Can the Bengals Help Andy Dalton Succeed?


Andy Dalton must avoid turnovers and make the basic throws in 2015. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a funny question I know.  It runs counter to how it should read, “can Andy Dalton help the Bengals succeed?”  But the reality is, for right or wrong, Marvin Lewis‘ wagon is hitched to Andy Dalton.  Fans and pundits have clamored one way or another on the issue, but the truth is nothing will change at the quarterback position in 2015.

Nonetheless, if the Bengals are going to build upon the past and find new success in 2015, something must change.  This article isn’t to excuse the lackluster defense this past year; undeniably, this must improve also, but the offense shouldn’t be satisfied either after finishing 2014 in the middle of the field regarding both points/game and yards/game.

Over the past few years, the Bengals have done much to improve their offense, and have designed much of it to aid Andy Dalton’s maturation.  To start, they’ve developed one of the league’s most dominant offensive lines.  This line also features arguably the league’s best (and most overlooked) blind side protector in Andrew Whitworth.  It’s because of this line that Dalton has faced little pressure and plays are allowed the necessary time to develop.

The Bengals haven’t stopped there as they’ve consistently added to the team’s receiving weapons creating a diverse and talented group across Dalton’s career.  They drafted A.J. Green the same year as Dalton, allowing the two to grow together.  They offered up a talented tight end in Jermaine Gresham at the time of Dalton’s arrival, and then attempted to create a dynamic duo at the position when drafting Tyler Eifert in 2013.  They added Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones to the wide receiving core in 2012 and also featured Andrew Hawkins once upon a time.  Dalton certainly hasn’t lacked options when scanning the field.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, the team has assembled a ground game, which has taken the onus off Andy Dalton to spearhead the team’s attack.  They signed former Bengal BenJarvus Green-Ellis back in 2012, selected Giovani Bernard in 2013, and now possess a burgeoning star in Jeremy Hill.  It’s Hill who may finally offer the kind of threat that forces opposing defenses to “stack the box,” which would theoretically open the field for Dalton.  They even acquired a quality fullback/H-back, Ryan Hewitt, to both block for Dalton and the running game while offering another target in the passing game. If any, this may be the dynamic of the offense that could help Dalton improve in the coming year.  Green-Ellis was a workhorse, but never commanded the respect Hill may.  So with this in mind, Dalton may see less players in coverage when Hill is on the field.

Understanding that the Bengals really haven’t employed the entirety of these weapons at any one time due to injury, the point here is that the team has always prioritized aiding Dalton’s development and have acquired enough weapons so Dalton has never gone without.  As an aside, the team also signed a quarterback to specifically mentor Dalton both in the NFL game and Hue Jackson’s offense.  The Bengals have done pretty much all they can for the quarterback who’ll be going into his fifth year in 2015.

It’s for these reasons why Andy Dalton must improve going forward if the Bengals are to find success.  2015 will be the first year Dalton is playing beyond what would’ve been the length of his rookie deal.  Other than the likely departing Jermaine Gresham, Dalton will retain all his major weapons and will have enjoyed ample time to acquaint himself with what each brings to the table.

More than this, don’t expect the team to be finished with trying to aid Dalton.  Over the off-season, the Bengals may very well draft another wide receiver, add a tight end to replace Gresham (or fullback and move Hewitt to tight end) via the draft or free agency, and add at least one tackle to solidify the offensive line.  But adding more weapons won’t necessarily equate greater success.

Many people point to returning players (from injury) as the reason to have faith in Andy Dalton.  This is a viable argument, but only to a point.  The Bengals are now throwing the ball less than they ever have with Dalton at the helm.  Despite less attempts, a more potent running attack, and an offense designed to give him easier reads, Dalton still managed to produce the highest interception percentage of his career (3.5%). Yes, adding more talented weapons could produce more open receivers, but the problem of Dalton’s inability to progress through several reads still exists.

Further complicating the matter is the reputation Dalton has built.  The opposition still knows the formula for beating the Bengals is to force Dalton to throw the ball.  Defenses will continue to force him to do so as much as possible.  It’s on Dalton to improve his performance and, hence, shed his reputation if the offense is to ever achieve balance.

The outlook on Dalton’s season is opaque. He’ll get some weapons back, but has enjoyed more than most quarterbacks across his career.  Dalton will still enjoy a dominant offensive line, which should keep him largely comfortable.  And Jeremy Hill will present a dominant running force to the offense; it’s he who could truly change the field for Dalton at times.  Only time will tell if this will be enough.

The Bengals have done what they can for Andy Dalton.  Fans are justified in their criticism of him and the team is right to steadfastly support him.  There’s little left for the Bengals do to.  2015 comes down to Andy Dalton and his ability to play this game.

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