When Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton had his breakout campaign in 2015, many of the criticisms of the previous four seasons began to dissipate. After throwing for 25 touchdowns against just seven interceptions, Dalton was in the NFL MVP conversation before getting hurt in Week 15 against the Steelers. It subsequently led to him not taking a snap the rest of the year.
Even with the departure of Hue Jackson, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, Dalton has played solid football throughout the first eight games of 2016. Tyler Eifert also missed the first six games this year, and with Cincinnati’s defense not living up to expectations, No. 14 has had to shoulder a lot of the responsibility for the team’s success this year.
Even so, certain stigmas about Dalton still seem to remain. Though Dalton has taken relatively decent care of the football this year (11 total touchdowns against four total turnovers), Cincinnati’s disappointing record that now stands at 3-4-1, national perception seems to lay it at Dalton’s feet.
So it goes with any quarterback deemed as a franchise player, but any who follow the Bengals closely know that any struggles Cincinnati has faced this year isn’t squarely on Dalton’s shoulders. Regardless, some perceptions just don’t die.
All we needed for a good game in London was Andy Dalton and Kirk Cousins. Who knew?— Patrick Daugherty (@RotoPat) October 30, 2016
Unfortunately, some of those old stigmas that were dead and buried with Dalton’s play last year came to fruition on Sunday in London. After rallying the troops to give the Bengals a 10-point lead in the second half, two critical and mind-boggling turnovers in both the fourth quarter and overtime led to a frustrating tie.
Dalton’s fourth quarter interception:
Dalton’s inexcusable fumble on a sneak late in overtime wasn’t due to pressure, but other missed passes and an ill-advised interception might be a residual effect from the offensive line’s 2016 performance. The Philip Rivers-esque shot put Dalton launched toward Eifert and into the loving arms of Will Compton in the fourth quarter was something akin to a version of Dalton we saw earlier this decade.
PICK!— Chad Ryan (@ChadwikoRCC) October 30, 2016
The Kendall Fuller pressure results in a hurried Dalton throw straight into the bread basket of @_willcompton!#Redskins ball! pic.twitter.com/W6M5KxGR4V
Obviously, the pressure allowed by the line on this play led to the end result. Regardless, it doesn’t excuse a poor decision by the quarterback, who at this point, we know is capable of more. This interception was particularly huge though, as it created at least a 10-point swing in the contest.
The Bengals were at the Redskins’ 20-yard line at the time and even taking a sack would have kept them in field goal range. Instead, Washington marched downfield and took a 24-20 lead over Cincinnati on a Jamison Crowder 33-yard touchdown reception.
Also, as a side note, look at the personnel in protection. Running back Giovani Bernard, who had been stellar in pass protection all game, wasn’t in the formation picking up blitzing players. As noted by the tweet, Kendall Fuller blitzed from his defensive back spot to rush the throw. Later in overtime, the Bengals used Bernard to pick up another blitz from Fuller to allow Dalton to scramble for 14 yards on a third down play.
Continued protection issues affecting the offense:
Last year, the Bengals’ offensive line was the eighth-best in the NFL in sacks given up with 32 on the entire year, 20 of which came with Dalton playing quarterback. Through half of their schedule in 2016, they are currently in a tie at 31st with 25 already allowed this year. That’s simply unacceptable.
We’re primarily focusing on the issues in Week 8, so we again will look at the fourth quarter against the Redskins. On a first down with 32 seconds remaining in regulation, Dalton targeted A.J. Green on a deep ball down the right sideline. Pressure came from multiple places, so Dalton couldn’t step into the throw to Green. It was knocked away and then two plays later, the offensive line let up a sack once again and the offense was forced to punt.
Later on in overtime, the Bengals moved their way into Redskins territory, thanks to the aforementioned 14-yard Dalton scramble. While Cedric Ogbuehi was clearly a culprit in allowing Ryan Kerrigan to get to the quarterback, we are hard-pressed to find a lineman who didn’t fail in the scenario.
It resulted in a failed drive and led to the subsequent tie.
Dalton making plays in the face of pressure:
Sunday afternoon wasn’t just about Dalton making poor throws in the wake of pressure. Even when his line failed him, the Bengals’ quarterback did make some good plays.
In the fourth quarter, Dalton dropped back and sailed a pretty ball to Green, who was tightly and illegally covered by Josh Norman. For some reason, the play called for Tyler Eifert to go up against Trent Murphy. While this one isn’t on an offensive lineman per se, tight ends are an extension of the group.
We know Eifert isn’t a blocking tight end, but if Dalton hadn’t gotten rid of the ball quickly, this play that led to a Jeremy Hill touchdown run, likely wouldn’t have happened.
The next play isn’t necessarily a breakdown from the line because the pressure came from a blitzing defensive back, but Dalton still hung tough and delivered a touchdown pass. It was a little high, even for the 6’6” Eifert, but the play was made in the face of pressure.
If you look back to last week and his touchdown pass to Brandon LaFell, Dalton still saw pressure on the 44-yard play. Granted it was a slow-developing play, Dalton saw the middle of the pocket collapse as the free agent acquisition broke wide open, it still shows that Dalton will find a way to make a play when he’s uncomfortable after dropping back.
Here’s the deal: with continued poor protection, visions of “Bad Andy” might creep up more frequently than we saw last year. Some may call the toss to Eifert, which led to an interception, a result of simple miscommunication, but it’s clear that both immense pressure and a poor decision caused one of the critical plays of the game.
However, with his growth shown last year and into this one, Dalton will still make his share of plays when things break down. Sometimes it’s with his legs and other times it will be in the face of allowed pressure, but if we’re looking at the eight-game sample size in 2016, the good should greatly outweigh the bad this year—even if the offensive line doesn’t improve after the bye.
And, that’s the difference between the 2015-2016 version of Dalton, as compared to the one from 2011-2014.