One of Andy Dalton’s strengths is that he knows where he’s going with the ball and gets rid of it quickly.
But is he throwing it too quickly?
In Cincinnati’s last game, a 24-17 loss to Pittsburgh, the Bengals rarely tested the Steelers deep. According to the website Pro Football Focus, only five of Dalton’s passes traveled more than 10 yards in the air and only two were beyond 20 yards.
“We probably should take more shots down the field,” said offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. “The Pittsburgh game was a weird game – we only had about 20 plays on offense in the first half and about 20 more in the second half. We could never really get in the flow to take some shots. I was trying to get first downs and get something going but it never really transpired for us. We do have to take a long look at ourselves offensively and try to take some more shots down the field.”
Former Bengals defensive back Solomon Wilcots has been the color commentator for two Cincinnati games on CBS-TV this year and says that Dalton makes the Bengals easy to defend if he doesn’t attempt longer throws.
“You have to continue to evolve in the National Football League because teams are going to have a ‘book’ on you – there’s no doubt,” said Wilcots. “Defensive backs know that they can crowd the line of scrimmage if you’re not going to force them to defend every blade of grass. It’s not that Andy can’t throw it deep, but for some reason or another, he’s a quick, get-the-ball-out kind of guy. When you’re trying to get it out quickly, that equates to short passes, dink-and-dunk, and they’re not challenging teams down the field. That allows all 11 defenders to creep closer and closer to the line of scrimmage and now it’s like playing in a phone booth. You’ve got to make them defend every blade of grass.”
If teams play tight coverage and take away Dalton’s first or second read, he needs to buy time to allow his receivers to get open.
“A lot of the good plays in the NFL now are unscripted plays where the quarterback gets out of the pocket and finds guys deep downfield,” said Gruden. “I think we’ve had one big play on a scramble and that was Hawkins against Cleveland, the rest have been scramble throwaways or throws to the flat. When the opponent drops eight guys, it’s harder to find a concept that’s going to be open right away. Sometimes Andy’s going to have to buy time, move his feet in the pocket or scramble out of the pocket and wait for guys to get open in second and third windows.”
Buying additional time would also make it more difficult for teams to shutdown A.J. Green who was held to one catch for an 8-yard touchdown by Pittsburgh.
“The Steelers did a great job of putting a clamp on him,” said Hall of Fame receiver James Lofton who broadcast the game on national radio. “There were times where Andy was making the right read and going somewhere else, but is A.J. Green really covered or is he good enough to still catch the ball? It’s hard to second-guess the guy that’s in the pocket because he trying to throw the ball on rhythm and doesn’t want to take sacks and doesn’t want to take too many chances, but in a game like the Pittsburgh game when you’re trying to snap a losing streak, maybe you do need to take a few chances.”
The losing streak stands at three and with the Broncos coming to town averaging 29 points a game behind a rejuvenated Peyton Manning, the Bengals offense is going to have to perform well on Sunday.
“It’s going to be important for us, like it is every week, to be in positive down and distance and try to play with the lead,” said Gruden. “If we can play in the lead or stay close, we can keep them off-balance with different personnel groups and formations. If we’re behind, and we have to throw five- and seven-step drops all day, we don’t have a chance. We have to make sure that we get the lead, try to hammer the running game against them the best that we can, and keep them off balance.”
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