Against The Grain: The Andy Dalton bandwagon is about to get crowded
Get off my Andy Dalton bandwagon!
I don't mean to sound like an old man on a porch with a shotgun, but the people lining up to praise the quarterback don’t deserve a spot.
After treating him like a punching bag for most of his career, now there’s a national love-fest for the quarterback that Jimmy Fallon described as the love child of Ed Sheeran and the Firefox logo. Dalton, who ranks second in the NFL with a 123.0 passer rating, didn’t just figure out how to play football. He’s been good since he led the Bengals to the playoffs as a rookie in 2011. But when Dalton signed his new contract in 2014, which could amount to close to $100 million over its duration, he became the poster boy for overpaid quarterbacks.
Something about Dalton has always engendered unnecessary criticism. Perhaps it’s the red hair. Redheads—from Winston Churchill to Ron Howard—are famously underestimated. Maybe it’s his decision to go with ‘Andy’ instead of ‘Andrew.’ Imagine if he was Andrew Dalton and the Colts had Andy Luck. Or maybe it’s playing for a franchise that has been looked down on for years, despite two near misses on Super Bowls in the 1980s.
Dalton has been underestimated by coaches as much as the media. After starting only one full season in high school, he was recruited by TCU and carried the Horned Frogs—a team we view as elite now, but certainly didn’t then—to a Rose Bowl victory in 2011. He should have been a first-round pick in the 2011 NFL draft, but fell below the likes of Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder.
But Dalton has actually had one of the most statistically prolific starts for a quarterback in NFL history. Look at some of his stats:
• Set the record for Bengals franchise passing yards (4,293) and touchdowns (33) in 2013
• Only Bengals quarterback to ever lead the team to four consecutive playoff berths
• Has not missed a start in his career, and with a 40-23-1 records, has the best regular-season winning percentage (.633) of any Bengals quarterback with 10 or more starts
• One of just two starting quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era to reach the playoffs in each of their first four seasons (along with Joe Flacco)
• One of four quarterbacks in NFL history to have thrown for 3,000+ yards and 20+ touchdowns in each of his first three seasons (along with Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson)
Dalton’s playoff failures are undeniable. Ironically, he would have gotten more of a pass for not reaching the postseason, like Ryan Tannehill up to this point of his career. But the Bengals have failed in the playoffs for several reasons, not just Dalton. Last season’s playoff loss should be expunged from Dalton’s record, since his main targets were Rex Burkhead and undrafted rookie tight end Ryan Hewitt because of a rash of injuries. If they’re going to get over that postseason hump, both the quarterback and the team have to improve.
This isn’t the first time Dalton and the Bengals have supposedly “turned the corner.” They had nearly an identical start last season and got even more love than they are receiving now. The Bengals jumped out to a 3–0 record and after a Week 4 bye, they were ranked No. 1 in power rankings on SI.com and NFL.com, and No. 2 on ESPN.com.
Unfortunately, that was the week the Patriots were “on to Cincinnati” and embarrassed the Bengals in primetime on Week 5. After that, injuries piled up, the defense faltered and Dalton had a couple of very bad games. The remainder of the season was a roller-coaster ride until they limped into the playoffs and lost to the Colts in the wild-card round.
Cincinnati's schedule appears to be panning out in a similar fashion this season. After beating the 2–2 Raiders, 1–3 Ravens and 1–3 Chiefs, the Bengals will face a Seahawks defense that hasn’t let up a touchdown since Week 2. With Kam Chancellor back, Seattle has the kind of physicality that has caused Cincinnati’s skill guys problems. And then, while nursing the infamous Seahawks hangover, they get to take a trip to Buffalo.
Everything looks good for the Bengals right now. They’re healthy and defensive lineman Geno Atkins is playing like a star once again. They certainly have a great opportunity against Seattle, who is on a short week with a depleted offensive line and playing in the 1 p.m. ET time slot. Just remember, it was sunny in Cincinnati at this time last year.
Win or lose, don’t make each week a referendum on Dalton. It’s not fair or accurate. The fifth-year quarterback is still developing with a young and talented nucleus. If they beat the Seahawks, the bandwagon is going to get crowded. The real question is, if they lose, who’s staying on with me?
SI's NFL Video Analysis
Mouse over a photo for a pop-up view; click on a link to go to the video.