Scoping Out the Red Rifle

Andy Dalton has his detractors but he's actually more of an unknown to many Bears fans than he is a negative acquisition, so here are the qualities they can expect from a new starter.
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The new starting Bears quarterback is a bit of a stranger in Chicago.

Andy Dalton might be known throughout the league as the "red rifle," but most of his play came outside the consciousness of Bears football.

He played the Bears only twice, once in Chicago in 2013 in a 24-21 loss on Jay Cutler's 19-yard TD pass to Brandon Marshall with 7:02 remaining, and the other when Mitchell Trubisky led a complete 33-7 rout of Dalton and the Bengals in Cincinnati as a rookie in 2017.

It wasn't always easy to find Cincinnati games on the tube in the last four years of Dalton's career there as they struggled.

Bears fans would naturally be a bit skeptical if they're not watching many games beyond the Bears. In fact, some are downright fearful.

Pro Football Focus actually ran an article comparing the trend to sign up veteran quarterbacks like Dalton to drafting one and hoping he produces immediately, and the veterans won hands down. The trend is a positive one, if this means anything.

Here's the book on the new Bears starting quarterback:

A Big Arm?

Dalton has a reputation for being a strong-armed passer but some of that might have more to do with his nickname. The rifle might need a scope on it in these advanced years of his career, because the range hasn't been there.

His career average yards per pass attempt is a decent 7.1, and in his first five seasons he averaged a healthy 7.3. However, he's had only four seasons when he went above 7.0 and those all came long ago. He'll turn 34 later in the season and hasn't had a season above 7.0 yards an attempt since he was in his 20s.

He has flashed periods of being able to sling the ball all over the field but more than anything else his reputation came from a willingness to take his shots without fearing interceptions. He threw 13 interceptions or more over each of his first four seasons but has only revisited a total that high once since.

Dalton doesn't seem as willing now to throw downfield. Last year there were 28 starters in the NFL who threw for more average air yards per attempt than Dalton (6.8) according to NFL official stat partner Sportradar.

Pro Football Focus has a metric called big-time throw rate and Dalton last year ranked 32nd at this. He completed only 10 passes that went 20 yards or more downfield in the air in 10 games. By comparison, Dak Prescott had 15 deep passes completed in five games before his injury.

After Dalton's final year as a Bengals starter in 2019, Pro Football Focus rated him the 26th best deep passer in the league.

No. 27? Mitchell Trubisky.

A Competitor

Dalton's Bengals teams faced steep talent deficiencies from 2016-2019 and continued to battle like he had from 2011-2015. He had other seasons when he courageously hung in and competed against odds.

He rallied the Bengals in the 2016 season opener to win on a last-minute field goal by former Bears kicker Mike Nugent against the Jets, 23-22, beat the defending world champion New York Giants in 2012 with a four-touchdown day that included no interceptions and then he had the famed final game of the 2017 season.

That was when he threw a touchdown on fourth-and-12 to beat Baltimore in a game which meant nothing to the Bengals. By denying the Ravens the win, though, it clinched Buffalo its first playoff spot since 1999 and earned over $400,000 in donations for his charity from elated Bills fans.

Lets Plays Develop

To a fault, Dalton will keep the ball with hopes of hitting a route for a bigger gain. He took five sacks or more six times in the 2012 season and had another game in his career with eight sacks taken.

Dalton is not a statute, as he's able to move up or slide in the pocket. 

It's just he's not fast enough to pile up many yards scrambling and will hold the ball as long as possible before throwing so a receiver can get open.

Not Done Yet

When a quarterback is done starting for a team, there's the tendency to write him off as backup material even if he is still capable of starting.

Certainly Dalton appeared headed for backup duty last year but wound up starting due to Dak Prescott's injury. He did enough to impress Bears GM Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy.

However, PFF in February took a look at the free agency market and called Dalton the most risky free agent quarterback.

Their reasoning was he was just good enough to keep a team afloat when its season could otherwise cave in, resulting in better draft picks. But he wasn't good enough to elevate a team significantly.

Regardless, the Bears chose him to handle the starting duties. The positive side of Dalton's deal is that of the $10 million the Bears agreed to pay Dalton, only $5.3 million counts for this year. That's less than they counted in cap space last year for Trubisky. Basically, it's a backup's total.

Perhaps they'll add a more highly paid quarterback from somewhere else.

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