How Can Andy Dalton, Bengals Offense Get Back on Track After Disastrous Start?

Andrea HangstFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 11, 2012

Andy Dalton needs to get his confidence back; a win over Cleveland will help this process along.
Andy Dalton needs to get his confidence back; a win over Cleveland will help this process along.Mitch Stringer-US PRESSWIRE

Very little went as planned for the Cincinnati Bengals in their season opener against the Baltimore Ravens. Though they managed to make gains both in the passing game and on the ground—quarterback Andy Dalton had 221 passing yards and running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for 91 yards—it wasn't enough. Cincinnati fell, 44-13.

A loss of that magnitude could linger in the minds of Bengals players for some time. But the best course of action is to learn what they can from the mistakes they made and move on. The Bengals face the Cleveland Browns this week, and they cannot stay stuck in the past if they are to get themselves their first divisional win of the season.

A win is just what the Bengals need to move on from the disappointing Week 1 loss, and it shouldn't come with as much difficulty this time around. Though the Browns are adept at defending the pass, and though their rookie quarterback, Brandon Weeden, should perform above a 5.1 quarterback rating-level in his second regular season go, the Browns' weaknesses play right into the Bengals' hands.

Should the Browns defense manage to hold Andy Dalton and his receivers to few productive passes (something that is less likely this week, as this will be the the first of four games star cornerback Joe Haden will miss, suspended for violating the league's substance abuse policy), they are yet again struggling to contain the run—something the Bengals can take advantage of.

Last year, Cleveland's defense gave up an average of 147 rushing yards per game; last week against the Philadelphia Eagles, it allowed 150—110 of them belonging to running back LeSean McCoy. Considering that BenJarvus Green-Ellis managed 91 yards on 18 carries against the venerable Ravens defense, it stands to reason that it should be a successful day on the ground for Cincinnati on Sunday.

Passing won't be impossible for Dalton, however. Even though four different Browns defenders picked off Eagles quarterback Michael Vick four times last week and forced two fumbles, he still passed for 317 yards. Granted, Vick threw the ball 56 times—a number that is inadvisable for most quarterbacks in any situation. It's doubtful Dalton will do the same, but clearly he will have ample opportunities to make plays.

One of the ways that Vick bounced back from his many interceptions was to not let them slow him down. He spread the ball around to seven different receivers in what was ultimately a Philadelphia win.

The Bengals have just as many, if not more, targets for Dalton to throw to. Getting completions to every one of them will not only help lead Cincinnati to a win, but also help Dalton's confidence as a passer after completing less than 60 percent of his throws against Baltimore.

At this early point in the season, it's important for an offense as young as the Bengals' to not get discouraged by opening their season with a loss. The Ravens are a tough team to beat, even for the NFL's best. And though being beaten so badly is an obvious disappointment, it's best to not dwell. The game of football is as much a mental one as it is a physical one, after all.

The Dalton-era Bengals are still on their pursuit of finally defeating a playoff-caliber team. Clearly, "playoff caliber" is not how one would describe the Browns, but a win is a win regardless. A victory in Week 2 will make Week 1's failure seem even further in the past.