As the team regroups, an early season period of doldrums is still not the end of the world. The team is arguably playing for 2013 and beyond, but by capitalizing on last year’s success sneaking into a playoff appearance was not considered out completely of the picture after a few big wins.
Still, the team has the same record as the Patriots and the schedule still contains a decent amount of winnable games.
To break it down to its most base level, turnovers and field position made most of the difference against Cleveland. On the surface, many of the passing numbers appear in the Bengals’ favor: Dalton threw for 381 yards at 8.3 YPA compared to Weeden’s 231 yards at 8.0 YPA.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for 3.9 YPC, but subtract his 20 yard run and that takes it down to 2.8 YPC. That is right in line with what a situational power back should expect, but not a workhorse.
Dalton was available in the second round for a reason, but he is also a quarterback that can win games when surrounded by a successful running offense and solid pass-protection. A comparison that would not be terrible would be Chad Pennington before his countless shoulder surgeries. Not the most physically gifted quarterback, but with a good football sense and instincts and an unflappable, winning attitude.
Keep in mind the offense with the Gruden brothers in Tampa Bay, or even Jon in Oakland. The Raiders had Rich Gannon, a mobile quarterback with a weak arm and a knack for making timely plays. The Bucs won a Super Bowl with Brad Johnson, hardly the most physically gifted quarterback.
None of the quarterbacks in the system were the most talented, but could grasp the lengthy verbiage and required complicated adjustments based on coverage. When Jay Gruden said that he was opening up the playbook for Dalton this season, it showed up positively in the Washington and Jacksonville games. But, at the same time, some of the growing pains may be having an adverse effect on Dalton.
By expanding from half-field reads to full-field reads, it seems that Dalton breaks off from his progression early, sometimes missing open receivers. While he appeared oblivious to the pass rush last season, now, as he uses more ordinal progressions and fewer coverage-based reads, he panics, drops his eyes and gets cabin fever when no pass rush has actually reached him.
While this may be frustrating to watch, it is all part of the maturation process. Again, this season is not an all-in hand in poker, but rather a long-term strategy. A weekly success is one thing, but establishing an ability to make the offense more well-rounded should be welcomed.