Not many quarterbacks have taken their teams to back-to-back playoff appearances in their first two NFL seasons.
However, the former TCU star is not without his fair share of critics, many of whom wonder if Dalton has really just been along for the playoff ride.
It's not that the 6'2", 215-pound quarterback lacks the physical tools to succeed at the NFL level. While Dalton may lack elite arm strength and long-ball accuracy, he has shown that he can hang with some of the league's top passers.
At least when things are going well.
The problem is that when the Bengals are struggling as a team—as was the case Sunday against the Cleveland Browns—Dalton doesn't appear to have the ability to rise to the occasion and will his team to victory.
While we have seen glimpses of greatness from Dalton, too often he has failed to shine in big moments and in big games.
The past two years, the Bengals have been handed an early playoff exit, thanks largely to the poor play of their quarterback. He has completed just 41 of 71 pass attempts for 384 yards and no touchdowns, with four interceptions in his postseason career.
If Dalton cannot deliver for the Bengals—who have the appearance of a playoff team this season—the team may be forced to question whether he can ever develop into a franchise signal-caller.
Dalton didn't deliver on Sunday in a big-time divisional matchup. The loss drops Cincinnati to 2-2 and in a three-way tie for first place in the AFC North.
Against a vastly improved Browns defense, Dalton completed just 23 of 42 attempts for 206 yards with no touchdowns and two turnovers. The third-year quarterback appeared rattled late in the game and consistently missed receivers with the game on the line.
Part of the issue on Sunday was that star receiver A.J. Green was well contained by Browns cornerback Joe Haden. It is a secret to no one that Dalton relies very heavily on the playmaking ability of Green, and often looks lost when his favorite target isn't available.
Against the Browns, Green caught seven passes, which was nearly a third of Dalton's total completions. However he was limited to 51 yards receiving, and with Dalton unable or unwilling to turn elsewhere, the entire Bengals offense suffered.
This certainly isn't a new issue for Dalton. During his first two season, he completed 629 passes and 25.7 percent (162 completions) of those completions were caught by Green.
While Green is undoubtedly Cincinnati's biggest playmaker, this trend clearly seems to indicate that Dalton is benefiting from Green's talent—and not vice versa.
In fact, it is starting to appear that most of Dalton's success has come from the highly talented roster which surrounds him, and one might start to wonder just how good Cincinnati could be with superior quarterback under center.
A look across the field on Sunday shows that superiority doesn't have to come from physical gifts either.
Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer was a career backup and Cleveland's third-string passer just a couple of weeks ago. However, he has delivered back-to-back wins by leading drives and making plays when things mattered most.
After two-plus seasons, it has become clear that Dalton simply does not have this kind of fire in him.
He is likely to always sink or swim with the rest of the team, and he may never be the type of quarterback who can lift his team when the chips are down. In short, it appears that Dalton will never be more than a game manager, which is not enough to bring the Bengals to the promised land in today's NFL.
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