After shocking the entire NFL last season on the way to the postseason, the Cincinnati Bengals duo of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green has a different goal to strive for in 2012—avoiding the sophomore slump.
Dalton and Green entered the NFL last year together and immediately found a special connection on the field.
Dalton threw for 3,398 yards and 20 touchdowns, making for one of the better rookie quarterback campaigns in recent history. Green ended up having one of the better rookie receiving years in NFL history, with 1,057 yards and seven touchdowns on 65 receptions.
What makes their rookie seasons so special is the fact that they had a limited amount of time to practice and adapt to the NFL thanks to a lockout. Against these odds, Dalton and Green managed to carve out a memorable and productive season, which means taking on the sophomore slump should be easy.
For Green to avoid the sophomore slump, he will have to meet or exceed his statistics from a year ago. To do this, Green needs to refine his route-running and reading opposing defenses coverages. Green and the Bengals organization are working hard on improving his route-running this offseason, as offensive coordinator Jay Gruden pointed out to NFL.com:
He's always been such a good receiver that he could beat guys a lot of times just by running around them. There were times last year when he wasn't as detailed as he should be in terms of getting off the line, his depths and his route-running. I think some of those routes will be cleaned up. He's working on it.
Dalton avoiding the slump is a different animal entirely. Of course, meeting or exceeding his statistics from his rookie year would be a start. He looked like a veteran on the field most of the time last year, but things are going to get much more complicated for Dalton this offseason.
Thanks to the lockout, Dalton was given an extremely basic offense to run last season to make his adjustment to the NFL a smooth one. The strategy from Jay Gruden clearly worked, as Dalton led the Bengals to the playoffs.
Now the playbook will be expanding and Dalton will have to keep up. There is no reason to think that he cannot do so, but it could be a rough transition.
Physically Dalton will have to improve on his arm strength, although this is a point in Dalton's game that many have overreacted to this offseason. Dalton used superior decision making and anticipation last season to make up for his lack of perceived arm strength.
For most quarterbacks, arm strength can be fixed—but decision making and anticipation are a whole different problem. Nonetheless, Dalton has been hard at work this offseason improving his strength and footwork.
Of course, Dalton and Green's sophomore successes or failures are inevitability tied together. One cannot have a successful year while the other fails. If Dalton slumps, Green will suffer. If Green slumps, the Bengals do not have enough weapons to make up for the lack of Green's production.
This is both a blessing and a curse for the Bengals organization. If last year was any indication, the duo will do just fine. Both appear to be putting in a large amount of work this offseason in order to not only avoid a sophomore slump, but to play further into the postseason in 2012.
The sophomore slump seems inevitable in the NFL because all 32 teams now have a large amount of tape to study and prepare for second-year players.
However, the young duo in Cincinnati may have already encountered something more difficult than a sophomore slump thanks to a lockout before a rookie season. As long as Dalton and Green continue to work as hard as they have been this offseason, they can avoid the notorious slump and perhaps do even better than the end results of their rookie seasons.