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Alex Van Pelt sets bar high for Andy Dalton

Can the Bengals’ quarterback enter the ranks of the elite?

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens
Can Dalton be elite?
Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and . . . Andy Dalton?

That is the ceiling that new Bengals’ quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt sees for Dalton – not good, not great, but elite.

“I think this guy has potential to be an elite player in the league,” Van Pelt said in an interview with earlier this week. “It’s our job to challenge him to get to that next level.”

Bengals’ fans see a quarterback who had trouble throwing the deep ball in 2017, and was one of the worst quarterbacks in the National Football League when he was under pressure – which was quite often last year.

For those of you who don’t remember, Dalton began the season at home against Baltimore with one of the worst games of his career, as he completed just 16 of 31 passes for 170 yards and four interceptions. His overall passer rating? 28.4.

His QBR, which factors things like down and distance, strength of opposing defenses and the strength of the offensive line, was 0.6 in that game. It was the third worst performance in the history of the statistic, which began in 2006.

And there was worse to come. Against Minnesota, when the Bengals still had a chance of salvaging at least an 8-8 season, Dalton went 11 of 22 for 113 yards with two interceptions and an overall rating of 27.3.

Prior to the Minnesota game, Dalton had managed something of a turnaround over the next nine games, and had actually moved into the top-15 quarterbacks in the league statistically. Then came the second half of the Pittsburgh game, followed by Chicago and Minnesota.

Dalton did manage to lead Cincinnati to victories over Detroit and Baltimore in the final two games of the season. He finished the season with 297 completions in 496 attempts (59.9%) for 3,320 yards 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

Despite it all, Dalton finished ranked No. 17 among starting quarterbacks, and his final rating of 86.6 put him into the top 20. With the exception of a couple of terrible outings, it can certainly be argued that Dalton was a serviceable quarterback.

But Van Pelt sees more than that. He sees a glass that is half full.

”I got a chance to come in and watch all the tape from the last two years,” Van Pelt said. “I think he’s a very, very good quarterback and a playoff-caliber quarterback. He does a lot of really, really good things. The more tape I watched, the more excited I got.”

Part of the reason for that optimism has to be the fact that the Bengals finally seem to be addressing the problems of their offensive line, which was woeful for most of the season, to say the least. Cincinnati has replaced longtime offensive line coach Paul Alexander with Frank Pollack, the man who crafted some of the top lines in the league when he was with Dallas.

And then there is A.J. Green who, despite having an off year last year by his standards, gives any offensive coach reason to smile.

The bar has been set. Now it is up to Andy Dalton to see if he can live up to it.