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Andy Dalton talks offense, improvements and reaching the end zone

Dalton and the offense finally broke through Sunday to reach the end zone. He likes where the offense is headed but knows improvements must be made.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Washington Redskins Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Andy Dalton may have more on his shoulders this year than ever before.

In addition to having an assortment of offensive weapons that will have him frequently throwing the ball, the offensive line issues will require him to put a greater focus on getting everyone in the best position to win.

Dalton will have arguably his best group of pass-catchers in his seven-year career. However, he’ll likely have his worst offensive line as well. That puts the weight of seemingly the entire roster on his shoulders, so he needs to be at his best for the Bengals to bounce back from a dismal 2016 season.

Thus far in the preseason, it’s been mostly good for Dalton, who went 8-of-13 for 70 yards while leading a touchdown drive on Cincinnati’s first possession Sunday at Washington. It marked the first time the Bengals’ starting offense reached the end zone. It also saw the Bengals overcome several third-and-longs, including an offensive pass interference penalty that nearly derailed the drive before it really began.

“We got the third down, we converted the third down, but then they called the offensive pass interference. To overcome that and get a first down there, and then just keeping that drive going – we did see a lot and we were able to do a lot of different things on that drive,” said Dalton after the game. “What was it, 15 plays? Was that what it was? To have a drive like that to start the game and punch it in the end zone is how we wanted to start. It was good. What we have talked about this whole time is being able to score once we get down there and so to do that on the first drive is big for us. A good start to the game.”

Dalton’s first two preseason outings saw the offense reach the red zone twice, but they only managed three total points. One of those drives saw Dalton throw a rare red-zone interception versus the Buccaneers.

However, Dalton managed to get sacked just once in the entire preseason, all while attempting a total of 31 passes. That means he was sacked just 3.2 percent of the time this preseason, down from 7.2 percent in the regular season last year.

Dalton likes how his offensive line is playing and how the offense is keeping him clean.

“I thought those guys did a good job and gave me time, and you know, that’s one thing we’ve been able to do,” Dalton said.“ I’ve been able to move a little bit and get out of a couple of scrambles and different things, so I think they’ve done a great job so far.”

One thing that Dalton would like to correct is the third-down conversion rate. The Bengals struggled there last year and haven’t been great there this preseason either. That’s one of the few things he wants to see more work on heading into the new season.

“I mean, if we could have converted one of those third downs we could’ve kept it going,” said Dalton. “You know, we had the right play call. We did exactly what we did. I mean obviously we can’t have the turnover, so that hurt us, but then that next drive we had the third down call. We were half a yard short maybe. We had the play call we wanted and their guy just made a tackle and we missed it by half a yard. So there’s a couple things like that where you’re close and you wish that drive would’ve kept going. We were in good rhythm at that point.”

The Bengals will wrap up the preseason Thursday when they face the Indianapolis Colts. Dalton may play a series, but his preseason is likely done, and there’s a lot to like about where he stands heading into Week 1.