How Patriots Should Attack Andy Dalton, Bengals' Offense
Andy Dalton will likely no longer be the Cincinnati Bengals' starting quarterback come this offseason. All signs point towards the Bengals getting the first overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft, and with that pick taking Heisman Trophy frontrunner, quarterback Joe Burrow from LSU.
Being the projected no. 1 overall pick in next year's draft should give you a good sense of how the the Bengals' season is going. Their offense is ranked 28th by Football Outsiders. They are ranked 30th in run blocking, have all their receivers ranked outside the top 60 in the league, and have a quarterback ranked 31st in the league in QBR.
Dalton was replaced by the rookie out of NC State, Ryan Finley, for the duration of three games in November, only for Dalton to come back out of relief for the struggling rookie. Finley posted a 22.9 QBR, that is only better than two quarterbacks that have played this season - Josh Rosen and Dwayne Haskins. Haskins is 55th in the league for that category, Finley is 53rd.
An offensive minded coach like Zac Taylor was willing to go to the unprepared rookie (Finley) over the longtime starter (Dalton). That move is telling of not only how much Dalton has struggled this season, but also the desperation the Bengals have gone trough just to muster together a win.
With that being said - the Bengals have looked a little better as of late. Dalton has been playing like he has nothing to lose. Joe Mixon has been running well. Tyler Boyd is coming off three pretty good performances, and John Ross is back from injury after a strong start to the season.
But will those players be enough to put up points against a Patriots defense allowing 12.9 points a game?
Let's dive into Dalton's strengths and weaknesses, along with the weapons around him, to see if he can quarterback his way to a historic upset against one of the best defenses in the league.
What does he do well?
Dalton does a lot of the little things right and does what he can with a very limited supporting cast. He can fit balls into fairly tight windows and can make solid throws when he has the time.
Dalton, as a veteran, knows all the weak spots in zone coverage and can make good reads to beat it. He knows what he is doing behind center.
Cincinnati's longtime quarterback can move the ball down the field. He may not even be as bad as the numbers may suggest this season. The accuracy and arm strength are there at times, but his inability to do it consistently enough is why Dalton has had such a rocky career with the Bengals.
Dalton and Taylor love to use Joe Mixon out of the backfield and the Patriots should be prepared for that factor. Mixon is a solid weapon for this offense and taking him out of the equation will give the Bengals fits.
What does he struggle with?
With all that being said, there are naturally a lot of down sides for Dalton and that is partially why the Bengals will likely look to move on soon. With some poor play on his resume, a big contract, and 32 years old - shipping him out of Cincinnati makes sense.
First of all, Dalton is very weak under pressure. His offensive line was a mess last season and this season, after rookie tackle Jonah Williams went on IR before the start of the year, it became a problem once again. As someone who seldom has time to throw in the pocket, Dalton gets bombarded by pressure and reacts very poorly in those situations. At times, it almost looks like he is seeing ghosts on the field, much like Sam Darnold did in the 33-0 loss to the Patriots.
Dalton may be one of the more inconsistent players in the league today. After being inserted back into the starting lineup against the Jets, he delivered a win at home and did what he had to in order to win. Dalton finished the game with 243 yards, one touchdown and no turnovers. The next week against the Browns, he went back to being the Andy Dalton that got benched. He was inaccurate, threw an interception, and finished the game with a 26.7 QBR.
A lot of evidence points to the passing game being the weak spot of the offense. The combination of poor quarterback play, poor blocking, and poor receiving is a recipe for that being a weak spot of your offense. Some say the more Dalton has the ball in his hands, the better off you will be.
As good as Dalton has been at times against zone coverage, he has at the opposite end of the spectrum against man coverage. He really struggles to find the open guy and deliver it on the mark, especially with limited time to throw and receivers that can't really separate.
How do you attack him?
Attack Dalton with man coverage and lots of pressure. That is what New England is strong at and what Cincinnati can't perform well against.
Pressure will be critical. Bringing extra blitzers will make Dalton crumble. Maybe this calls for a big game out of Chase Winovich, Jamie Collins Sr. and Kyle Van Noy, who have all had a lot of success creating pressure this year.
The main two targets to worry about on Cincinnati's offense Joe Mixon and Tyler Boyd. After mitigating their impact on the game, the Bengals will have a really hard time moving the ball.
When it comes to Mixon out of the backfield, the Patriots will want to put someone other than a linebacker on him. He is a real receiving threat that will require coverage from either a slot corner or a safety sneaking up to cover him out of the backfield.
Gilmore will draw Boyd in his coverage this week. If he can contain him (which he should), the passing game for Dalton should be very limited.
The coverage assignments for the Patriots' defensive secondary will likely look like this:
Mixon- Jason McCourty
Ross- JC Jackson
Alex Erickson- Jonathan Jones
Tyler Eifert- Patrick Chung
Containing Mixon, letting Gilmore do his thing, and getting pressure in the face of Dalton should lead to some turnovers and plenty of opportunities for New England offense. That will certainly lead to a victory in Week 15 and end the Patriots' grotesque two-game losing streak.