In what has become this year's media softball toss, Andy Dalton has rapidly become a blank canvas for aspiring creative writers everywhere. After his third consecutive poor playoff performance, he's now inspiring writers across America to channel their inner Roger Ebert behind a facade of objectivity, as if that's even remotely plausible.
CBS' Gregg Doyle had some fun with words, exercising his comedic nature while deconstructing the third-year quarterback at the same time:
It started with someone asking Dalton what went wrong. He was asked a lot about that, and throughout his answers he used the pronoun "we" a lot. Stayed away from "I," even though there are two such letters in the word "interception.
USA Today's Mike Foss says the Bengals are "too good" to allow Andy Dalton to "blow another season," in his recent attempt to pile on a cramping narrative:
Dalton isn’t capable of getting the Bengals beyond the wild card game. He’s proven that not once, not twice, but three times. Lewis has failed to get over the hump five times.
Dalton is no stranger assuming the role of low-hanging fruit for hungry journalists looking to crank up criticism and comments. He's been doing it since his days at TCU, when the Horned Frogs were fighting for national respect approaching the Rose Bowl matchup with Wisconsin.
But after three years of NFL experience, I am able to write with confidence that the narrative on Dalton has become boorish and lazy. Because if anyone out there is really paying attention, it has never been this good in Bengal Land, Ohio, especially at the quarterback position.
Can't blame these writers. Criticism is easy, it generates a ton of interest. And let's be honest, Dalton is pretty deserving of everything he's getting right now. But my problem, and this article, arises when the discussion to immediately move on from Dalton surfaces, a move I feel couldn't be any more misguided.
Start with the basics: NFL.com's Chris Wesseling says Dalton is holding this offense back. I say that is utterly ridiculous. First, this offense finished ranked in the top 10, No. 3 in the AFC. Meaning, of course, Chris Wesseling believes another QB would propel the Bengals offense beyond Peyton Manning and Brady's offenses.
Dalton finished No. 3 in touchdowns this season, behind just Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. If you think that's a fluke, I invite you to stroll through the top-five TD-throwers for the past decade to find some fraudulent names ranked that high.
Thirty-three touchdowns wasn't just good for No. 3 in the NFL, it was the most TDs thrown by a Bengals quarterback in the history of the organization.
Furthermore, Dalton just finished a season in which he was No. 7 in yards. Less affirming, sure, because of YAC, but his yards per attempt were actually the same as Matthew Stafford, a quarterback who is seldom questioned about arm strength and physical ability.
In what world does a quarterback with that kind of production get released? Furthermore, in what universe doesn't that quarterback start in the NFL?
The objection to all the aforementioned proof of a solid NFL quarterback—the dreaded playoff record, which of course counts more than anything, including getting there, which is kind of odd, at least in Cincinnati considering this was the first time in history the Bengals had made the playoffs three consecutive years.
Since playoffs have become the key performance indicator (KPI) of any quarterback, perhaps I could write that T.J. Yates is a more accomplished quarterback than Dalton. He has a playoff win. Mark Sanchez has four. David Garrard, bless him, has a playoff win.
I don't have proof that justifies Dalton’s nasty performances in the postseason. But there's plenty wrong with this organization after Week 17, beyond who’s under center.
First, everyone knows about the Cincinnati defense, at least they should after it finished the year ranked No. 3 overall in the NFL (No. 1 in AFC). The run defense was just one of two that allowed under 100 rushing yards per game.
Of course you know the Bengals surrendered 196 yards against the Chargers. Many fans cite the "garbage" touchdown allowed to Ronnie Brown as a reason to not fret the yards allowed, but even without that run, that's nearly 150 yards surrendered on the ground, which is all Cincinnati needed to amass itself to beat San Diego a month ago.
It doesn't stop there. While we're comfortable piling on Dalton's increasingly poor playoff performance, note this playoff game was Mike Zimmer's fourth consecutive playoff game in which 100 yards or more were allowed by his defense.
Is there a difference between regular-season Zimmer and postseason Zimmer?
Another popular playoff criticism in the past three years revolves around offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and his play-calling. Last year, an entire half of football was played in the playoff game with Houston without us witnessing one target to A.J. Green.
This year, he finished with three catches. Furthermore, despite averaging nearly five yards per carry, the Bengals once again astonishingly abandoned the run game. While 31 of Dalton's passes did come in the fourth quarter, this was never more than a two-score game before Ronnie Brown's nail-in-coffin TD run.
A 4th-and-season bomb? A 3rd-and-1 flat pass? How much fault does 33 points in three games fall on the guy managing and overseeing the point-scoring unit?
And he's a popular head coach candidate at the moment, as CBS Sports reports.
Do NFL organizations fail to see our logic of separating regular season from postseason performances? They have to, no? Otherwise, Gruden would be what Dalton is to media: just an 0-3 offensive coordinator in the playoffs.
Ditto Zimmer, whose 77 points allowed falls lifelessly on the desks of busy journalists too concentrated on conjuring more creative prose to describe Dalton's failure.
What about the offensive line in the playoffs? Where does it factor into this discussion?
In three playoff games, Dalton has been hit 14 times. In comparison, the Bengals have only netted nine QB hits. That's led to nine career playoff sacks for Dalton, while the Bengals defense, known for rushing the passer in the season, have only accounted for five.
Good pass rush, bad pass rush?
The failure to advance in the playoffs isn't as simple as who's under center, we are talking about an organization-wide breakdown after Week 17.
We shouldn't just be discussing a QB who doesn't show up when it matters most, we're talking about an entire offensive line, a popular pass-rush group, two coordinators and even the weapons surrounding Dalton (Giovani Bernard's fumble, Green's drop) who apparently are different during Weeks 1 through 17 and after.
Because it's 2014, there is no future to improve, there is only the now. And after three poor playoff performances by Dalton, people seem comfortable with removing the quarterback who just broke the franchise single-season TD and yards marks, along with making the playoffs three straight years for the first time in Bengals history, for a shot at an unknown variable in the NFL draft.
Three years is an eternity for some. But for everyone who considers the aforementioned lunacy to be appropriate, then in 2003, you probably would have made a colossal mistake. Because in 2003, another quarterback was just finishing his third consecutive playoff defeat. Worse, after three playoff games, he had only thrown one touchdown.
I'm talking about Peyton Manning. Relax. I may sound like an apologist, but even I'm not stupid enough to actually compare Peyton Manning and Andy Dalton.
Only, in 2003, you didn't know Peyton Manning was Peyton Manning. And if three years feels like an eternity for you, Peyton was 0-3 in the playoffs after five seasons.
Lucky for him, Facebook wouldn't be created for another year, just in time for Manning to end his playoff skid and move onto bigger discussions, like how he couldn't "win the big one."
Of course, following the logic of mostly everyone talking Andy Dalton, that means after 0-3 and just one TD pass, we're cutting or benching Peyton Manning, and who knows, maybe drafting Rex Grossman in 2004 instead. Because five years and three playoff losses, without any wins, is indefensible.
There is absolutely no reason for the Bengals to consider starting over. What's perplexing is that while fans in this city went over a decade between Bengals playoff appearances, now having a guy fans know can get the Bengals there isn't good enough.
They have to draft a guy who can actually win when they get there, because winning a division that houses two perennial Super Bowl contenders, or even making the playoffs with Baltimore and Pittsburgh on the schedule twice every season has seemingly become a birthright in Cincinnati.
In 2010, following the exodus of Carson Palmer, we witnessed what we thought was a press conference from hell's boiler room. We thought we were witnessing a declaration of returning to the dark days of four-win seasons and weekly television blackouts.
We scorned Mike Brown for lazily keeping Marvin Lewis, who is now 0-5 in the playoffs. We mocked their stupid smiles and their apathetic nature. We predicted Armageddon at Paul Brown Stadium.
And we couldn't have been any more inaccurate.
They didn't listen to us then, thankfully. Why listen to us now?
Andy Dalton has a ways to go. His pocket presence is woeful, based solely on the fact that as teams dial up the blitzes, this offensive line breaks down, and with it, the quarterback does too.
This from Bleacher Report AFC West Lead Writer Christopher Hansen going into Sunday's game:
After seeing this, the obvious question that comes to mind is how many of Dalton’s interceptions are coming when he is pressured. This wouldn’t be that surprising because Dalton is not particularly mobile, and many quarterbacks struggle under pressure.
Dalton’s (PFF) grade when not under pressure was quite good—a positive-11.7. When under pressure, Dalton had a negative-4.8 grade and was even worse when blitzed (negative-6.8).
Does pocket presence get better with time, experience? Maybe. Does decision making? You'd think. Confidence may be another issue, but there's no statistic for that.
Dalton may or may not be the QB of this team's future, but that's irrelevant right now. What is relevant is that this quarterback offers this Bengals team its best chance to return to the playoffs. The offense hasn't been this prolific since 2005, and the city has never witnessed this kind of routine success (and playoff heartbreak).
With just one more year on his contract, and all of the aforementioned numbers that prove Dalton is a competent NFL quarterback, how is moving on from Dalton right now even a serious suggestion?
Again, what's being written on Dalton is completely fair, at least pertaining to what he's actually done in the playoffs. And until he gets the monkey off his back, writers and critics everywhere have every right to criticize and clown the quarterback, which he acknowledged during his infamous press conference.
The one where he dodged all accountability.
But the incessant advice to move on from Dalton?
Sure, the Bengals should bring in competition at the position. Internal healthy competition is never bad. Put some pressure on Dalton, challenge him to become the team's leader instead of just naming him a captain. Create the impression that this starting QB role can be lost.
That threat doesn't exist with Josh Johnson behind him on the depth chart.
But to even suggest that the 2014 Bengals are somehow in better shape without him, in the face of overwhelming evidence of his prolific contributions to the team's success, is more a reflection of today's impatience than it is logic.