Why the Bengals will make noise this postseason, Part 1: Andy Dalton

Nov 27, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) warms up prior to the game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 27, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) warms up prior to the game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports /

 Andy Dalton has the ability and tools to lead the Bengals to postseason glory. The 2017 season is only the beginning. It’s his time to shine.

I have believed in Andy Dalton since the Friday he was drafted, because the guy is a winner, going 34-3 as a starter for TCU. However, the previous two seasons have shown an incredible emergence of Dalton as a true franchise quarterback. The two stats that pop out to me are completion percentage and interceptions. He went over 64 for completion and under 10 INTs. This shows he’s more careful and on target.

A large criticism Andy endured through his first few years was not protecting the offense. Drives stalled on incompletions and were halted by interceptions. As a Bengals fan, it was very frustrating. We would consistently see how good Andy could be when he’d hook up with A.J. for a long touchdown, or when he’d lead a 4th quarter comeback. But, then we were reminded of his vulnerability through turnovers and lack of drive progression.

That all changed when Hue Jackson took over calling plays and challenged Andy to be the winner and leader he was at every other stage of his life. It is worth noting that Andy took off during his second full season under Hue. The 2017 season is his second full season under Zamp. Part 6 will explore this further.

Dalton The Leader  

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The Bengals have lacked a true leader under center since the great Boomer Esiason ran the West Coast offense in the late 80’s, early 90’s, and once again in 1997. The position has had some talented guys in Jon Kitna and Carson Palmer, but neither were leaders. Kitna was holding down the fort until Palmer was ready, and Palmer never had control of the offense (i.e., “Ocho Cinco”) and it never truly seemed like he really wanted to be in Cincinnati.

Dalton has truly emerged as the leader of the Bengals offense. With long time locker room leader Andrew Whitworth gone to Cali, this is Andy Dalton’s team to inspire, mold, and win with. Obviously, Andy’s work outside of football with the Andy Dalton Foundation has cemented his place in Cincinnati, as well, as he continues to “provide daily support, opportunities, resources, and life-changing experiences to seriously ill and physically challenged children and their families in Cincinnati and Fort Worth.” (www.andydalton.org).

The Numbers Game

Finally, Andy gets better every year; check out these stats:
TCU     ATT     COMP     COMP%     YARDS     TDS     INT
Frosh   371     222          59.8%       2,459        10        11
Soph    307     182          59.3%       2,242         11        5
Jun        323     199          61.6%       2,756         23       8
Sen       316     209          66.1%       2,857         27       6

CIN      ATT     COMP     COMP%     YARDS     TDS     INT
2011   518       300         58.1%       3,398        20       13
2012   528       329         64.7%       3,669        27       16
2013   586       363         61.9%       4,293        33       20
2014   481       309         64.2%       3,398        19       17
2015   386       255         66.1%       3,250        25        7
2016   563       364         64.7%       4,206        18        8

Dalton’s continued improvement is characteristic and expected based on his college transformation and what we have already seen from him as an NFL quarterback.

I would compare his continued improvement to the likes of Aaron Judge, currently destroying the baseball in New York. At every level of competition, Aaron has failed, only to return and dominate. Although Dalton hasn’t necessarily failed, he has had his obstacles, and he continues to hurdle them. It takes time for players to develop, and especially in the NFL, the team has to be right, too, as we saw in the disparity between 2015 and 2016.

Locked and Loaded

In 2015, the Bengals offense was incredible. Cincy was loaded with weapons and seemed to score at will. Following the heartbreaking finish to the season, free agency bulldozed the offense, and the 2016 season was filled with injuries and a new breed of young, inexperienced receivers.

Next: 50 Will Be The Charm

Rolling into 2017, those young receivers are now experienced. Dalton’s weapons are healed and ready to fire on all cylinders. The draft resulted in the fastest player ever to run the 40 at the combine, and, arguably, the most complete running back in the draft.

If the offensive line can keep Dalton vertical for 2.5 seconds max, the Bengals offense could be the most dangerous in the game. Dalton could have his greatest and most exciting season as a quarterback.