Does Andy Dalton have a “next level” to get to and will we see it this year? That is a popular question for Bengals nation every year around this time. In the minds of many, the only way to answer that question in a positive way is winning a playoff game.
As tempting as it is to think in this black and white way, it is not entirely fair. There are scenarios where Dalton can play like garbage, yet the team still earn a playoff victory thanks to Joe Mixon and the ground game or a potentially revitalized defense under new coordinator Lou Anarumo. There is also the possibility that Dalton has career high marks, yet a bad defense and (football gods forbid), sweeping injuries prevent Cincinnati from having a complete enough team to win in the postseason.
Thus, the playoff measurement is too simple. Still, if the Red Rifle is going to continue to lead the Cincinnati Bengals for years to come during the Zac Taylor era, we need to see a symbiotic quarterback/head coach relationship develop during the upcoming season. The type of relationship quarterback Drew Brees discovered when finally paired with Saints head coach Sean Payton after a fairly pedestrian run with the then San Diego Chargers.
The casual Bengals fan might not realize that Brees had a five year run in San Diego before joining the Saints. That was a long enough run for the Chargers to “know what Brees was”. Due to the circumstances around Brees, his numbers and team success were not spectacular as you will see below. For those reasons, and because Brees was injured at the end of 2005, the Chargers decided to move on from him in favor of a young gunslinger in Philip Rivers. We know now that the issue with Brees is San Diego was never his talent.
The following table Is a comparison of Brees and Dalton. The Brees stats are split into two lines representing the four years before and after Sean Payton. Dalton’s stats are based on the last four years under Marvin Lewis.
Yes, the NFL is much more pass happy now than it was when Brees first got to New Orleans. However, what people should take note of is the Improvement Brees made compared to his early years. Next year, we will be able to compare Dalton to his pre Taylor numbers and hopefully see the impact of the former Rams assistant in a positive way. The table is not saying that Dalton will end up better than Brees, the point is that Dalton could improve the same amount that Brees improved.
It took finding a special relationship between coach and quarterback to fully unlock Brees’ potential. That relationship between Payton and Brees is as important Brees’ talent. Dalton was more productive under Marvin Lewis than Brees was with the Chargers.
Also, no one ever mistook Lewis for an innovative offensive mind. However, that is Taylor’s reputation. Taylor has also had nothing but good things to say about Dalton all offseason long. If that relationship continues to gel, a Brees like leap in production is possible, perhaps even likely. That would take the Bengals from an afterthought to a dangerous contender.