Andy Dalton, The Bad, The Worse and The Ugly?

Thankfully I am not celebrating my 32nd birthday quite yet (although I am careering towards it rather too fast for my liking) and something tells me Andy Dalton will not remember his all that fondly. Dalton’s 32nd birthday, also the day of the NFL trade deadline, was the day the Cincinnati Bengals announced that they were benching the “Red Rifle”. After being drafted in 2011 and competing for eight and a half seasons, Dalton’s time in Cincinnati appears to be over. Whether he is replaced permanently by Ryan Finley, or the Bengals tank and select a quarterback in the draft in 2020, is yet to be seen. Either way Dalton has done everything he can for the Bengals and will have a new role in the grand scheme of the NFL going forward. Why have the Bengals decided that this is the time to mix things up? Was Dalton actually good for the Cincinnati Bengals? And what will happen to Dalton going forward? Let’s take a look.

The overall picture

Firstly, let’s examine whether Dalton was good for the Bengals. In my opinion he has not been, but I will let you make your own decision after reading this article. Andy Dalton has played eight seasons in the NFL and not once has he managed to surpass 4300 passing yards in a single season. In fact, his highest season total is 4293. Last season alone, 10 different quarterbacks managed to surpass that amount. In a league where more and more is being asked of the quarterback and where the protection from referees being afforded towards the quarterback is only getting better you need to be able to stand in the pocket and throw the ball all over the field. Dalton hasn’t been blessed with the scrambling prowess of a Russell Wilson or Lamar Jackson, so he is a pocket passer, but he hasn’t put up the numbers to match this. He has never managed more than 33 passing touchdowns in a season as another example.

In the same year the Bengals drafted Dalton they also selected star wide receiver A.J Green, meaning that Dalton has had a top tier wide receiver to throw to for the majority of his career. However, look at what Aaron Rodgers has done in the same time frame as Dalton. Rodgers who has been hampered by injuries on occasion has thrown for more than 4300 yards on four occasions and has four seasons with more than 33 passing touchdowns. Now I am not at all saying these two quarterbacks should be held in the same regard, but it puts Daltons numbers into perspective. Especially given that arguably a fully healthy AJ Green is a more dominant receiver than Rodgers has had at any point in his career.

Instant success

Andy Dalton

Dalton did exceptionally well in his first season. After Carson Palmer demanded to be traded away from the Bengals, Dalton was thrust into the starting position, a role that he excelled in. He led the Bengals to a winning season, giving them a final record of 9-7. He threw for 3,398 yards, 20 Touchdowns, 13 Interceptions with a passer rating of 80.4. Not bad at all for a rookie starting immediately, and somewhat surprisingly given all that happened that offseason. 

The season was good enough for the Bengals to sneak into the postseason; a feat that the Bengals had not achieved since 1990. The Bengals front office must have been thinking that this was their man. They had a franchise quarterback who would lead the team to the playoffs, and maybe even the glory of a Superbowl. Unfortunately, that first taste of the postseason was a bitter one as the Bengals lost 31-10 in the wild card round to the Houston Texans. Sadly, this was to become a taste that became all too familiar for Mr Dalton.

Playoff struggles

My biggest argument that Andy Dalton is not a good quarterback is his inability to perform when it really matters: the postseason. Through Dalton’s first five seasons he led the Bengals to the playoffs every single year. Dalton only played in four of those playoff games due to injury, but still he led them there. However, at the end of the regular season something happens to Andy Dalton. 

I am going to assume that most people reading this have seen Space Jam. That film is the only way I can describe what happens to Dalton at the end of the season. Somebody somewhere steals Andy Dalton’s quarterback powers as soon as his last regular season game is over, and Dalton starts the postseason looking like someone who has never stepped onto a Football pitch let alone played an NFL game. Dalton has never won a postseason game in his time in Cincinnati. No other active quarterback has been to the postseason four times and failed to win. It can’t all be the Red Rifles fault, but his stats are truly atrocious through the postseason.

In those four postseason games, he has a measly completion rate of 55.7% and for every touchdown he has thrown he has six interceptions. Sorry that last sentence makes it seem like he has thrown a few touchdowns in the postseason. Just to clarify, through his four postseason games he has only thrown one touchdown. That is 240 minutes of football, and he has only managed to find the end zone with a pass once? These are not the numbers that any franchise wants from their starting quarterback. 

In fact, Andy Dalton’s biggest playoff moment came for another team. In the final week of the 2017 regular season Dalton and his Bengals took on their divisional rivals the Baltimore Ravens. With a win Baltimore would go to the postseason, and everyone believed the Ravens would win. However, Dalton and the Bengals thought differently. In the dying moments of the game, Dalton found Tyler Boyd for a game winning touchdown, dashing the Ravens playoff hopes. Now don’t get me wrong this win didn’t in turn send the Bengals to the postseason. What Dalton managed to do was eliminate the Ravens and send the Buffalo Bills to the postseason. So, the only sort of postseason moment that Dalton may be remembered for with any sort of positivity was the fact that millions of fans in Buffalo thanked him for getting their team to the playoffs.

The end of the road

Andy Dalton

Through his first five seasons Dalton did the job in the regular season but then when it really mattered, he vanished. However, since the start of his sixth season he has never managed to get his team back to the playoffs and has in fact not had a winning season again. In the end, Dalton proved to not be a good enough quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals and they will now look towards cementing a replacement for him.

Why have the Bengals decided to bench Dalton now? Why not? The season is over for the Bengals and everyone knows it. All they are competing for now is the worst record in the league so that they get the choice of whoever they want in the draft. They are already 0-8 and still have to play the dominant New England Patriots; a game that I can’t see anyone predicting they win. They also have four games against divisional rivals still on the schedule: one against the 5-2 Ravens, one against the resurgent 3-4 Steelers and two against the 2-5 Browns who surely have to start clicking soon. 

Outside of that they play the Raiders, Jets and the Dolphins. Other than potentially the Dolphins I cannot see them winning any of these games. The Dolphins game however is for many people a mini Superbowl as the loser likely gets the number one draft pick. This is as good a time as any to bench Dalton. The Bengals can start their rookie quarterback and get a handle on what talent they have in him, whilst having Andy Dalton there to share his knowledge and experience with the young man… just hopefully not his postseason knowledge.

Now we should take a second to make it clear that not all of the troubles this season have been on Dalton. He has not had a single snap with AJ Green this season. He lost John Ross, his speedster to another injury. His offensive line has been ravaged and ranks 31st in the league in pass protection. Dalton has one of the lowest times to throw in the entire league, and his teams running game has hardly helped him either. However, outside of a flash in Week 1, Dalton has really shown nothing to suggest he can rise above these issues, as the truly top-tier quarterbacks often can. It would be one thing if the Bengals were 2-6 or 3-5 but 0-8 is extremely ugly no matter the circumstances.

This is now a no-lose situation for the Bengals. Best case scenario, is that Dalton can help mould and mentor Finley, who gets a few wins, looks good doing it and the Bengals decide they have a quarterback they can build around in the future. Worst case scenario, the Bengals continue to plummet, Finley looks terrible, Dalton can’t help him, and Cincinnati get the number one pick. They can take Tua Tagovailoa, or whichever quarterback takes their fancy, and build an offence around him.

The future

Going forward I am not sure what happens for Andy Dalton. It is hard to see him staying with the team that he has had limited success beyond this season. Being a strong family man, he might retire and spend more time with his family. Maybe a career in the media is calling, or if he is intent to stay in the NFL then it is likely as a placeholder QB for a team looking towards the future, or as a backup.

Whatever he decides to do his time is up in Cincinnati, and in all honesty, its about time too.

Mark Ross

NFL Analyst

Mark has been an avid NFL fan since 2006 and follows the Pittsburgh Steelers. Just recently started writing about the league and has done articles for @FirstAndTen and game coverage for @ByTheMinNFL. You can see more of his articles on his twitter @markr1991


Image credit: Dan Gorelov – The Touchdown, Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports & USA Today