New offense puts Bengals’ focus on Andy Dalton in opener
CINCINNATI (AP) — Andy Dalton has a reserved parking space near to the players’ entrance at Paul Brown Stadium this year.
The leisurely walk reminds him that he’s no longer an up-and-comer.
The chances to break that long playoff drought are starting to dwindle for the 30-year-old quarterback.
Coming off one of his least-productive seasons, Dalton is the focus of a reconfigured offense that will put more emphasis on long plays. The Bengals showed flashes of it during preseason.
In the opener, Dalton completed 6 of 8 passes, four of them for at least 20 yards — a satisfying showing for an offense that was among the worst at big plays last season.
Dalton completed 71 percent of his throws in preseason with four touchdowns, one interception — the receiver fell on his route — and a passer rating of 130.9.
“I felt real comfortable with the way I played,” Dalton said Wednesday. “With the way this offense has moved and the way we’re doing things, I feel really good about where we are.”
The Bengals finished last in the league in yards last season, a franchise-worst showing. Much of it was linked to a line that couldn’t open holes for running backs or protect Dalton, who threw for the fewest yards of his career in a full season.
Interim coordinator Bill Lazor was retained at the end of the season and given latitude to overhaul the playbook, with more of an emphasis on big plays. Despite some misgivings about an adjustment period, the offense had few glitches during the preseason.
“He (Lazor) feels comfortable with it, and our guys feel comfortable with it,” Dalton said. “The big thing is we’re playing fast.”
The offense gets its first real test Sunday at Indianapolis, a place where the Bengals haven’t won since 1997. Much of the focus will be on the revamped line featuring new starters at four positions — left guard Clint Boling is the only holdover.
The line was better at giving Dalton time during the preseason, although it still had some rough times against Dallas.
“Any time the quarterback has time and the ability to stop into his throws, you feel like you’re going to be able to put the ball in a good spot,” Dalton said. “It’s a big part of the reason we had the success we did in the preseason.”
Dalton helped the Bengals reach the playoffs in each of his first five seasons from 2011-15, losing in the first round each time. They’ve failed to reach the playoffs each of the past two seasons. Cincinnati hasn’t won a playoff game since the 1990 season, the sixth-longest streak of postseason futility in NFL history.
Dalton is entering his eighth season on one of the NFL’s youngest teams. Only five players have more experience. Punter Kevin Huber, long snapper Clark Harris and defensive end Michael Johnson are in their 10th seasons. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap and defensive tackle Geno Atkins are in their ninth seasons.
Dalton, receiver A.J. Green and Boling are the oldest veterans on offense, each in their eighth seasons.
Coach Marvin Lewis awards parking places near the players’ entrance to those with the most experience. Dalton has graduated to one of the coveted spots.
“I feel like I’m one of the oldest on the team,” he said.
BAD DAYS IN INDY
The Bengals are looking to break a streak of eight straight losses in Indianapolis, including a 26-10 playoff defeat in the first round of the 2014 season. Dalton was only 18 of 35 for 155 yards in an offense missing an injured Green.