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Cincinnati Bengals: Why Andy Dalton Isn't the Next Mark Sanchez

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Cincinnati Bengals: Why Andy Dalton Isn't the Next Mark Sanchez
USA TODAY Sports
Can Andy Dalton avoid ending up like Mark Sanchez?

Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals are prepping for the 2013 season after back-to-back playoff appearances and another successful bout with the NFL draft. 

We're entering Dalton's third year in the league after being selected by the team in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft. Expectations are high as generally the third year determines the fate of a young quarterback. 

Just ask Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets

It was not too long ago Sanchez was one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL after taking the team to two straight AFC Championship games. That all came crashing down this past season as Sanchez and the Jets imploded on the way to a 6-10 campaign. 

Could we see Dalton follow in Sanchez's footsteps? CBS' Pat Kirwan recently provided a warning for Dalton because the risk is certainly there: 

Right now, Andy Dalton is the talk of the town in Cincinnati after leading the Bengals to the playoffs in his first two seasons in the league, but losing in the first round both years. Last year, his Bengals managed just 13 points in the wild-card loss to Houston. In fact, Dalton has faced Houston in his only two postseason games and has two losses, zero touchdowns, four interceptions and six sacks.

That's a lot worse than Sanchez's numbers in the postseason in his first two years. Dalton has to break through this season with a playoff win or the pressure will start to mount and his career might look like Sanchez's in a year.

To provide some perspective on the numbers Kirwan provided for Dalton, Sanchez has thrown nine touchdowns to three interceptions in his postseason career while compiling a 4-2 record. 

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Sanchez played better than Dalton in the postseason during his first two seasons.

Kirwan is correct in saying Dalton could end up like Sanchez, but the biggest difference in their career paths is not 100 percent up to them. Rather, the coaching staff in Cincinnati doesn't appear intent on letting Dalton regress while the staff in New York certainly hasn't helped Sanchez. 

Believe it or not, Dalton and Sanchez are similar players. 

Physically the two are the same. Dalton comes in at 6'2" and 220 pounds. Sanchez weighs in at 6'2" and 225 pounds and is just one year older. Neither has an amazing arm and can struggle to hit the difficult completions because of a lack of strength. 

Mentally, Dalton may have an advantage. He's shown the capacity to lead a team to major comeback victories. Sanchez has shown he is susceptible to letting mistakes snowball into bigger mistakes. 

Then again, Dalton hasn't had to put up with the New York media or Tebowmania

Let's loop back to the original point. Dalton and Sanchez, throughout their careers so far, have been effective game managers who have been as good as the talent around them. Both have been upheld by elite defenses and had offenses tailored to their abilities. 

The difference is, Sanchez's elite defense that carried him to the AFC Championship two years in a row skipped a beat last season and surrendered almost 24 points per game. His running back, Shonn Greene, fell flat on his face, as did his offensive line. 

On the other hand, the Bengals have done nothing but improve since Dalton has joined the roster. He's had an elite defense supporting him each season. Receiver A.J. Green was drafted a round before him in 2011 and continues to improve.

Guard Kevin Zeitler was added in the first round in 2012 and turned out to be one of the best guards in the NFL, according to ProFootballFocus (subscription required). His presence helped to bolster an already impressive offensive line.

Cincinnati just had another stunning draft class this offseason that includes a home-run threat in running back Giovani Bernard and a massive target in tight end Tyler Eifert, who will be paired with Pro Bowler Jermaine Gresham. 

Not only that, second-year receivers Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones are back to full strength after being injured last year. Their injuries a year ago brought the consistency of the offense and Dalton's number of reliable pass-catching targets to a screeching halt. 

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Andy Dalton is entering a critical year in his NFL career.

In other words, head coach Marvin Lewis, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and the rest of the staff are simply not going to allow Dalton to go the way of Sanchez. 

Despite injuries to some of his favorite targets, Dalton performed well statistically with 3,669 yards passing, 27 touchdowns, 16 interceptions and a solid 87.4 quarterback rating.

Is Andy Dalton the next Mark Sanchez?

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That said, Dalton did struggle with remaining strong in the pocket. His inability to feel pressure and his sense of feeling pressure, which didn't exist, killed the Bengals in some contests last season, especially in the postseason matchup with the Houston Texans.

Dalton doesn't have to do much in order to avoid becoming the next Sanchez. He needs to improve in some mental aspects, but those are areas that presumably will improve with development time and further maturity. 

It would be unwise to not heed Kirwan's warnings for Dalton, but, at this point, he's been given everything he needs to avoid becoming the next Sanchez. 

For Dalton, his chance to take the next step and avoid the pitfalls Sanchez disappeared into is now. 

 

Follow me on Twitter for more NFL news and analysis @Chris_Roling 

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