In today’s online world, the media often rushes to make judgments on everything in the sporting world. There is no more waiting to find out answers, today’s audiences are used to having the world at the touch of a button, so they expect answers immediately even if none exist. That can often simplify criteria and misrepresent reality.
A benefactor of this attitude has been the Cincinnati Bengals‘ quarterback Andy Dalton.
On the outset, Dalton has had a very good start to his career and figures to be a very promising young talent. Since being selected by the Bengals in the second round of the 2011 draft, the former TCU product has completed over 600 passes for 7,067 yards. Included in those attempts are 47 touchdowns and 29 interceptions, as Dalton completed over 60 percent of his passes and had a quarterback rating of 83.9.
While those numbers are better than what you would expect from most rookies, they don’t accurately reflect Dalton’s play on the field.
As a rookie, expectations were very low for Dalton and his play from college translated well to the professional game. The Bengals were definitely a run-first offense that relied on consistent, quality play from their defense to win games and make the playoffs. The greatest aspect of Dalton’s play as a rookie was his ability to avoid major mistakes. Rarely did Dalton lose games for the Bengals, even if he wasn’t carrying them to victories either.
Even though he was very impressive for a rookie, when his expectations were raised entering his second season, Dalton’s performance levels didn’t follow. His numbers improved, but none of his biggest performance flaws were improved upon:
Dalton has never cast a confident figure between the tackles or behind center. His ability to throw under pressure is rarely exposed because of the quality offensive line play and play-calling that keeps the offense out of obvious passing situations.
He also doesn’t feel pressure well or understand when to get rid of the ball depending on down and distance against pressure. According to ProFootballFocus, Dalton was responsible for nine of the team’s allowed sacks last season.
The Bengals offense isn’t predicated on their quarterback’s ability to throw the ball deep. They do have deep threats in AJ Green, Jermaine Gresham and to lesser extents Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Andrew Hawkins.
Dalton has been able to succeed in the Bengals’ offense because of this. Instead of throwing bombs past the first down marker on a consistent basis, he is able to get the ball to his receivers quickly so they can make plays in space.
However, when the opportunities come available down the field, Dalton’s inconsistency is incredible frustrating for onlookers and it limits the offense as a whole. There is no metric to measure it, but Dalton routinely overthrew Green last offseason when he was in single coverage down the field.
Green is a similar matchup problem for defensive backs in single coverage to Calvin Johnson. Johnson may be better, but Green can also beat defenders with ease to high-point the football if given the opportunity. Dalton’s accuracy was so bad at times that he couldn’t even give him that opportunity.
This part of his game is linked to his deep ball, but it also comes into play in situational football when Dalton needs to fit the ball into his playmakers. So long as Dalton isn’t looking to carry the offense, they will always be a run-reliant unit that cannot keep up with the stronger offenses in the league.
So while Dalton definitely isn’t a bust at this point in his career, his development needs to spike in his third season to justify the Bengals not drafting a quarterback this off-season. Unfortunately for him, that kind of time isn’t afforded at this level. If the Bengals wait for him and he fails next season, then the team will be a season behind at the most important position in the league.
That can’t happen with a team that is stacked with as much talent as the Bengals.