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Bengals’ flip-flop back to Dalton shows desperation, mounting pressure and long-term QB uncertainty

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There is a myriad of factors which led to another controversial decision by Zac Taylor.

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What a mess of a football season.

When the 2019 offseason began, fans and pundits were excited to see what Andy Dalton could do in a system run by a progressive, offensive-minded head coach. Eight games into the year, the nine-year veteran, who had 132 career starts in the regular and postseason, took a seat.

Ryan Finley took the reins, with the blessing of the organization, as he was known as “Taylor’s guy”. After all, Finley was the only rookie quarterback the team wooed in the pre-draft process and seemed to fit the prototype for signal-callers in the “Rams Midwest Offense” Taylor was bringing to The Queen City.

The rookie showed just how green he is for the NFL, tossing just two touchdowns against two interceptions in three games. Finley also had a deplorable 47.1 completion percentage, as the team averaged just 11 points per game in his three starts.

Grinding through this type of production, or lack thereof, was supposedly part of the “evaluation process”. Taylor wanted to see what he had in the newbie, as the staff began to process the viability of the 2020 roster.

But, just as quickly as the responsibility was given to Finley, Taylor took it away—only to give it back to the seemingly-bitter veteran. So, what happened?

There are a number of variables at play here, but we think we’ve caught some of the vibes as to why this decision was made.

Internal pressure to win

Bengals owner Mike Brown is known as being loyal—sometimes even painfully so. That being the case, it’s hard to see the owner bailing on his new staff one year after assembling it. After all, during the Marvin Lewis era, the team’s management used Pittsburgh’s model of coaching longevity and stability as their reason for sticking with the embattled coach for 16 tumultuous seasons.

Even though the Bengals publicly proclaimed their confidence in the team’s ability to “win now” this spring, it’s possible they knew that immediate growing pains would ensue in 2019. Because of this, “the family” might have been willing to accept a small handful of wins in Taylor’s inaugural campaign.

But, with a goose egg in the win column still lingering by the time December hits, even the steadfast Brown crew might be changing their tune. A recap of the 2019 futility so far:

  1. Cincinnati’s 10 consecutive losses to start the year tied a franchise-worst record by David Shula in 1993.
  2. With Sunday’s loss against the Steelers, Taylor’s Bengals broke said mark as the worst start in franchise history.
  3. Cincinnati has the 26th-ranked offense in the league, complete with 20th-ranked passing attack and 28th-rated rushing offense.
  4. The Bengals have surrendered the fourth-highest amount of sacks this year (40).
  5. Cincinnati has the second-lowest average attendance per game number in 2019, second only to the Chargers and their small, temporary Los Angeles stadium (per ESPN).

To boot, two of the Bengals’ remaining five games are against the Cleveland Browns. If there is one thing this ownership will not tolerate, it’s a sweep in “The Battle of Ohio”.

This seems to particularly be the case in a year where the team is threatening to go totally winless. All of this is to say that things are pointing to ownership having say in the move back to Dalton.

Additionally, Taylor may have felt pressure from his locker room. Some of the Bengals’ biggest stars and productive veterans are close to Taylor’s age.

It’s possible that this was a move by Taylor to win back some of the veterans in the locker room. As Paul Dehner, Jr. of The Athletic recently noted, Taylor could not, in good conscience, keep saying that Finley was giving the team the best shot to win with continued starts.

“It’s in the best interest of the team to do this,” Taylor told the media on Monday. Oh, and there is this from Joe Mixon:

A tryout for Dalton, in a couple of different senses of the word

On one hand, this could be a move to potentially save and continue Dalton’s career with the Bengals. If he comes in and lights it up, it would give the team added discussion with their high pick in next year’s draft.

Things also seem to slowly be moving back to the original plan from the offseason. Cordy Glenn is back at left tackle, while John Ross seems to be on pace for a December return. And, A.J. Green was seen playing a revved game of catch with Dalton on Sunday, as his return seems possible:

Also of note, Jonah Williams is on the PUP List and could make a return towards the end of the year. Although that seems unlikely, all of these returns could set Dalton up for the proper audition settings he never received from the get-go.

On the other hand, this could be a showcase for Dalton to play well as an impression for possible trade suitors next spring. Cincinnati seems all but poised to take a rookie signal-caller next year and can unload Dalton in the final year of his deal for a $0 cap penalty.

One of the reasons Dalton may not have been dealt before the deadline is because his value was low. He wasn’t playing overly-well and was benched just before the deadline. If Cincinnati was dangling his services out there to bidders, the yields were probably not going to be high.

With a possible uptick in performance because of aforementioned factors, Dalton could be a player teams will pounce upon as the frenzied months of March and April hit. In that vein, this could be a win-win situation for Cincinnati.

Still, there is desperation behind these motives too, as it shows that the team is needing to net better results in the draft and will go to great lengths to get those oh-so-coveted picks.

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