When Marvin Lewis publicly challenged Andy Dalton last week to become a more forceful leader on offense – even if it meant being a “jerk” – it brought to mind a former Bengals quarterback who had no problem stepping on toes when he saw fit – Boomer Esiason.
“I cringed a little bit when I heard that comment because everybody’s not made out to be that way,” Esiason told me. “I know what Marvin is doing – he’s trying to raise the compete level. He’s trying to agitate some guys and trying to put a spotlight on some guys. Believe you me, if he didn’t think that Andy could handle it, he wouldn’t do it. If Andy were a wilting flower, he would never do that to this kid. He knows that Andy can handle it and knows that he can get to another level, and he knows that this kid just needs a little shot in the arm in terms of confidence by saying, ‘We believe in you. You’re our guy and in this league, we’ve got to have the guy behind center in order to win, and I know that you can do it.’”
But the 1988 NFL MVP cautions Dalton not to suddenly attempt a personality change.
“When people try to be somebody they’re not, number one, they’re very uncomfortable,” said Esiason. “And number two, it comes off wrong to the people that he’s trying to lead. Andy is a really good player and is going to be a good long-term player. He’s a serious football player. He’s not a jackass, he doesn’t screw around, he pays the price, all of those things. They’re just trying to get him to be a little more aggressive verbally, but that’s not who the young man is and he shouldn’t try to be somebody like that. He’s more like Kenny Anderson, and I think that he’s going to have a great career.”
After leading the Bengals to the playoffs and making the Pro Bowl as a rookie, Dalton is on a pace to pass for more than 4200 yards this year which would break Carson Palmer’s single-season team record. But he’s also the only quarterback in the NFL to be intercepted in every game this season and is only completing 44.8% of his passes on third down.
“Like all young quarterbacks – you can ask any of us that ever played the position – there is going to be a time where you hit the wall and it becomes very frustrating,” said Esiason. “If Andy can come out this week and do what Tony Romo, Ben Roethlisberger, and RGIII have all done in the last three weeks against this Giants defense, he’ll feel a lot better about himself and I wouldn’t be surprised if they won the game,” said Esiason. “Everybody’s confidence goes in the tank every now and again – all of us went through it. I suffered through these awful losing streaks and awful losing seasons as well. He needs to have a good game. He needs to have a high QB rating game, he needs to make some big plays with his favorite target A.J. Green, and the next thing you know you just let it loose on the field and it’s not such a pressing game anymore. You wish you could articulate this to every young player, but the only way that they become better players is to go through stuff like this.”
Ironically, if Dalton needs inspiration, Boomer says he should study the quarterback that he will try to beat on Sunday.
“I would say, ‘Andy, look up Eli Manning’s 2007 season.’” said Esiason. “Because right around Thanksgiving that year, his general manager Jerry Reese came out and said that he was skittish. I remember that it sent all of us in the media here in New York on a feeding frenzy. Nine weeks later, Eli Manning was a Super Bowl MVP for crying out loud.
“Should we panic in the short term? I guess you can if you’re a Bengals fan and you’re in the midst of a four game losing streak. But big picture? I think the long-term prospects for Andy Dalton are very bright and these are the moments where you’re going to find out exactly what he’s made of.”
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