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Bengals Weekly Lineman: How the offensive line finally broke Andy Dalton

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Monday night appeared to be the beginning of the end for the Red Rifle; an end caused by the people tasked to help him.

NFL: SEP 30 Bengals at Steelers Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With about six minutes left in the third quarter on Monday, Andy Dalton helped himself up from sack No. 5 of the night and walked towards the Bengals’ sideline. The failed third-and-20 play forced the offense, who had just three points to their name, to punt for the fifth time of the game.

Dalton approached the bench on the sideline and threw his helmet at the ground, proceeding to sit down in disgust. At this moment, the game was all but over; and the ninth-year quarterback may’ve finally reached a tipping point.

We may have witnessed Dalton getting broken beyond repair this week.

Through Week 4 of the season, Dalton is playing perhaps his worst football ever. He’s 31st in the NFL in Expected Points Added per Play (0.013), 28th in Total QBR (32.7), and is graded as Pro Football Focus’ 30th-best quarterback (56.9). All three of these metrics focus on the individual ability of a quarterback on a per-play basis. In short, Dalton is one of the worst quarterbacks in the league in terms of putting his team in a position to succeed.

And with the way his offensive line has played, this shouldn’t be a surprise.

Cincinnati has continually put out a mess of an offensive line for the better part of four years now. Since it completely combusted in 2017, not only has Dalton’s overall play suffered, his production has dipped severely when the protection in front of him has been good.

Some call it the David Carr syndrome: when a quarterback has been tormented behind a porous offensive line long enough to where he can’t mentally function like he used to. His internal clock speeds up (which is absurd to think about in Dalton’s case) and his process of reading coverages post-snap get out of whack because he’s seeing ghosts.

Yes, Dalton facing pressure is not ideal, but he has the 12th-highest CLEAN dropback % according Pro Football Focus, and he’s producing even worse compared to the rest of the league in those situations. Even when he has time, he’s faltering, and the offense is suffering because of it.

These last few years have been hard on Dalton’s psyche, and it really felt like the problems reached a boiling point on Monday night. There were really seven plays that lead to the helmet throw, each of them more embarrassing than the last.

I didn’t even break down Bobby Hart’s rep in the final play because mental exhaustion kicked in. You know he’s bad. You know he has no clue how to use his hands in pass protection. And you know you can’t just find players like him on the shelves of Walmart. We’ve covered all these things.

The defensive line is the strength of the Steelers, like it is for the Bengals. This game was going to come down to which pass-rushing unit would torment the opposing quarterback the most. What ultimately decided things was the difference between the two offensive lines, and how the respective coaching staffs would mitigate the opposing pass-rushers.

The Steelers allowed seven hurries on quarterback Mason Rudolph’s 28 dropbacks. The Bengals allowed eight sacks on Dalton’s 48 dropbacks. To go along with an additional 12 hurries and a handful of hits, Dalton was pressured almost the same number of times Rodolph just dropped back to pass.

That’s insane, but not shocking if you knew the state of Cincinnati’s offensive line going into this game.

And it’s foolish to think things are going to get better any time soon. Cordy Glenn is still in the concussion protocol, and at this point, we shouldn’t be asking him to step onto a football field again. Jonah Williams is also still weeks from a potential return from his shoulder surgery. so where does the help come from?

It doesn’t.

Following that fifth sack, Dalton trotted back onto the field and proceeded to go down three more times before the game mercifully ended. He had never been sacked that many times in a single game, never mind it happening on primetime against a team he’s only beaten three times in nine years.

For some (like yours truly) it was validation of a certain belief three years in the making. For others, it was a much needed wakeup call:

In an attempt to build around Dalton, the Bengals have officially destroyed him. And each sack to come is just another beat down on the dead horse.