Sometimes, a quarterback receives undue credit or undue blame for a team's win or loss, and sometimes his performance is the only real explanation for a game's outcome. For the Cincinnati Bengals this week, their 17-13 loss can be almost solely attributed to their quarterback Andy Dalton, who had the worst game of his otherwise solid beginning to the season.
The Bengals out-gained the Miami Dolphins 298 yards to 211, had 18 first downs to their 15 and held the ball for 31:11 compared to 28:49 for Miami, but still fell by four points.
They did what they were supposed to do against the run, holding the Dolphins as a team to 68 rushing yards and back Reggie Bush to 48 yards (and a score) on 19 carries. Cincy's defense even had some success with getting pressure to rookie Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, sacking him twice and hitting him six times.
However, Dalton had trouble with his accuracy, completing just 26 of his 43 pass attempts for 234 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions and three sacks. Dalton's had issues in the past when facing pressure, and his old habits returned with a vengeance this week.
He threw to A.J. Green 13 times, who had just nine completions for 65 yards and a touchdown. Armon Binns brought down four of the six thrown his way for 41 yards (and a fumble), and most disconcertingly, Andrew Hawkins caught only five of the 13 targets he had on the day, for a paltry 47 yards.
Drops didn't help Dalton's day, and as such, he's not entirely on the hook for the flat offensive effort, but with better-thrown passes, the Bengals could have easily left Miami with a win this Sunday.
Also not helping the overall concern was the Bengals' secondary. The unit has struggled so far this season, especially as injuries have forced a number of reshufflings at both cornerback and safety, but their zone-coverage scheme left far too many holes into which Tannehill could throw.
Tannehill went 17-of-26 for 223 yards and no scores, but most importantly, he didn't turn the ball over and he was both accurate and confident in what was a fairly aggressive game plan. It was Dalton this week who looked like the younger, less experienced quarterback and proved that though he's been otherwise quite sharp this season, there is still a lot of room for improvement.
The return of running back Bernard Scott provided some spark to the Bengals offense. In his first game back from an ankle injury, he served as Cincinnati's lead rusher, with five carries for 40 yards and an eight-yards-per-carry average. In contrast, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who has been holding down the run game in Scott's absence, had only nine carries for 14 yards.
All of that disappeared into thin air, however, when Scott left the game with a knee injury. Though nothing has been confirmed as yet, Zac Jackson of Fox Sports Ohio says that Scott has told his teammates he fears the injury is a torn ACL, and if true, it means his season is over before it ever truly got started.
Without a multifaceted run game, the Bengals have needed to rely heavily on Dalton and the pass to amass yards and points. Before Week 5, this had been mostly successful. The Bengals were 3-1 heading into the contest against the Dolphins and seemed poised to remain tied for the top spot in the AFC North with the Baltimore Ravens.
However, when you live by the pass you can die by it as well, and it's what cost the Bengals a win this week. It's not about heading back to the drawing board, however—Cincinnati's passing game isn't broke and it most certainly doesn't need fixing.
But Dalton's performance this week brings him back to earth. Further, it illustrates just how heavily the Bengals are hanging their hopes on his arm. Where Dalton goes, the Bengals go—a sign the team is highly confident in their young passer, but also a sign that when he makes mistakes, Cincinnati struggles to win.