Like it or not, the general view of Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is that of an “average” quarterback when compared to the other 32 starting NFL QBs. NFL.com ranks Dalton as just the 9th-best QB under the age of 25, mostly because of his inability hit the deep-ball consistently, as well as his late-season struggles in the Bengals’ biggest games of the season:
The Bengals’ offense didn’t score a touchdown in the two biggest games of the season, at Pittsburgh in Week 16 and in the playoff loss to the Houston Texans. Dalton averaged just 5.58 yards per attempt in his last six starts. (For comparison, Blaine Gabbert and Jimmy Clausen were the only two players to have a lower YPA over a full season since 2010.)
There are many reasons why Dalton struggled for much of his second season, but it mostly comes back to his inability to hit vertical passes. Dalton infamously doesn’t have a great arm, but his accuracy and timing seem more important here. On most of his deep throws, he doesn’t give his receivers a chance.
Dalton was able to finally make the big play to beat Pittsburgh in Week 16 to clinch a playoff berth, but only after his defense surrendered a mere 10 points and got a late interception to set Dalton up in a very manageable position to lead his team to victory.
But make no mistake about: the Bengals won big in 2012 despite Dalton. To show just how “average” Dalton played in 2012, Mike Tanier from Sports on Earth did arguably the most in-depth breakdown of Dalton’s shortcomings as an NFL QB,
Dalton ranked 20th in DYAR, a Football Outsiders‘ high-tech metric, which compares every single pass a quarterback throws to league averages for that type of pass. Another statistic, DVOA, compares the quarterback to the league average. Dalton came in at -5.9 percent, just a blip below league average, in 2012. He came out at 5.6 percent, or a blip above average, in 2011. Average those averages, and you get a quarterback resting squarely on the axis of average.
Do you prefer other organizations’ custom stats? Dalton ranked 19th in Pro Football Reference’s Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt. He ranked 20th in ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating. The consensus seems to place Dalton just below average, but if you allow benefit of the doubt for anything, from the receiving corps to Dalton’s relative youth, then Dalton inches closer to 16th.
Like traditional stats better? Dalton was 13th in quarterback rating, 16th in yards, 18th in yards per attempt, 12th in completion percentage. He was seventh in touchdowns but eighth in interceptions, so those balance out. Dalton was 30th in sack percentage, one of the few stats which rank him squarely below average, though a handful of part-time starters like Matt Hasselbeck rank ahead of him. (Sack rates depend as much on the quarterback as on his offensive line.)
But even after all of this evidence that suggests Dalton “is” and “average” QB, I do not share that belief. I think he is a good player who has played like an “average” QB to this point, but has shown me enough that he is capable of being a good, if not great QB in this league.
That being said, he still has to prove he is capable of making that leap, or else the Bengals will never be anything more than a one-and-done playoff team. Management and the coaching staff have done their best to surround him with enough weapons in 2013 that there’s no reason that he shouldn’t make that leap. So if we ‘re talking about this again in the 2014 offseason, chances are we’ve seen the best of Dalton.
And unfortunately, it’s not good enough.