Tim Tebow’s 316 passing yards in Sunday’s AFC Wild Card Game against the Steelers in the wake of Denver boss John Elway’s “Pull The Trigger” plea earlier in the week may be a harbinger for Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton’s sophomore season.
While Cincinnati lost six of its last nine games, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden often talked about the fine line between being careful with the ball and taking risks with it in order to make big plays. He even admitted there were times he wanted Dalton to take some chances rather than checking it down or throwing it away after his QB opted for the more conservative route.
First of all, Gruden should be named the NFL’s assistant coach of the year for getting an offense with a rookie QB and rookie No. 1 receiver to the playoffs without the benefit of OTAs. He did it by keeping things sane, simple and vanilla for Dalton. And it is exactly what he had to do against a schedule that in those last nine games featured six against the top five defenses of Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Houston.
But even before Tebow stunned Charles Richard LeBeau and his Steelers, Gruden showed signs on Saturday he was beginning to take the wraps off Dalton. In a road playoff game he had him throwing 18 times in the first half and it worked for the most part. If not for J.J. Watt’s vertical show and a missed field goal, he easily could have walked out of there with a 13-10 halftime lead against the NFL’s second-ranked defense.
But what Tebow did to the Steelers No. 1 defense is mind-boggling. Here is a guy that had a worst completion percentage this season than Akili Smith had as a rookie (52-45) completing four throws of at least 40 yards against a defense that allowed just two plus-40s all year.
Dalton and A.J. Green had one of those against the Steelers, a 43-yarder in the 35-7 loss in Pittsburgh. That, their 36-yard TD connection in the first game, and a 25-yard throw to Andrew Hawkins were the only balls of at least 20 yards caught by the Bengals wide receivers in two games against Pittsburgh.
Of course, Tebow was going up against a much more diminished defense than Dalton. On Sunday the Steelers didn’t have safety Ryan Clark all day and defensive linemen Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel for much of it.
And maybe the biggest reason of all the Broncos were able to chuck it is that they ran it for 131 yards (Tebow only had 50 of them) even with the Steelers daring Tebow to beat them. Until the Bengals get their running game straightened away, Dalton won’t be able to do much more than he has in the AFC North.
There is that one big looming question. If Gruden gets the head coaching job in Jacksonville (and that is looking like a longshot), what happens to Dalton’s development? Do they promote from within? Do they keep Gruden’s West Coast offense?
But what we do know is that, at least for one day, pulling the trigger paid off. With 17 games under his belt and after watching what Tebow did to their rival, you know Dalton and his coaches must have an itchy finger.
Tags: Andy Dalton, Jay Gruden
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