There are five quarterbacks in NFL history who led their team to a postseason berth in each of their first four years in the League. Of the five, only one managed to lose all four of those playoff games – this is just one of the many dubious dichotomies on the resume of Andy Dalton.
He holds the distinction of being one of only three players to throw 20 or more touchdowns in each of their first three seasons – a record he shares with Peyton Manning and Dan Marino. Such an impressive feat surely deserves an encore, like throwing one of the worst games in recent league history- an 86-yard clunker, completing just 10 of his 33 attempts, while surrendering three interceptions and two sacks, with zero scores on the night.
Or consider through his first 48 games, Dalton claimed more regular season victories and playoff berths, threw fewer picks and achieved a higher passer rating than Peyton Manning did in his first 48 contests. For better or worse, Andy Dalton has been a good enough quarterback to keep his team in the hunt, just not good enough to bring home the big prize.
In this debate, Nathan Miller and I will explore why Dalton has been such an enigma. By the end, you will have the facts you need to determine if Andy is a viable contributor you want on your roster or a liability you need to avoid. So join us, as we uncover, “The Fault in our Dalton.”
The Case for Andy Dalton
I pray Tina Dalton doesn’t read Fantasy football articles, especially not this off-season. What would she think seeing her baby boy getting lambasted by writers on a daily basis? The disgust for her son Andy is so intense, creative analysts are running out of synonyms for words like terrible, ineffective, hapless, disposable and loser. If Ma Dalton had a chance to fire back at these scribes, she’d likely ask them if they actually follow the team or just read the box scores and pass judgment.
With the boundless optimism every mother holds for their child, Mama Dalton would point out how steadily Andy’s production climbed in his first three NFL seasons, before injuries decimated his receiving corps in 2014. She’d break down how transitioning to a new offensive scheme, while attempting to develop a rapport with a set of third and fourth string receivers proved extremely difficult.
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Tina, being the Daughter, Wife and Mother of football players, has seen enough football in three generations to recognize the added pressure the Bengals struggling defense put on her son’s shoulders last year. Yet, he still took Cincinnati to the playoffs, the same way he has each of his four seasons as a professional. If Dalton’s mother could speak to the Fantasy community, she’d explain that 2014 was nothing more than a glitch in Andy’s career arc, and ascension as an NFL quarterback. Then she’d tell us to get off his back!
In reality, I’m sure Mrs. Dalton could care less about our opinions. She probably has Andy down for 35 touchdowns and 4,000+ yards this season. The question is why don’t dynasty owners?
His poor play in 2014 was the undeniable consequence of missing A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and to a lesser extent Tyler Eifert, each for long stretches of the season. Dalton scratched out 19 touchdowns with 17 interceptions while leading the Bengals to second place in the AFC North behind the Steelers. They earned a playoff berth, but got blown out in the Wildcard round by the Colts, their fourth consecutive First Round defeat. So much of the doubt surrounding Dalton’s viability as a starting quarterback lies in that disappointing 2014 performance and continuation of the playoff losing streak.
Dynasty owners would be wise to give “The Red Rifle” a mulligan for this small detour in the otherwise upward trajectory of his career. His supporting cast alone provides tremendous reason for optimism in 2015 and beyond.
Two years ago, Andy finished third in the NFL in touchdown passes with 33, behind Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. Only Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Dalton play with an offensive line, starting running back and WR1 each ranked among the top five in the league. Add the complementary weapons on Cincinnati’s roster – Gio Bernard, Mohamed Sanu, plus the aforementioned Jones and Eifert and the argument Cincy has one of the top five skill groups in the NFL begins to take shape.
Despite Pro Football Focus ranking the team fourth in pass protection and seventh in run blocking, the Bengals spent their first two picks in the 2015 Draft on offensive tackles, ensuring their dominance in the trenches for years to come. The 21 sacks surrendered last season were a career low for Dalton, and a product of the continuity up front, perhaps the biggest factor in offensive line success. All five starters will again return for 2015.
Defenses will have to load the box to slow down Jeremy Hill, whose sophomore campaign promises to be tremendous. Hill is the Bengals most dominant runner since Corey Dillon left for New England in 2004 and a luxury Dalton has never been afforded until now. Power run games draw safeties into the box. Safeties in the box allow receivers to get behind them, opening up the play action passing game. While Sanu did an admirable job handling the WR1 duties last year, he was nowhere near the deep threat Green will provide after finally being fully recovered from a nagging toe injury which limited his explosiveness for much of 2014. The combination of Hill and Green maximizing the effectiveness of their play action will help the Bengals vertical passing game return to prominence, along with Dalton’s fantasy production.
The personnel is in place. All Andy has to do is be the facilitator, the point guard distributing the rock to his scorers, while keeping his turnovers to a minimum. Reports from training camp suggest the quarterback has taken the mantle of leadership. Teammates claim Dalton is the coach on the field, comfortable enough in year two of the system to explain its nuance to struggling teammates.
He will not fully assume the leadership role until he wins the games that matter most. Analyst love to bash Dalton’s play, and debate when the Bengals will commence their search for a new signal caller. If the tenure of Head Coach Marvin Lewis has taught us anything, it’s that the Cincinnati’s Brass does not have an itchy trigger finger. They’re in no rush to get back on the quarterback carousel and ride with the likes of Jeff Blake and Jon Kitna any time soon. A high floor QB2 is a logical projection for Andy Dalton in 2015 dynasty leagues. Cincy plays a very competitive schedule Weeks 2-6, with games against the Chargers, @Ravens, Chiefs, Seahawks, @Bills. Each of whom will test the Bengals offensive prowess. They’ll finish the Fantasy Playoff Season Week 14 vs. Steelers, Week 15 @49ers and Week 16 @Broncos. A challenging stretch, but one the quarterback is equipped to handle. Mama Dalton’s confident he could flirt with QB1 status – you should listen to Mom.
The Case Against Andy Dalton
When Mo first proposed a debate on Andy Dalton, my first thought was, “too easy.” Knowing the brute force and insight that Mo brings to his articles, however, had me reconsider that approach.
Quick. What’s the most common stat you hear when people are attacking The Red Rifle? Playoff wins. Dalton can’t win when it counts and his four postseason losses are tied for the most without a win in the history of the NFL. Fortunately, this has no bearing on dynasty. Our games have come and gone long before Dalton has a chance to make Cincinnati shed tears once again.
The real issue with Dalton is threefold – scheme, consistency and accuracy.
Last season, new Offensive Coordinator Hue Jackson arrived in Cincinnati. What Mr. Jackson does very well is run the ball and run the ball often. The Bengals boast one of the best 1-2 punches on the ground in Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. That’s not going away anytime soon and neither is Jackson’s love of the ground…and cheese curds (me too). While Jackson has recently expressed interest in opening Pandora’s box this season (note to Hue Jackson – research Pandora’s box), I equate that to the “I’m in the best health of my career/It’s an open competition/I’m innocent” talk we hear all offseason. Smoke and mirrors.
After a career year in 2013, the next was not so kind for Dalton. Apologists will point to the depleted offense in 2014 as the blame for Dalton’s woes. Injuries to wide receiver Marvin Jones, tight end Tyler Eifert, and star wideout A.J. Green left the kitchen bare. While Dalton should see improvement with a healthy supporting cast, don’t expect a drastic change in the game plan as last season’s drop was directly proportional to Jackson calling the shots. In his four years as a signal-caller, Jackson has called an average of 511 passing plays per year. That would rank the Bengals at 25th overall in pass attempts, which coincidentally (and rather conveniently) they were last season.
Dalton saw his pass attempts drop by over 100 and a decrease in yardage nearly tenfold that. While Jackson sought to run the ball and control the clock, Dalton experienced a shift in his duty to the unfortunate role of a game manager. One upside was an uptick in completion percentage to nearly 65%. The downside was a drop from a TD/INT average of 30/18 per year from 2012 – 2013 to an abysmal 19/17 last season.
In fact, Dalton has managed to increase his interception percentage in each year of his career and is the second leading quarterback for total interceptions thrown over that span. Sign me up!
As for that banner 2013 year for Dalton – the 430 points scored by the Bengals was the most since their Super Bowl loss to San Franciso in 1988; and only two other seasons in that span saw more than 400 points scored.
Finally, one last point. Whether you are of the variety that takes note of early season strength of schedule or not, this season’s schedule for Dalton and company will be grueling (at least on paper). The Bengals play in a tough division to begin with, but according to well-respected analyst Pat Thorman of ProFootballFocus, the Bengals will face seven matchups with an “actionable probability” of being tougher than usual matchups. Adding further damage is the possibility of another four games falling below the average matchup bar making for an unsightly 70% of Dalton’s games starting off on the wrong foot.
No one is drafting Dalton as their QB1 and according to the July 2015 DLF ADP data, most aren’t even drafting him as their QB2 (he’s currently the 25th quarterback taken). So what do we make of this? What do I suggest? Read on.
Do you like stability in your QB2? How about Eli Manning? I’d personally rather spend a slightly earlier pick to grab Eli Manning a little over three rounds earlier and ride his second season in the Ben McAdoo offense. With a streak of 167 regular season starts, he’s solid.
With Marc Trestman calling the shots in Baltimore and the added firepower on offense in wide receiver Breshad Perriman, tight end Maxx (Powers) Williams, and the talented wide receiver Marlon Brown supposedly getting up to speed, give me Joe Flacco two to three rounds earlier.
If waiting is your thing, Alex Smith and especially Carson Palmer make strong cases for more consistency and in Palmer’s case, a much higher ceiling to be had one to three rounds later than Dalton.
In the end, you can acquire Dalton cheaply and get what you pay for. When looking for upside and stability, look elsewhere.
So, what do you think? Are you comfortable starting Andy Dalton in multiple games for your dynasty team this season?