It sounds simplistic in today's NFL. Of course a team is only as good as its quarterback. The NFL has been re-engineering itself into a passing league for years now and has little room for the old "run and stop the run" mentality that dominated previous football generations.
Yet this year we have quarterback Alex Smith leading a playoff contender in Kansas City. We have running games and defenses driving the trains in San Francisco and Seattle. Dalton fits nicely in with that group—certainly better than Smith, but more lightly regarded than Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson.
Following a 22-20 road loss to the Miami Dolphins, we're left wondering about the legitimacy of Dalton and this 6-3 Bengals squad under head coach Marvin Lewis.
We've had this discussion every year for a long time now, and the murmurs do not seem to be dying down.
This loss was punctuated by a walk-off safety in overtime when Dalton allowed the pressure to get to him on his own goal line. It was also highlighted by three Dalton interceptions. One bounced off receiver Mohamed Sanu's hands. The other two were terrible throws by Dalton.
Dalton has had better nights.
The bright spot for the Bengals is that he's had much better games for them this season. Statistically, he's been one of the better quarterbacks in the league—by almost any measure. In yardage, he entered Week 9 fourth in the entire league. By QB rating and yards per attempt, he was sixth.
Digging deeper, he's 15th in Pro Football Focus' rankings (subscription required), but eighth in their signature QB ranking. They've also got Dalton as the third-best deep passer and seventh in their signature accuracy ranking.
So almost every way one looks at it, Dalton has taken a step forward this year.
He's not there yet.
The pressure is on Dalton this year in a new way. The Bengals eschewed their normal defense-first draft philosophy to go out and get tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard. Those two, along with guys like wide receivers A.J. Green, Sanu and Marvin Jones, form a formidable offensive unit behind a capable offensive line.
Want to talk about weapons for a quarterback? Dalton is decked out like John Rambo.
But isn't the Bengals defense capable of winning games by itself? Yes, that is often true, but the Bengals lost defensive tackle Geno Atkins on Thursday night and may not have him back for the rest of the season. That unit was already hovering around the top 10, but it could easily fall into the mid-teens in his absence.
Offensively, the Bengals are still up-and-down. Their losses against the Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns and now the Dolphins all saw them score 21 or fewer points. The score in their win against the New England Patriots was 13-6.
I'm not saying Dalton needs to lead a 49-point offensive explosion every week like he did against the Jets in Week 8, but that should be much closer to the norm than 20 points, right? With this offensive around him?
He can't face the Dolphins every week. Nor will he likely get the pleasure of facing the Jets in the first round of this year's playoffs. If the Bengals are going to take any meaningful steps forward this season, Dalton needs to prove he's capable of putting this team on his back when everything else goes wrong.