Dalton has struggled at times this year in his sophomore campaign, but Sunday against the Giants was the glaring exception. For the first time in his career, Dalton threw four touchdowns in a game, which propelled the Bengals to a 31-13 victory.
Just past the halfway mark in the season, Dalton has thrown for 2,329 yards, 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, giving him an outstanding 91.1 quarterback rating.
The victory over the Giants may have turned things around for Dalton and the Bengals. Let's break down each of Dalton's four touchdowns on film.
12 Minutes, 44 Seconds First Quarter: Dalton to A.J. Green for 56-yard Touchdown
Early in the first quarter, Dalton motioned receiver Brandon Tate across the formation with full back Chris Pressely and running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis in the backfield behind him. His eventual target, A.J. Green, was lined up at the bottom of the screen.
Promptly after snapping the ball, Dalton is forced to leave the pocket. A miscommunication occurs in the New York secondary as a safety sprints to cover Tate's short route, leaving the cornerback one-on-one with Green.
Dalton smartly realizes the error, but delivers a lofty ball courtesy of bad form from pressure. Fortunately for Cincinnati, the lack of a safety allows such a cushion that Green can stop to catch the ball and then sprint to the end zone.
Credit Dalton here for escaping pressure and making the correct read. His form wasn't perfect, but understandably so. The correct play from Dalton here allowed the Bengals to take an early lead and never look back.
10:59 First Quarter: Dalton to Andrew Hawkins for 11-yard Touchdown
This time, Cincinnati promptly gets the ball back in Giants' territory. Dalton lines up in the gun with running back Brian Leonard to his left. Receivers Hawkins, Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham are lined up to his right in a trips look.
After the snap, a solid pocket surrounds Dalton. Green streaks to the end zone while Hawkins and Gresham split off their routes to opposite sidelines. Dalton recognizes that the speedy Hawkins is only facing one defender and can break around the defender—but only if Dalton's pass is perfect.
Dalton delivers a perfect pass while under no pressure, and the Giants defender misses a play on the ball. Hawkins quickly turns the corner thanks to perfect pass placement and effortlessly enters the end zone to put the Bengals up 14-0.
Once again, Dalton takes what the defense gives him here and makes a play. It's a perfect decision, and an even better pass.
6:42 Third Quarter: Dalton to Jermaine Gresham for 10-yard Touchdown
Fast forward to the third quarter, Dalton and the Bengals are once again knocking on the door on third down. Dalton lines up with Leonard next to him in the backfield, with the primary target, Gresham, lined up to his left.
Green is a bit off screen to the left and runs a route short of the marker. Gresham is lined up as a wide receiver, which should be an obvious red-flag to all defenders on the field. Mohamed Sanu and Hawkins are to the right, with Sanu streaking to the end zone and Hawkins running a curl.
Dalton is once again facing no pressure. The issue for the Giants is simple—the linebackers freeze for a moment to focus on Green, who is running a route four yards short of the first down marker. In that time-span Gresham slips behind them and ends up one-on-one with a drastically smaller defender.
Yet again Dalton makes a perfect read and throw, placing the ball at a point where only Gresham can come down with it. He does, and the Bengals essentially put the game away.
4:26 Third Quarter: Dalton to Mohamed Sanu for 10-yard Touchdown
For Dalton's fourth touchdown, the Bengals came out in a five-wide set with Tate and Sanu to the top of the screen. Hawkins, Gresham and Green are once again bunched at the bottom of the screen.
On the bottom, Gresham stays in to block, while Green heads for the end zone. Hawkins runs an intermediate route short of the end zone. The real action is at the top of the screen, where a defender bites on Tate's short route, leaving Sanu one-on-one with Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara.
Dalton yet again makes an extremely accurate throw while under minimal pressure. Despite near-perfect coverage from Amukamara, Dalton places the ball in a point where Sanu can grab it, which he does.
Everything clicked perfectly for Dalton against the Giants. It helps that his offensive line played exceptionally well against an elite defensive front.
More importantly, Dalton made the correct read on nearly every play. It appears as if offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is beginning to tailor the offense more to Dalton's needs by placing a variety of receiving playmakers across the field at all times.
The matchup against New York was the first time all season Dalton hadn't thrown an interception in a contest, so his progression through his reads and decision making is certainly improving.
Considering the level of competition Dalton set his career-high in touchdowns against, the best may be yet to come from Dalton and the offense.