Andy Dalton has always had his critics, but after two losing seasons for the Bengals, the calls to move on from the veteran quarterback are getting louder.
Many claim that Dalton’s past success, such as his 2015 season, was the result of coaching. He has dropped off in each of the past two seasons since Hue Jackson left for the Browns. What do the number tell us about Dalton’s play, and what the Bengals need out of him to get back to the playoffs in 2018?
Many of Dalton’s critics will explain away his success as being a result of good coaching. But it is a bit ridiculous to make this sort of claim. How can a person say “Andy Dalton isn’t good because he can’t win in the playoffs” while at the same time saying “Jay Gruden (or Hue Jackson) is such a good coach, he managed to get Dalton to lead an offense to the playoffs?”
Both the quarterback and his coordinators deserve credit for getting the team to the playoffs, but they also both deserve blame for playoff losses. These two previously mentioned coordinators have moved on to head coaching roles and Dalton remains as the Bengals’ starting quarterback.
Gruden has taken the Redskins to the playoffs once in four years as the team’s head coach, and he has lost with Kirk Cousins under center. Jackson has won a single regular season game in two years as the Browns’ head coach with a revolving door of signal callers.
Obviously, the two coaches have very different roles, so this comparison is not apples to apples. A better way to look at this is Dalton’s performance with each of three conditions; with Gruden as offensive coordinator, then Jackson as offensive coordinator, and with neither as offensive coordinator.
Dalton certainly meshed well with Gruden as his coordinator in his first three NFL seasons, and continued to thrive under Jackson in the following two seasons. In the time since, the Bengals have had troubles offensively.
In 2016, they not only lost Jackson who became the Browns’ head coach, they lost key receiving threats Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones Jr. to free agency and later A.J. Green to injury. In 2017, they lost their two best offensive linemen, Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler, to free agency.
Despite these personnel issues and the instability at the offensive coordinator position over the past two seasons, Dalton has seen a major drop off in his personal performance in one measurable category, but it is a big one.
Dalton had the highest completion percentage of his career in 2016 under offensive coordinator Ken Zampese, but this past season, he had the second lowest mark of his career in that category.
Clearly, there is some inconsistency there, but over the past two seasons his completion percentage was 62.3 which falls right in between the 60.8 he posted in three seasons with Gruden and the 65.2 he produced in two seasons with Jackson. He threw for an average of 237 yards per game under Gruden, 229 yards per game under Jackson, and 235 yards per game in the past two seasons showing no major difference between the three time periods.
Early in his career under Gruden, Dalton averaged 1.02 interceptions per game, which stands to reason because he was still developing. This number dropped to 0.83 under Jackson and dropped again to 0.63 over the past two seasons.
The troubling number is touchdowns per game. Dalton threw 1.7 touchdowns per game in his three seasons under Gruden, 1.5 in two seasons under Jackson, and 1.3 over the past two seasons.
These are Dalton’s numbers. He owns them and he should receive both the blame and the credit for them, but free agent losses and the changes at offensive coordinator certainly had an effect on the statistics.
The Bengals have taken steps to improve the offensive line play this offseason and are hopeful that wide receiver John Ross and tight end Tyler Eifert will be helpful and contributing catches touchdowns for the team in 2018. Bill Lazor now has an offseason to install his offense as he enters his first full season as offensive coordinator.
Dalton has not fallen off as much as people think in recent years. With better protection and added receiving threats, he should be able to increase the number of touchdowns he throws, which should translate into more wins for the team.