive line. As a team, the Bengals surrendered only 181 pressures, which ranked sixth-fewest. Dalton was sacked on 22.7 percent of his pressured dropbacks last season, which ranked highest among all 30 qualifying quarterbacks.

Yikes.

That’s pretty damning, especially when you realize the offensive line lost Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler this offseason. Whitworth has been one of the NFL’s best left tackles this decade, and he’s protected Dalton’s blindside since the quarterback entered the NFL in 2011.

Not having Whitworth there and replacing him with a struggling Cedric Ogbuehi will likely lead to Dalton facing a lot more pressure from his blindside, which seems like a recipe for disaster based on his struggles under pressure.

It doesn’t help that Zeitler was one of the NFL’s best guards, something he’ll now be for the rival Cleveland Browns. It’s a lot easier to replace a great guard, but replacing your two best linemen in one year is never ideal.

We can only hope that Ogbuehi and other linemen step up to help keep Dalton from being under siege like he was for much of last season.