The Cincinnati Bengals passing offense took a step backwards this year.
Now... how did you interpret that statement?
1) This was Andy Dalton's fault? He's the quarterback of an organization that has provided him with weapons and oodles of attention. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson desired simplification for him and the word coddled has/is often used with Dalton. This is his fourth season in the league and first contract that could pay him north of $100 million if he hits those playoff incentives.
Yet... this is what we get?
Dalton generated a career-low in passing touchdowns (he didn't even reach 20) and tied the 3,398 yards passing from his rookie season. The 17 interceptions is his second-highest in his career (37 over the past two seasons), as his passer rating was 83.5. In addition to the poor individual achievements, you have to embark on a great quest -- to the Deep Forgotten when Ryan Fitzpatrick replaced the injured Carson Palmer -- to find a season worse, in terms of touchdowns thrown, than '14 (20). And before that... 2002.
And the postseason/playoff games. Oh, god. When the Bengals were facing a deficit, my body shivered like a teenage girl in the middle of a Japanese horror movie that featured a cookie-cutter evil ghost.
2) Where the hell was everyone else? How can any reasonable free-thinking human being not take into account the massive elephant in the room? Let's go through these mere unmentionable facts that are otherwise disregarded to create a Dalton-specific narrative:
- Marvin Jones, who scores 10 touchdowns last season, missed the entire season.
- Tyler Eifert, who Hue Jackson's offensive gameplan depended heavily on, played eight snaps all season.
- A.J. Green missed three games, parts of two others (Atlanta, Denver) and when he did play, he lost a career-high two fumbles, dropped four passes and of Dalton's 17 interceptions, six occurred when targeting Green.
- Mohamed Sanu led the NFL with 14 dropped passes... and I don't know why he disappeared other than to say Jackson targeted away from him or Dalton lost confidence.
- James Wright, who was often the team's third receiver with Marvin Jones out, sat out the final quarter of the season.
There is one common denominator.
Blame. We want to blame Dalton for everything from famine to North Korea. There are justifiable reasons to blame Dalton, such as the countless times that he projects A.J. Green like a Marvel superhero that stands seven-foot-four and is completely indestructible (throw at his feet and you'll hit his chest). Green braces for the impact today more than he used to because he's a year filled with deep bruises, foot ligament issues and now a concussion that may factor into his decision-making process over the middle. Guess what? Every receiver goes through that at some point with every quarterback. Shocking.
I actually blame you: You haters and lovers, detractors and fanatics, apologists and over-reactionaries. I love y'all, but c'mon. Dalton isn't great, nor is he awful. He's replaceable but not so replaceable that we'll stoop to a trade that sends Dalton to New York for Geno "freaking" Smith. Someone literally suggested that trade on Twitter. I was under a concussion protocol for THREE DAYS after that SMH moment.
Dalton needs help. He's not Peyton Manning, who turns nameless receivers into all-stars. He's not Tom Brady, who inspires blind confidence to jump over a ledge without seeing what you're jumping into. He's not Aaron Rodgers, who could hit a tire 50 yards away within a deep fog that would ground military planes, and not even cause the tire to move. Dalton needs perfect protection with receivers running perfect routes to be successful. And every once in a while, he needs validation from his coaches and teammates to feel good about himself.
Dalton didn't receive any help in the passing game this season. His receivers dropped passes, tight ends ran inconsistent routes and even the right tackle position was a case of stagnant productivity... If you're even willing to call it that with Marshall Newhouse covering for the injured Andre Smith.
This is Dalton. This is who he is. Expecting/wanting more is misguided and sets the stage for your own trivial disappointment.
3) Does Jason Campbell return or 4) Will AJ McCarron take over
AJ McCarron entered the NFL with a shoulder injury and despite that, the Bengals still used a fifth-round pick on one of college football's all-time winners. McCarron sat through the first 14 weeks of the regular season before the team surprisingly activated him onto the 53-man roster, placing pro bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict on season-ending Injured Reserve (one didn't have anything to do with the other... I just wanted to show you how knowledgeable I am). McCarron was a gameday inactive for the rest of the season.
McCarron would seem like the logical answer to a question that asks who backs up Andy Dalton next season, but that could be a risk that may dictate a quarterback controversy within a year or two. If Dalton replicates the season he had in 2014 (even with every acceptable excuse in the bag), there might be a strong push for McCarron from fans. The Bengals, and even the media, don't really care what we have to say so it probably won't matter.
In the meantime, Jason Campbell may break his personal streak of fired head coaches with Marvin Lewis still in command. Campbell was on the roster when Jim Zorn (Redskins), Tom Cable (Raiders), Hue Jackson (Raiders), Lovie Smith (Bears) and Rob Chudzinski (Browns) were all fired. Campbell is headed for free agency after playing 33 snaps for the Bengals, mostly during blowouts, completing 11 of 19 passes for 74 yards passing.
If the Bengals re-sign Campbell then Lewis might be as good as gone (In other news, fans have purchased billboards begging the team to re-sign Campbell).
5) Change, we like change... but there's always questions:
5a) Will the Bengals re-sign Jason Campbell as the team's backup OR;
5b) Is AJ McCarron automatically promoted as the team's backup.
That question is undoubtedly answered via the coaching staff's personal observations regarding McCarron. Did he pick up the playbook? Is he physically progressing? Questions that neither of us can answer because, you know, we're not there.
Will we see more quarterbacks in stripes?
Yes. The Bengals usually bring on an undrafted free agent or two to fill out the roster and give the position extra bodies for practices and preseason games. If someone impresses the coaching staff enough, he could be a practice squad candidate.
Twitter reactions. We asked Twitter: If you could describe the Bengals passing offense from one year (2013) to the next (2014) using one word, what would it be?
@Josh_Kirkendall weaponless— Mike Deckert (@Deck2424) January 6, 2015
@Josh_Kirkendall nonexistent.— Brendan (@The_RealBrendan) January 6, 2015
@Josh_Kirkendall inconsistent— Cam (@cbcatcher33) January 6, 2015
@Josh_Kirkendall disillusion— Jeremy Deal (@JeremyCdeal) January 6, 2015
@Josh_Kirkendall Cautious— Jason Dickess (@JasonD2k14) January 6, 2015
@Josh_Kirkendall vanilla— GOOGLEGLASSONDATA$$ (@lxpichet) January 6, 2015
@Josh_Kirkendall regression— Emiliooooo (@saestevez86) January 6, 2015
@Josh_Kirkendall limited— Simon Hunter (@Shuntzz) January 6, 2015
@Josh_Kirkendall Shaky— Alamin Uddin (@AlaminSUddin) January 6, 2015
@Josh_Kirkendall trash— Nathan Adkins (@NaterTheTomater) January 6, 2015
@Josh_Kirkendall poopy— Aaron Vail (@aARONdVAiL) January 6, 2015
@Josh_Kirkendall zzzzzzzz— mo digity (@mmaodus954) January 6, 2015
@Josh_Kirkendall OUT.— Rohan_WhoDey55 (@rohankkohli6) January 6, 2015
@Josh_Kirkendall unfortunate.— matthew brewer (@Matty_B_1101) January 6, 2015
@Josh_Kirkendall worrisome— tommy g (@GenardiThomas) January 6, 2015
@Josh_Kirkendall anxiety— Matt Mahorn (@matt_mahorn) January 6, 2015
@Josh_Kirkendall Stagnant.— J. (@JRUS90) January 6, 2015
@Josh_Kirkendall stunted— AndyKerman (@LotionDolphin) January 6, 2015
@Josh_Kirkendall Injured.— MAB (@emeybee) January 6, 2015
@Josh_Kirkendall Conservative— Matt Pohlman (@Ostate96) January 6, 2015