The Cincinnati Bengals are now six weeks into the regular season and currently place second in the AFC North with a 3-3 record. It has been a roller-coaster year thus far for the Bengals, and turnovers seem to be their undoing.
Generally, as with any team, the quarterback is adored after wins, but after a loss, he becomes the scapegoat of the team.
2012 is no different for Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton.
Dalton was being praised as a top-10 caliber quarterback after the Bengals' string of three consecutive wins. After losses to the Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns, Bengals fans are now singing a different tune.
Dalton has thrown five interceptions over the last two weeks and has become the poster child for any sort of bad play in Cincinnati. There are, however, different factors that come in to play that may suggest otherwise.
First off, let’s point out Dalton’s weaknesses. He generally holds onto the ball a little too long in the pocket, which results in too many sacks. He also has not been very polished under duress, as he loses accuracy when under pressure.
Let’s also keep in mind that this is only Dalton’s sophomore season. There is still a lot of development ahead for the young quarterback who has only had one offseason in his short NFL career.
After breaking down the numbers between the Bengals and their opponents thus far in 2012, this becomes a very interesting situation.
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These statistics are very similar. However, there are three very glaring statistics that show up here.
1. Cincinnati has been out-gained by 105 yards on the ground. Even though the Bengals have toughened up their run defense of late, BenJarvus Green-Ellis is just not getting it done on the ground, averaging only 3.4 yards per carry. This makes the Bengals a one-dimensional team.
2. Cincinnati has been outdone in the interception department by a total of seven. The fact that the Bengals only have two interceptions all season long is worrisome for the secondary.
3. Cincinnati is losing the turnover ratio battle by a total of seven. This equals the interception differential, which means they are even with opponents on fumbles.
It is easy to say that Dalton is being careless with the football, but looking back over his nine interceptions this season, it seems as though only three have been his fault.
In Week 1 against the Baltimore Ravens, Dalton threw a pick-six to safety Ed Reed. Looking back upon this play, tight end Jermaine Gresham ran a wrong route and Dalton threw to the spot where he should have been.
The second week against the Cleveland Browns, Dalton threw an interception to D’Qwell Jackson after a tipped ball on the line of scrimmage. This was Dalton’s fault, as he did not get enough air under it.
In Week 3 against the Washington Redskins, Dalton was picked off by Rob Jackson when Cincinnati was backed up on their own goal line. This pick-six was not Dalton’s fault, however. He was hit from the blind side as he threw, causing the errant pass.
Dalton threw two interceptions in Week 5 against the Miami Dolphins. One was intercepted by Randy Starks, the other by Reshad Jones. Dalton’s second interception to Jones was his fault, as he hurried in the pocket and overthrew his intended receiver to end the game.
Last week against the Cleveland Browns, Dalton threw three interceptions. The first was thrown well, but was tipped right into the stomach of corner Joe Haden. The next was picked by Sheldon Brown and returned for a touchdown on a poor throw - obviously Dalton's fault. The third pick by Usama Young was on a Hail Mary at the end of the game.
So, what gives with so many interceptions? One can easily take a look at the play-calling by offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.
The Bengals have been running a West Coast offense since the beginning of the 2011 season, and opponents have started to figure them out.
Generally, Bengals receivers’ routes are run from between the line of scrimmage and about 12 yards down the field. These short-yardage routes do not allow receivers time for separation, which forces Dalton to throw into tight windows.
Also, with the lack of a running game, defenses are now crowding the short to intermediate areas of the field, which makes throwing into zone coverage much more difficult.
The fact that Gruden does not reinvent the wheel for every defense he faces is a good thing—especially with such a young team. But even good inventions need tweaks sometimes, and this should be the case for Gruden’s offensive scheme.
Altering the play-calling to include a couple of shots downfield in effort to open up defenses could work wonders for the Bengals' passing game and turnover problems. But that is up to Gruden to decide.
Gruden should be given lots of credit for what he has done with this young offense. However, if certain alterations are made and the play-calling can get up to speed, Dalton could still very well flourish for the remainder of the 2012 season.
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