Dalton looks to continue dominance of Dawg Pound

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Dec 6, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) throws a pass during the third quarter against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Bengals defeated the Browns 37-3. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 6, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) throws a pass during the third quarter against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Bengals defeated the Browns 37-3. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports /
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Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton will look to end his team’s two-game skid when the Browns come to town on Sunday. The Red Rifle has seen a great deal of success against the in-state rival during his career.

Andy Dalton made his NFL debut on September 11, 2011, at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Prior to being dubbed “The Red Rifle,” Dalton began earning the nickname. His first three professional drives resulted in 13 points for the Bengals. He tossed his first career touchdown with 2:22 left in the first quarter; a two-yard toss to tight end Jermaine Gresham.

A hand injury shortened Dalton’s debut. Bruce Gradkowski came in to rally Cincinnati to a 27-17 victory that day with a 41-yard touchdown to AJ Green (his first NFL catch). Gradkowski is now a backup with Pittsburgh, but that is still his last career touchdown pass.

Dalton may not have finished the win, but he got credit for it. Now in his sixth season, Dalton has strung together a great career against the in-state rival Browns. Dalton is 7-3 lifetime against Cleveland, the highest winning percentage for any of the three division rivals.

Dalton, along with Carson Palmer (9-3 vs. CLE), has been the reason for the Bengals turning the tide in the semi-annual “Battle of Ohio.” When Palmer made his debut in 2004, the Browns led the rivalry, 32-29. Palmer and Dalton combined to go 16-6 against Cleveland since (add in Ryan Fitzpatrick’s 1-1 mark in ’08), giving the Bengals a seven-game lead in the rivalry, 46-39.

The low

Despite a 0.70 winning percentage against the Browns, Dalton’s lowest point as an NFL quarterback came against Cleveland in 2014. On the bright lights of Thursday Night Football, November 6, 2014, became a day to forget for Who Dey Nation.

Dalton’s second pass of the game was intercepted. And his 31 passes after that weren’t much better. Cleveland rolled to a 24-3 victory, and Dalton completed just 10 of 33 passes for 86 yards and three interceptions. A career-worst 2.0 passer rating.

The rebound

One month and eight days later, Dalton and the Bengals’ offense used a steady rushing attack to shutout the Browns, 30-0, ending Cleveland’s playoff chances.

364 days after his worst game as a professional, the Bengals met the Browns again on TNF, at the same venue on the Ohio River. As he would later say after the game; it was, “a different feeling than last year.”

Dalton threw three touchdowns — all to tight end Tyler Eifert — as the Bengals increased their franchise-best start to 8-0 in a 31-10 triumph.

Andy Dalton combined for six touchdowns and zero interceptions in two wins over Cleveland in 2015. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
Andy Dalton combined for six touchdowns and zero interceptions in two wins over Cleveland in 2015. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports /

One month later, Dalton put up a career-high passer rating of 146.8 in another dominating Cincinnati win. Only needing 19 passes, Dalton threw for 220 yards and two scores, while adding a rushing touchdown, too. The Bengals won, 37-3, the largest margin of victory in the rivalry since 1987.

The return

The aforementioned Eifert just might finally find his way back to the field. The Pro Bowler has been seen on the practice field the last two days, and all signs point to him suiting up against Cleveland.

If he does play, he may be stepping into a golden opportunity. The Browns have been shredded by tight ends all year long.

The tight end position has been sub-par, to say the least. C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Kroft have combined for 25 receptions for 276 yards, but neither have found the end zone. It’s been apparent something has been missing from the Bengals’ offense, and Eifert may be the missing link.

Next: 5 Questions With The Enemy

Dalton leads the AFC in passing yards with 1,757, good enough for 293 per game. The Red Rifle brings a 61.36 completion percentage and an 84.1 passer rating in his career against Cleveland into Sunday’s matchup.

Cincinnati has won three straight games over the Browns by a combined score of 98-13.

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