With December chill comes October Andy
December, 8, 2013
By Coley Harvey | ESPN.com
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsAndy Dalton threw for 275 yards and three touchdowns on Sunday against the Colts.
CINCINNATI -- At 25 years of age, Andy Dalton might be young, but he is far from naive.
The Cincinnati Bengals' third-year quarterback has heard the talk that has swirled around him his entire career. He's quite familiar with the love-hate relationship fans and media alike have for his constantly shifting play.
To the uninitiated, it's the type of play that would do Forrest Gump's box of chocolates proud -- you never know what you're going to get.
Actually, maybe we do. When it comes to this season, all it appears the Bengals need to do is convince Dalton that every game from here forward is taking place in the month of October. On a chilly December Sunday that featured below freezing temperatures and started with Paul Brown Stadium blanketed by snow and ice, Dalton was as hot as he was during so many Sunday afternoons two months ago.
With a 275-yard, three-touchdown performance in a 42-28 win against the Indianapolis Colts, he had arguably his best outing in seven weeks. The 275 yards were the most he had thrown for in a game since his 338 yards in a 22-20 overtime loss at Miami on Halloween. His sack-less, turnover-less day also was his first since the Bengals beat Pittsburgh in Cincinnati the second week of the season.
"I felt like I did some good things," Dalton said. "I was consistent getting completions, I was finding the open guy and guys were making plays.
"I have to keep playing like I did [Sunday], and good things will happen for us."
Yep, do that.
For most of the past seven weeks, we've been lamenting the fact that October Andy seemed to be the good version of the Bengals' star quarterback. The player who has taken the field since being named the AFC Offensive Player of the Month of October has looked anything but an elite quarterback. Until Sunday, he had been downright miserable, posting QBR ratings that never made it above 44.4, and interception numbers that had opposing defensive backs salivating at the chance to face him.
In the five games entering Sunday's, Dalton had been picked off 10 times.
Something that appeared to help Dalton against the Colts was the fact that he wasn't pressured much. He only took pressures on four passing plays. That's a vastly different story than what occurred in the games against the Dolphins and Ravens near the start of his recent decline. At Miami, he was pressured on 13 drop backs. Against the Ravens, he felt the pressure 14 times. The past three games, he's been pressured a combined 10 times.
When Dalton wasn't pressured Sunday, he was as effective as he's been all season. On non-pressure plays, he had a 95.8 QBR and a 132.9 passer rating. All but two of his passing yards came on those plays, as well.
What led to the lack of pressures? It was a sturdy pocket that seldom burst. When it did, he was able to avoid getting sacked and throw passes away if needed.
"Every quarterback needs [that], unless you're going to run around and make things happen," coach Marvin Lewis said.
One reason Dalton believes he and his receivers, running backs and line have been in sync has to do with the momentum that has built, particularly since the bye.
"We have a lot of confidence," Dalton said. "We know what we're capable of doing. It's about going out and performing each week. We have to keep this going. We have a lot of momentum. We have to keep it going through these last couple of games."
Ask most Bengals about why the offensive confidence has been heightened, and they'll say veteran Andrew Whitworth's move from left tackle to left guard has had something to do with it. If you ask Whitworth, though, he'll say the credit goes to Dalton for remaining the same, regardless how negative the perception of his play has been.
While answering questions about Cincinnati's offense, Whitworth barely broke his speaking stride as Dalton came over and reached a fist between the crush of cameras and reporters. As he continued to make his point, Whitworth reached out and gave Dalton a fist-pump and a head nod before the quarterback left for home.
"The funny part with Andy is that he doesn't change, and he doesn't adjust for anybody," Whitworth said. "That's a really neat thing about him. He just stays who he is and tries to improve himself, and that's an awesome characteristic to have. I'm just happy for him to have a day like [Sunday], and for us as an offense to have this kind of day. Because if we can continue to turn this thing north, then we've got a chance to really do what we want."
What do the Bengals want? To finish the season on a 6-0 run and with a seeding that will earn them a first-round bye and home-field advantage. While their defense will play a key role in allowing that to happen, the play of their quarterback from here on will be equally important.