Two seasons have gone by since Andy Dalton took over the mantle of Cincinnati Bengals quarterback from Carson Palmer. Dalton was drafted in the second round, 35th overall, in 2011 before immediately becoming the starter of a 9-7 football team. Dalton’s poise and decision-making was greater than his physical talent as a rookie, which made most onlookers very optimistic about his development moving forward.
From a statistical point of view, that development initially looks incredible. Dalton improved his touchdown ratio from his rookie season to his second. He threw 27 touchdowns to 16 interceptions in 2012, compared to 20 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2011. His completion percentage decreased, but he threw for more yards and ran for more touchdowns. Not only did his individual numbers improve, but so did his team’s victories. The Bengals improved to a 10-6 record during Dalton’s second season, compared to 9-7 as a rookie.
However, quarterback wins is always a misleading statistic. Dalton’s team may have won more games this year, but his teammates carried him for long stretches and he barely played in the team’s final victory over the Baltimore Ravens last year. Dalton didn’t improve to the point that the Bengals should feel comfortable putting more of the offense on his shoulders entering his third season. They should be able to put better receivers around him, as their talented youngsters continue to develop, but Jay Gruden’s offense should be decisively run oriented.
The Bengals ran the ball 355 times with a running-back last season, while also adding in 19 designed runs from wide receivers. Despite ranking 18th in rushing attempts, 428 total, the Bengals only finished the season with the 21st most total yards and were also 21st in average per carry.
Considering how talented the team’s offensive line is, and how effective it was last season, that is an inexcusable number that is traced back to the lack of explosion from BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Most of Green-Ellis’ longest runs last season came when he didn’t have to beat a defender, while he rarely got the most out of runs when in open space. He simply doesn’t have the speed to outrun defensive backs or even linebackers.
Green-Ellis needs to be replaced rather than used less. Dalton is a decent quarterback, but he needs a strong running game to rely on because he cannot make every throw at this level. His ability to consistently hit short routes and most intermediate routes is enough to run Gruden’s offense effectively and take advantage of the ability of his receivers.
However, his deep accuracy is erratic at the very best. Dalton continually missed open receivers deep last season and rarely gave AJ Green the service he deserved in the endzone. No quarterback is going to hit every single throw, but Dalton’s ratio of effective throws to awful throws is too far in the negative.
It’s incredible that the team was able to get the production from Green that they did without an effective deep ball. Those are the types of receivers the Bengals have. Marvin Jones, Green, Mohamed Sanu, Andrew Hawkins and even tight end Jermaine Gresham all have the ability to make plays after the catch. Each offers a unique overall skill-set, but they share the aspects of a playmaker when it comes to elusiveness, speed and agility.
Now you can’t completely abandon the deep pass, but a focus on shorter routes with an improved rushing attack could make deep passes easier for Dalton if he is throwing to open receivers. A play-action based offense with short passing designed to draw in coverages tests opposing team’s defensive backs’ discipline and simplifies the deep passing game for quarterbacks.
The Bengals already run the right style of offense for Dalton to succeed, but they need to invest in at least one, but potentially multiple running backs to really reap the rewards of their offense’s talent. A big splash in free agency could see Reggie Bush or Rashard Mendenhall take the place of Green-Ellis, while a very deep class of rookie running backs are there to be chosen from in the draft. The knock-on effect of improved play from the running back position wouldn’t just show off the good work of the offensive line, but also significantly help Dalton and help mask the flaws in his game.
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