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Bengals Mailbag: Continuing Dalton debates and navigating the schedule

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We received some interesting questions this week, revolving around a number of subjects. Does Andy Dalton have what it takes to get the ball to his new weapons? How will the Bengals fare against some of the rarely seen teams on their schedule?

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On this week’s episode of The Orange and Black Insider podcast, Scott Schulze and I fielded a number of questions as the Bengals start suiting up for training camp. A couple of them revolved around the schedule and playoff opportunities, while another surrounded a continuing debate on Cincinnati’s signal-caller.

Since the schedule was released earlier in the spring, many have decided their take on how the Bengals may fare in 2017. It’s a more difficult season to predict than most, given the team’s six-win finish last year and the influx of so many new faces on the roster.

What we were specifically asked about on the program, courtesy of a listener from the Bahamas, was how successful Cincinnati will be against the NFC North and AFC South. Aside from faring well in their own tough division, grinding out tough wins in those eight games will be critical to a return to the postseason.

The Week 3 matchup in Green Bay presents a lot of problems for obvious reasons. The same can be said for the Week 15 game in Minnesota against Mike Zimmer, as Cincinnati could be working toward playoff hopes at the time.

The AFC South games are another story. Not only do they provide the similar tough tests that Detroit, Minnesota and Green Bay present, but this division also plays a big role in outlook of the AFC playoff picture. The way the schedule plays out with this particular division also brings about a major speed bump for the Bengals this year.

In Weeks 7-11, the Bengals face a very tough stretch of games. Aside from having the Steelers, Colts, Titans and Broncos in that span, they have four of the five games on the road. Three of those are in a row and aren’t quick jaunts, as the team travels to Jacksonville in Week 9, followed by trips to Tennessee in Week 10 and then Denver in Week 11.

Even though these teams finished just a combined 21-27 last year with none making the playoffs, they all appear to have made improvements this offseason. And, any time a team has three road games in a row, it provides a major challenge. In fact, it may be as challenging or even more so than the beginning three-game stretch to start the season, where the Bengals host the Ravens and Texans before traveling to Green Bay.

All in all, if a lot of things fall into place, Cincinnati could be pushing to get back into the postseason. If so, the team will need to weather the storms of a couple of tough stretches on the schedule.

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A trademark of what has defined Andy Dalton’s career to this point is the questioning of his ability to lead the Cincinnati Bengals to a championship. From this major debate, there are separate arms of quibbles, ranging from his deficiencies in big games to the ever-present arm strength discourse.

On this week’s episode, one listener told us he and his friends still chat about Dalton’s arm strength and it’s actually gained steam once again with the addition of so many weapons in this year’s draft class. Once John Ross and Josh Malone are ready to go, will Dalton experience some of the same long ball struggles we saw early in his career?

Though most national pundits fail to mention it, Dalton has improved in a number of critical areas over the past two seasons. While cutting down on turnovers, Dalton has had his highest passer ratings and completion percentages during the past two seasons.

There’s no doubt that Dalton’s passing strengths are in the short and intermediate areas. Even so, Dalton has also improved with accuracy on the deep ball recently. In fact, Dalton had the second-best numbers in his career with pass completions of 20-plus yards (53) and 40-plus yards (13) in 2016.

What also isn’t talked about is the fact that the big completions don’t necessarily have to be passes that sail 50 yards through the air. These big plays can still be made with yards-after-the-catch designed routes, while allowing new guys like Ross to navigate through the defense.

Now, this doesn’t play into a pro-Dalton arm strength argument, but if it makes the offense effective and it wins the team games, that’s what counts, right? Even with the noticeable improvement from Dalton over the past couple of years, the team is still implementing the plan of surrounding him with a plethora of weapons, which isn’t a bad thing.

And, whenever A.J. Green is on the field, the ability to complete a deep pass is omnipresent. So, while Dalton may not have the strongest arm in the league, he has improved on the deep passes and should steadily continue to improve with the young talent the team has continued to amass.

You can grab the audio clip of the OBI segment here on SoundCloud.

If you’re unable to join us live, all Orange and Black Insider content is here on Cincy Jungle, as well as on our SoundCloud and YouTube channels, and on iTunes! You can tweet us @BengalsOBI or get in touch with us via email at theobinsider@gmail.com. Thanks for listening!