Whatís Cincinnatiís Future with Dalton?

1/6/14 in NFL   |   Andrew_Ericksen   |   230 respect

Jan 5, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) is tackled by San Diego Chargers linebacker Jarret Johnson (96) during the 2013 AFC wild card playoff football game at Paul Brown Stadium. The Chargers defeated the Bengals 27-10. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY SportsIn his three years in the NFL, Andy Dalton has started in 48 of 48 Bengals regular season games and started in a playoff game three consecutive years. His yardage and touchdown totals have increased yearly and with 4,296 passing yards and 20 touchdowns this year, Dalton helped cement Cincinnati as one of the AFC’s top offenses.
 
But there has been a good deal of skepticism towards the idea of Dalton as a franchise quarterback. His accuracy isn’t always there and he has a tendency to make poor decisions at costly times.
 
In Sunday’s game against the San Diego Chargers, the worst of both worlds collided for Dalton. He missed open receivers and turned the ball over three times in the second half, leading to an unlikely loss to a Chargers team that barely eeked their way into the playoffs.
 
Sunday’s loss marked the third consecutive one-and-done playoff run for Dalton and the Bengals. But there were some key differences this time around. First off, it was Dalton’s first home playoff game. The last two years the team traveled to Houston where they lost 31-10 in 2011 and 19-13 in 2012. In game one, Dalton completed 27 of 42 passes for 257 yards with 3 interceptions and in game two, he completed 14 of 30 passes for 127 yards and an interception. In his third playoff game, Dalton threw for his first playoff touchdown and completed 29 of 51 passes for 334 yards, but the two interceptions and lost fumble, all in the second half, made all the difference in the team’s 27-10 loss.
 
At 26 years old and with 50 NFL starts under his belt, Dalton also came into Sunday’s game with much more experience than he had the last two years. As a rookie going up against a tough Texans defense, it was tough to lay too much blame on him. In the following season, another weak performance was disheartening for the franchise but in just his second season, it was still hard to really point the finger at him. The Bengals were significant underdogs in both of those games.
 
This year felt different. Offensive Coordinator Jay Gruden put together a solid game plan that saw the Bengals move the ball rather effectively for most of the day. But twice Dalton tried forcing balls to receivers that weren’t open, resulting in game-changing interceptions, quickly swinging the momentum in San Diego’s favor.
 
With star wideout AJ Green, an emerging big play threat in Marvin Jones, talented tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert, and a great combination of running backs in the reliable BenJarvis Green-Ellis and the game-breaker Giovani Bernard, the Bengals have a great offensive arsenal. Dalton also received all the time he needed to feel comfortable in the pocket on Sunday.
 
Yet with all those elements working in Cincinnati’s favor, Dalton’s poor performance resulted in another first weekend exit from the playoffs.
 
All in all, it’s too early to just give up on the former 35th overall pick. He’s coming off a year where he was statistically a top-10 quarterback, ranking 7th in the league in yards and 3rd in touchdown passes. And again, he’s still only 26 years old and has now played in 3 postseason games. 2014 will undoubtedly be a big year for him. It’s his opportunity to either prove all his critics wrong or validate many of the claims that he’s one of the factors holding back an otherwise very talented team.
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