So far, QB Corner (#QBCorner) has looked at five starting NFL quarterbacks (Newton, RG3, Kaepernick, Luck, Foles) and found good things to say about all of them. But my job isn't to be nice; it's to be fair and have good judgment. Take this as a warning, #Bengals fans - you may not like everything you see here.
In my last post, I analyzed Andrew Luck's performance in the loss to Cincinnati. While losing by 14 points may not qualify as much of a performance, I found Andrew's fundamentals to be supremely sound and that he was victimized by poor play from the rest of the offense. Of course, tight coverage and decent pressure from the Bengals defense had something to do with that as well. Today, I will analyze the other QB that played in that match.
Andy Dalton threw for 275 yards and 3 TDs against Indy, both statistics part of a career year for him. The Bengals enter the playoffs having scored 34 or more points in 4 of their last 6 contests. They play the Chargers, a team that used 3 4-leaf clovers, a rabbit's foot, some horseshoes, and a bucket of voodoo to make the playoffs. It's all good, right?
Not exactly. Dalton had a good year, but he ranks only 18th in Football Outsiders QB DVOA. Of the 206 points scored by the Bengals in their last 6 games, 35 were scored by the defense/special teams. Dalton was notably horrible in the last game of the season, a win over the Ravens despite his 4 interceptions. Let's take a look at Dalton compared to some of his peers:
All stats pro-rated for a 16 game season
By Adjusted Net Yards Per Attempt (ANY/A, or ANYPA), Dalton is 4th ahead of Luck, Griffin, and Newton. He avoids sacks, but part of that has to be attributed to his offensive line (which includes a guy who can play left guard and left tackle at a Pro Bowl level. Huh?!). His completion percentage is not bad, but oh my goodness: 3.4% of his passes are intercepted. In a league where under 2.0% is generally considered elite, 3.4% is very, very bad. Here is an incomplete list of guys who threw picks at a lower rate than Dalton (in descending order): Matthew Stafford, Ryan Tannehill, EJ Manuel, Kellen Clemens, Chad Henne, Jason Campbell, Case Keenum, Mike Glennon, Tony Romo, Josh McCown (who led the league at 0.4%. Trestman = from the future).
I don't care if the Bengals are playing at home or how good their skill guys are or how many points they can score these days. 3.4% could be a catastrophe with a capital C if it continues. Now, a quick note about sample size: we're still only talking about 20 picks over the season, and some of those can be pretty whacky. But the last guy that threw 20 or more picks and won the Super Bowl was Eli Manning in 2007/2008. It's not un-doable, but I don't envy the task the Bengals face.
Let's dive into the Colts film to see why the Bengals beat them by so much and try to figure out who the real Andy Dalton is:
Play-action rollout, good throw to the tight end. The Pete Carroll offenses at USC used to do this a lot on the first play, it's an easy way to get someone open for an easy throw.
2. Nicely thrown slant, good footwork. Tight coverage necessitates a good throw.
9. Play-action but the lineman doesn't bite. Good decision to throw it away.
12. Not really worth writing much about, it's an RB screen that gains 15 yards on 3rd and 20.
Nicely thrown slant out of his own end zone against good coverage.
Play-action into a bubble screen to the left. Where is Dalton throwing this ball? After the throw, the QB's chest should be pointed at the target; Dalton's is pointed several yards behind.
An explanation may be that Dalton does not trust his arm strength and is trying to use his body to put zip on the pass. Arm strength is a much-hyped aspect of quarterback scouting, but there are other ways to throw passes on-time. Peyton Manning throws a ton of weak passes that beat the coverage because of his fast decision making, quick motion, good anticipation, and chemistry with his receivers.
2nd Half - I'll only post the more interesting throws.
30. Tried a RB screen, the TE missed a block and it was blown up in the backfield.
37. Now in the 4th quarter, the Bengals ran the ball several times and on 2nd and 6, called a play-action pass. Coverage was good downfield, so Dalton smartly dumps it off - he knows he needs a completion to keep the clock running. Smart.
38. Good deep pass to Marvin Jones.
Good adjustment of hips.
40. Play-action, rush was not fooled, throwaway.
41. RB screen that did not pick up the needed 8 yards on 3rd down.
42. Next possession, play-action naked boot left to the TE, easy throw for 9 yards and 9 YAC.
43. Great, back in the red zone.
- Game management. Dalton had a good handle on game situations including the clock, field position, point difference, etc. He adapted his game plan well to having a lead - part of protecting a lead is to avoid dumb mistakes on offense.
- Stayed away from trouble. In this game, I didn't see Dalton try to force too many throws into coverage. Outside of pass 23 to Sanu, where he was hit as he threw, the reads were decent. Several dangerous passes were mostly just bad throws.
- Stepping forward in the pocket. Of course this is easier when you play with that offensive line.
- Under-rated athleticism. When Andy did get out of the pocket, he showed good running instincts and protected himself/the ball well. He was a dual threat in his college years at TCU and Bengals' coaches would be wise to look more closely at what he can give them on the ground.
- Bizarrely inconsistent footwork. The other QBs I've examined, RG3, Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, had moments where their feet got out of whack. Many times it was because poor line led to rushers in their face. But for the most part, Andy's line kept him clean. On some occasions he would adjust his feet for a throw but be off by several degrees, causing some balls sail. On other throws he would get his entire body turned to the sideline. This was only 5-6 throws in a sample set of 43 called passes, but again: his pocket was clean. There is no excuse for missing on so many passes.
- Accuracy struggles even when footwork was good. Dalton struggled on passes both short and long, often making routine catches much harder for his receivers and backs.
- Reading left/right. Dalton made good depth reads but needs to show more flexibility reading both sides of the field horizontally. Looking off safeties will also help his guys get more open.
- Chemistry. Dalton has some great receivers - he needs to work on his timing with them and then trust that timing rather than gunning throws.
- Recognition of throwing lanes. Twice, Dalton barely averted disaster when a defender jumped a throwing lane. Andy needs to make better decisions with guys in his face.
- Cincy offensive line. These guys played magnificently. When rushers were allowed through, it was largely by design of the specific plays (screens). They handled Robert Mathis, possible the defensive player of the year, without a hitch. Andy consistently had room to step forward in the pocket and edge rushers were consistently pushed far behind him.
- Cincy running game. Benjarvus Green-Ellis is nobody to write home about, but boy is Gio Bernard something. The Bengals' running game significantly outperformed the Colts' in this meeting.
- Cincy receivers. Of the QBs I've analyzed, only Philly can match Cincy's collection of A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones, Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert, and Co. None of the teams have a talent like Green, who made Dalton look good on several throws, that last TD pass exemplifying his effect.
- Colts defense. The Colts' secondary is not superb and outside of Mathis, the pass rush was nonexistent. Let's see Dalton play a real defense.
- Cincy playcalling. The Bengals' coaches showed a lot of faith in Dalton and his receivers. They called multiple isolation plays in the red zone despite almost none of them working. Overall, I'm a huge fan of the coaching staff, especially Marvin Lewis and Mike Zimmer - their ability to develop players is elite, especially on defense. But this offense needs to become much more creative in terms of how it gets guys open. Pick plays, wheels, downfield screens, and the like are often labeled "cute," many times in derogatory comments made about Eagles' coach Chip Kelly, but these "cute" plays also "work."
I watched the tape of these passes multiple times and each time felt uneasy. That's the way I feel about Andy Dalton, kind of like a richer man's version of Matt Schaub. He's more athletic, sure, but both QBs have been unable to overcome inconsistent fundamentals and ascend to the upper echelons of their profession. The Bengals are in a tough spot - with the regular season success of the last couple years, it will be difficult to move on from Dalton, but at the same time, I don't think he put the team on his shoulders and win 3-4 straight playoff games. This team will need a lot of help to seriously contend for a Super Bowl. I think of the Bears' '06 run led by that great defense and special teams, or the Tampa Bay run a few years earlier with the same catalysts. The Bengals defense is good, but after losing Geno Atkins and Leon Hall, I don't know if it's that good. Yet Dalton's probably good enough to get to the playoffs year after year and have some success in the postseason. Again, uneasy.
I'm not saying that Andy never becomes an elite QB - as a Boise State fan, I've learned not to count out the fiery ginger from TCU. But right now, I don't believe him to be a long-term solution at QB. He just doesn't have the arm talent that some of his peers do, and has been unable to rely on the other parts of his game to make up for it. He really needs to be perfect in his preparation, footwork, timing, etc., and he is lacking in many of those areas. I hope that he proves me wrong. I hope the Bengals come out on Sunday and thrash the Chargers. With the injuries to other teams, the AFC is ripe for the taking. Andy Dalton - your work is cut out for you and I wish you the best.
@xingtheli - #YouMakeTheCalls - #YMTC - #QBCorner - You Make The Calls - QB Corner