Sunday Should Be Andy Dalton’s Make or Break Game


Dec 28, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) throws a pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second half at Heinz Field. The Steelers won the game, 27-17. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the same old song year after year.  It’s one that just about any Bengals’ fan is tired of hearing regardless of where you stand on the issue.  The questions regarding Andy Dalton have been undoubtedly justified to date, but were unjustly applied in the past.  But this year being Dalton’s fourth makes 2014 unique and natural for both fans and the team to judge him on a different standard.

2014 marks the end of what would’ve been Andy Dalton’s rookie deal (without the extension the Bengals allotted him).  At this point, I believe every Bengals fan has seen the comparison between Dalton and Peyton Manning.  Although many dismiss this comparison as ridiculous, it exists because Manning similarly struggled to find playoff success despite enjoying prosperity in the regular season.

The comparison is seen by many as the argument of “Dalton apologizers” who seek to find reasons to support the struggling quarterback.  Meanwhile, critics of Dalton have questioned his ability for years.  This approach can be easily dismissed as Dalton is hardly the first quarterback to struggle to find playoff success early in his career.  Regardless of your stance, this comparison does bring to light one undeniable reality; even Manning was able to find playoff success within his rookie deal.  And though Manning’s deal was for six years versus Dalton’s four, there is something to be said for both allowing rookies to play out their initial contacts while expecting them to find meaningful success within the time frame allotted to them.  Because 2014 would’ve been the final year of Dalton’s rookie deal, this should mean that this is the year the Bengals should expect Dalton to find some success in the coming week.

More from Bengals News

Four years is ample time for a quarterback to find success.  It’s more than enough time to develop a team and allow that quarterback to develop a rapport with his teammates.  Andy Dalton has been given that time.  Not only that, but he’s enjoyed talent that many quarterbacks go without. Understanding that several of his weapons have been hurt this year, this doesn’t negate the fact that several weapons have been available to Dalton throughout his career.  And this doesn’t even take into account the stellar offensive line Dalton has enjoyed the past few years.  Andy Dalton has enjoyed arguably the NFL’s best supporting cast for the past two seasons.

The Bengals have also tried to do all they can while game planning to take the onus off of Dalton.  They’ve designed the offense to lean on the running game while designing passes that only ask Dalton to make basic and largely singular reads.   The running game has allowed the Bengals to run more play-action passes, which only aids Dalton. The passes have also been designed to be quick, short throws that put the onus on receivers to create their own yards rather than simply receiving the bulk of the yards through the air.

Yet with all these efforts, Dalton has improved little across his four years.  More than that, Dalton continues to make the kinds of mistakes that costs his team victories, or at least forces them to win games in spite of him rather than because of him (see the near four interceptions versus Denver).

In year four, and considering all the team has done to aid him, these kinds of mistakes are simply unacceptable.  Andy Dalton must prove something big going forward.  Being a realist first, the chances of Dalton turning things around in this year’s playoffs seems grim.  Yet, Dalton will, and should, be afforded the opportunity.  But next year is a different story.

Year five will be the beginning of Dalton’s new deal.  Although many people feel that the Bengals should’ve avoided extending Dalton altogether, the Bengals were more prudent with Dalton’s extension than people realize.  Dalton’s extension was intelligently structured by the team in such a way that allows them to move on from Dalton in the next year or two, which will allow the team time to develop another quarterback rather than rush him along if time is deemed necessary.

If Andy Dalton struggles in the playoffs once again this year, the team should commit more time to developing A.J.McCarron. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

But this is all with the assumption that Dalton continues to struggle this week.  If Dalton manages to produce a quality game (or more), some of the doubts be dissolved.  Many will still question Dalton considering his inconsistent nature, but the organization may not, and this will ensure Dalton’s place going forward.

Yet if Dalton struggles, the team should consider drafting another quarterback and developing him alongside A.J. McCarron.  As great as the talent is on this team, the Bengals won’t be able to keep all of it forever, that’s just the reality of the salary cap.  This means the Bengals must “strike while the iron’s hot,” and develop a quarterback before, inevitably, much of the team’s talent dissipates through free agency.

The old adage goes “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”  The Bengals chose to give Dalton the time he deserved based on their initial commitment to a rookie quarterback from day one.  But a chance beyond his rookie deal without some evidence of success in the playoffs is hard to justify and may bring polarization to the team regarding this issue.  This wouldn’t help the team find success, it could only hurt them.  This is why, though Dalton deserves the opportunity he receives this year, without success in the 2014 playoffs, the Bengals must re-evaluate the quarterback position and begin to take a different direction regarding the position.