Andy Dalton has been all over the map recently, but the Bengals should have optimism he can return to peak form this season.
Andy Dalton has been remarkably consistent over six 7 seasons with the Bengals. His statistics and value to the team have changed very little year to year. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some fluctuations in his performance.
That was very clear last season, when Dalton had arguably his worst pro season of his career. Certainly, it was surprising for Bengals fans to see Dalton regress so much after putting together solid season recently. He had the fewest yards per game of his career, as well as his worst completion percentage and interception rate since his rookie year.
What Dalton is capable of, though, is much better. Dalton’s peak was in 2015 when he was a bonafide MVP candidate before breaking his thumb. The comparison between his 2015 and 2017 season bears out just how much better he was. In only 13 games, Dalton had almost as many yards (3250 vs. 3320) and the same amount of touchdowns (25) in 2015 as he did in 2017. His completion percentage and interception rate were markedly better, too.
Now, in 2018, the Bengals need Dalton to return to his 2015 form. The question, of course, is can he?
So far, Dalton has looked as good as he ever has. Every day in camp, Dalton has looked sharp, throwing his short passes as accurately as he ever has. More importantly, Dalton’s deep balls have had absolutely perfect touch, which adds a whole extra level to his passing. If he can maintain these types of throws into the regular season, he should be able to spread defenses out very thin.
Another reason to believe Dalton can bounce back is his weapons are as strong as they were in 2015. Three years ago, Dalton had AJ Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and a healthy Tyler Eifert. Green and Eifert look ready to go, and Jones and Sanu have been replaced by John Ross and Tyler Boyd. Both Ross and Boyd seem ready to have breakout seasons. Behind them, even, Josh Malone and Auden Tate have the skills to contribute big plays to the Bengals offense. Dalton should have no trouble finding open pass catchers this season.
One other big change that the Bengals made to help Dalton is the change in coordinator. In 2015, Hue Jackson was the offensive coordinator before leaving for Cleveland. The Bengals wisely fired the bland Ken Zampese in 2017, but the damage was done for Dalton already. Now, Bill Lazor is in charge of the Bengals’ offense, and should instill that same creativity that Jackson did. Expect Dalton to succeed with more RPOs and multi-receiver sets.
Dalton may not be an MVP candidate this year, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him replicate his 2015 season. The Bengals offense is primed for a major improvement this season, and Dalton can spearhead that change. Dalton should have, at a minimum, his best season since that 2015 campaign.