Saturday, January 4, 2014

QB Corner - Andy Dalton (IND @ CIN)

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:

Jump straight to the Conclusion


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.

Good footwork again on a deep curl to a soft spot in the zone.

Bubble screen to the right; a defender is in the path making the throw tough. Still, Dalton throws behind the receiver sending his momentum to the sideline rather than turning him up the field.

Well thrown ISO route - high and away from the defender but in a place the receiver can get it.

I don't like how open his hips are. The read is to the left but his feet should be pointed more downfield. There's plenty of room in the pocket to step forward.
Coverage forces him to roll to the right and throw it away.

Good footwork on a go route to Marvin Jones. Dalton starts with neutral feet pointed downfield.
Can't see his feet here, but his leading shoulder has adjusted to the left side of the field where the throw goes.
Great touch on the bomb to Jones. One difference in this game - Jones hangs on to this pass; Luck's receivers dropped a few good opportunities.

Another decent job adjusting his feet on this throw.
However, he opens his hips a little too much. His feet are pointed to the sideline around the 15 yard line.
But A.J. Green is at the 20. This should have been an easier throw as the cornerback had fallen down. Instead, Green is just out of bounds.

9. Play-action but the lineman doesn't bite. Good decision to throw it away.

Moves his feet to the right, which is more difficult to do as opposed to opening hips to the left.
But look where the pass goes - his hips are behind the receiver, which causes the ball to float. Look how tough the catch is:
His man is open by 3 yards, it should have been thrown to the circled area where the catch is easier. Instead, the high pass is dropped.

Throwing a simple curl, he keeps his arm high, ball passing near his right ear, which is good. His footwork is decent...
...but the pass goes low and away. The receiver has to fall down to catch it and is unable to do so.

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.

Dalton is reading to the right and his feet follow his eyes.
In the next shot, he's pointing straight down the middle. It seems like he's throwing to the dig over the middle.
But now, the pass goes to AJ Green on a comeback route along the right sideline. the pocket was good, so he had time to get his feet right, but just doesn't. Unfortunately this isn't the only example of poor footwork we'll see from Dalton.

Dalton does a better job here, going from neutral feet to slightly to the right.
The go route to Eifert is well thrown but the big TE is unable to haul it in.

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. 
Then there's the defender that jumps the route and tips the ball. I know on a screen, the QB must throw quickly, but Dalton still needs to recognize the lane is gone and make an adjustment. This ball fell harmlessly to the ground but these are the passes that turn into picks.

Good job stepping forward in the pocket but nothing's open. He tucks and runs for a few yards but doesn't get a first down

Hips are a little open - he almost looks casual. The receiver found a soft spot in zone coverage, so it wasn't a hard throw to complete.


What is Dalton doing? After completing his throwing motion, his hips end turned to the left sideline. The pass looks like it should go to the red-circled receiver running a short curl; instead it goes to yellow receiver on a dig. He should be facing his target but is instead facing the Colts bench; perhaps he was trying to nail Coach Pagano and send him out of the game with a concussion? Again, if your receiver can't read your numbers, your mechanics are probably off.
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.
That the pass is caught doesn't make the throw less egregious.

Footwork is better on this deep pass. You can't see his feet, but look where his front shoulder is pointed; this is why having good footwork is so critical. A QB's kinetic chain starts at his feet, goes through his knees, hips, core, and shoulders to give his arm, connected through the shoulder joint, a stable platform to throw. Andy's shoulder is pointed in the right place so we know all the other parts are working.
This image is blurry, but I included it because of his arm position. By having his feet set correctly, Andy can throw high and forward, utilizing minimal lateral rotation of his hips and shoulders. Too much rotation causes a QB to lose control of the ball, leading to float and drift.
This ball was thrown into coverage but drew a pass-interference penalty at the 9 yard line.

Andy does a good job adjusting his feet and opening his hips. The throw is a fade to the left; in this instance, you want the ball to end up high and drift left where only the receiver can get it.
It's a well-thrown ball but the receiver is just out of bounds. One thing I noticed however - the Bengals run a lot of ISO plays near the goal line. They are trusting their receivers an awful lot.

The Bengals try a little pick to the outside receiver on the left. This pass is complete but I again disagree with how Dalton is turned to the sideline.

2nd Half - I'll only post the more interesting throws.

Good job moving forward in the pocket.
He's crushed as he makes the throw, but that's necessary sometimes.
But throws into double coverage. Being courageous in the pocket is good, but you still have to make good decisions downfield. He's ~0.10 seconds from being hit during the throw, and with coverage this tight, that's a recipe for an interception.

Again, I disagree with how open his hips are. He has 2.5 of space in the pocket and the line is blocking well. The inconsistency from pass to pass is maddening.
I don't know how A.J. Green gets this open on a crossing route, especially when it seems there are two defenders assigned to him. Extremely sour, Colts defense.

25. This was a RB screen that went for 7 yards. They had just been stuffed for a 2 yard loss on a run play - I love calling a screen after a run stuff or sack, using the defense's aggression against them.

Play-action immediately into a throw to the post. Dalton does a good job diagnosing the defense as the play fake is occurring and throwing on time with good footwork. Wishbone/zone read-type play fakes allow the QB to keep his eyes downfield as opposed to more traditional fakes where the QB turns away.

Deep go to A.J. Green. I like the Bengals taking shots when they know they have single coverage. Footwork is good.
But the throw is horrible. It almost looks like a miscommunication where Dalton is throwing to the back shoulder and Green is going deeper. The Colts corner isn't as close to intercepting the ball as it appears, but this is still a dangerous pass.

Another attempt at a back shoulder fade to Sanu against very good coverage. Coverage aside, Dalton has a 1-2 inch window to fit this ball in - are we sure he's good enough to keep throwing these ISO routes?

Play action freezes the linebackers and springs Jermaine Gresham.
The linebacker recovered well, but this pass was thrown about 4 inches too high. The Bengals were bailed out by a phantom pass interference call, but this should have been a TD.

30. Tried a RB screen, the TE missed a block and it was blown up in the backfield.
31. Quick pass to the TE in the flat for 5 yards and 6 YAC.

Nothing open, scrambles for a 1st down, but called back because of holding. Decent athleticism.

This starts off well.
Then gets weird. It looks like he's throwing sidearm, but the line is blocking well and there doesn't appear to be a reason for this.
As a result, Dalton bounces the ball 7 yards in front of the receiver. The receiver is well covered, but if you're going to throw it away, THROW IT AWAY, don't bounce it in a dangerous spot. Andy's inconsistency is killing me.

Dalton again opens his hips a few degrees too much. They want to hit Giovanni Bernard, one of the best pass-catching RBs in the league, in the flat.
By opening his hips, Dalton throws over Bernard, making this an unnecessarily difficult to catch. He's got 3 yards on the nearest defender and should pick up the first down - why make it hard? Many RBs would have dropped this. Not Bernard. He takes it and rumbles for another 20 yards.

Another red zone opportunity, another hair raising throw from Dalton. He again refuses to get his feet lined up with the throw to a quick slant.
Dalton seems really intent on making sure the guy in the yellow striped vest on the sideline know's his number. He still somehow completes this pass to the 1 yard line.

The Bengals' running game bailed them out the last few times they got to the red zone and were unable to pass. Play-action works beautifully as the Colts linebacker almost falls down. Things are looking up.
Why Andy had to open his feet and hips like this, I will never know.
Gresham is wide open but again, this pass is unnecessarily difficult. He has to reach out above his head to grab it, but he's so open that it should go right to his chest. I need a drink.

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.
Look how much space Dalton has. Now keep in mind: the Colts rushed 7 on this play. This offensive line is really good.
Does a good job putting touch on the ball so the safety couldn't get there. Did have a little more room to the sideline, but I'm not going to argue with a 33 yard completion. Of course, the Bengals are stuck in the red zone again.

Another isolation throw to A.J. Green. The Bengals sure trust him a lot - he hasn't even gotten off the jam yet and Dalton is rearing to throw.
This should not have been caught, but A.J. Green did his thing. The point is - why are the Bengals' coaches radioing in all these tough passes for an erratic QB to execute?
From another angle - he did manage to beat the press.
But the ball was thrown so early that Green has to make the adjustment afterwards. This is tough stuff to execute and requires tremendous QB-receiver chemistry. Look how Green has to contort his body to reel this in.

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.
Dalton does a good job realizing that, with a lead, he should not throw incomplete and stop the clock. So he goes and runs for it.
Fooled that linebacker.
And he deserves to celebrate the win.



The Good

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Stepping forward in the pocket. Of course this is easier when you play with that offensive line.
  4. 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.
The Bad
  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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.
  4. Chemistry. Dalton has some great receivers - he needs to work on his timing with them and then trust that timing rather than gunning throws. 
  5. 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.
The Context
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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

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