The Bengals are going to go as far as Andy Dalton will lead them. He's fine with those expectations.
By KEVIN GOHEENFS Ohio
CINCINNATI – There is a lot of pressure on
Andy Dalton. He knows it, accepts it and isn’t shying away from it.
Pressure might be the wrong word. Pressure implies a situation that causes one to sweat and fret. Dalton isn’t sweating or fretting his position as the quarterback of the
Bengals. There is an expectancy that Dalton and the Bengals will be better than a one-and-done playoff appearance. Those expectations come from within the Bengals and outside the team.
Just how much this team is able to accomplish this season is being put squarely onto Dalton’s shoulders.
That’s exactly the way the third-year signal caller desires it. Dalton knew what was wanted of him from the day the Bengals drafted him in the second round two years ago to take over for Carson Palmer. Palmer no longer wanted to take that role with the Bengals. Dalton is all for it.
A.J. Green said this week that this is Dalton’s team. It’s his offense.
“It should be the quarterback’s team,” said Dalton. “You have to make sure that the other guys around you trust you enough to say stuff like that. I think that I’ve done enough around here for A.J. to say that it is my team and for other guys to say that because that’s how I feel. A quarterback has got to take control and I feel like I’ve done a good job with that. Not just what we’re doing offensively, but in the locker room getting to know guys and hanging out with guys. All of that is going to make you a better team.”
Dalton has set franchise records with the Bengals, like throwing for 20 touchdowns and 3,398 yards as a rookie. He’s the only quarterback in franchise history to lead the Bengals to the playoffs in his first two seasons. Only Dan Marino and Peyton Manning have thrown more touchdowns in their first two seasons in the NFL than the 47 touchdowns for Dalton.
Those are numbers. Where Dalton is seeking to make his biggest strides comes from the intangibles, those nuances of the position that aren’t quantifiable.
“People forget this is only his season in the NFL. You’ll hear quarterback coaches say that the key to young quarterbacks is that they get better every year. I think he’s done all of the things that he wants to do to do that,” said left tackle and undisputed sage of the team Andrew Whitworth. “You can’t be a leader instantly.”
Dalton was given the keys to the car immediately. The league’s lockout of players delayed his progress by an offseason but it never diminished what the Bengals thought of him and his abilities. He was the fifth quarterback selected in the 2011 draft – Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder were all taken in the first round – and was taken one pick ahead of San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick.
“He always had reign. Maybe he didn’t realize it or not, but he has as much control as he wants to have,” said offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. “We always give him a starting play, a starting concept and he has the ability at the line of scrimmage, anytime, to get us into a better play.”
The Dalton one sees on the practice field now is more demonstrative. When rookie Cobi Hamilton drops a ball on the sideline that hits him right in the hands, Dalton is there not to berate but give him a supportive and assertive slap upside the helmet. When Andrew Hawkins wheels his way into an open zone in the defense, catches a pass 15 yards downfield and eludes defenders to the point he wouldn’t have been down in two-hand touch, Dalton is there with another positive slap on the helmet.
The AFC North has two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks in Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger and Baltimore’s Joe Flacco. Those franchises invested confidence and money in those players and have been rewarded for that investment. The Bengals have a similar belief in Dalton. Now it’s his time to deliver.
“You can see he's more confident in what he can do,” said Green. “I don't think he's going to ever be that guy to get in your face, but when he talks he's firm. He doesn't have to yell because he doesn't talk that much. When he does say something he is serious about it.”