Few players have been subjected to as much debate and scrutiny this season as third-year Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. Is he their franchise quarterback? Is he the answer? Can he win big games? Is he good, great, elite? If not, will he ever be?
He's been portrayed as the weak link, the offense's undisputed leader, the best passer the Bengals have ever had and an anchor dragging the team down. Every game performance is dissected and held up as an example of who he is as a quarterback and what his future holds.
Nothing more illustrates this back-and-forth with Dalton than his last four games. For three weeks, Dalton threw for over 300 yards per game and had 11 touchdowns to just two interceptions. The Bengals were on a four-game winning streak, had sole possession of the AFC North and seemed destined to run away with the division.
Then came the team's Week 9 loss to the Miami Dolphins, a nationally televised night game during which Dalton had his worst performance of the season. Though he again had over 300 yards passing, he threw no touchdowns and three interceptions. Though sacked only three times, his old habits of of shrinking under pressure and throwing errant passes—issues we saw in his team's loss last season to the Dolphins—reared their ugly heads yet again.
October's AFC Offensive Player of the Month looked nothing like it. And again, the questions about Dalton's long-term worthiness of the Bengals' quarterback job and fitness to lead a team to playoff wins and to the Super Bowl returned to the forefront. Dalton's name was again mud, and all those who claimed his recent success was a mere fluke were pleased with their prescience.
But the fact is, the way Dalton played against the Dolphins was more of a fluke than his otherwise successful October. Dalton is an improved quarterback—a good one, even—who simply had a bad game.
So far this season, Dalton has completed 215 of his 332 pass attempts for 2,587 yards, 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He's averaging a career-best 7.79 yards per pass attempt.
Pro Football Focus (subscription required) has Dalton as the league's 12th-most accurate quarterback, the sixth-best quarterback on deep passes of 20 or more yards and 21st when under pressure. The latter metric may not seem impressive, but he's rated higher when dealing with pressure than the likes of Tom Brady and Colin Kaepernick. Remove the loss to the Dolphins and all of those ratings are significantly higher.
Not only has this been the best season of Dalton's brief career, it's a good season for any quarterback. Dalton has the fourth-most passing yards at present, is tied for fifth in touchdown passes thrown and is ninth in completion percentage despite his poor showing in Miami. One game should not cloud how well he has played overall this year.
Dalton is also surrounded by a great deal of talent, which has only helped his development speed up this year. Wideout A.J. Green has the most receiving yards in the league at 862, while fellow Bengals receiver Marvin Jones is tied for fifth in receiving touchdowns with seven. Pro Football Focus ranks the Bengals offensive line second in the league, while they are Football Outsiders' 11th-ranked unit in pass protection.
There is some obsession with the need for quarterbacks to be infallible. But even the most celebrated quarterbacks have thrown three or more interceptions in a regular-season game. Brady has done it seven times in his career. Aaron Rodgers has done it three times. Ben Roethlisberger has done it nine times. And Peyton Manning has done it 17 times—including a game against the San Diego Chargers in 2007 in which he threw six.
|Three-Plus Interception Games, Other QBs vs Dalton|
|QB||3+ INTs||Years in NFL|
|via Pro Football Reference|
Granted, Dalton has much more to accomplish to be considered on the same level of these Super Bowl winners, but their multiple-interception games serve to prove that even the greatest of quarterbacks can have terrible games.
What matters is how Dalton responds. As long as he sees this loss as a bump in the road, something he can learn from, there's no reason for any hand-wringing about his long-term potential in Cincinnati. Who Dalton is as a quarterback cannot be defined by one game. It's his whole body of work which must be considered. And as far as that's concerned, Dalton is a good quarterback having the best season of his career.