32 for 32: Don’t Forget About Andy Dalton
It feels like a distant memory, a foggy recollection of a phoenix rising from the ashes of 200 Jeremy Hill rushes that went for one and a half yards at a time. A fiery rage of combativeness that sat atop the league in average depth of target and consistently threw his compadre Adriel Jeremiah Green beautiful spirals down the sidelines. Was it a dream? This mistake-free football that had a mediocre franchise believing once-and-for-all that a playoff win was not only possible, it was practically inevitable?
It was indeed reality. Andy freaking Dalton was a top-10 quarterback in the NFL and in our wonderful game of fantasy. He was loaded with weapons around him and a taut offensive line that allowed all of 19 sacks through 12 games before Dalton broke his thumb making a tackle. That was 2015, an eternity ago in this game that values age as much as production. In the two following seasons he would hit the dirt from oncoming pressure an astounding 80 times in 32 games.
As you can imagine, quarterbacks tend to be worse when they’re under pressure. In fact, 100 percent of them are worse when under pressure, and Dalton is no exception.
What follows is an argument for how and why our subject will shed away these recent disappointments and prove to be much more worthwhile than his back-end QB2 perception currently states. We will start from the inside-out and tackle (hee hee) what hurts him most: his offensive line.
Possibly the best move the Bengals made for Dalton’s legitimacy as a fantasy contributor this offseason was to allow Russell Bodine to head to Buffalo. He was a wreck once again in 2017, ranking in the bottom quartile of PFF’s ranking for centers and in the bottom five in pass blocking. Opposing linemen continually ate his lunch en route to putting hands in the face of his quarterback.
man. how many times do the bengals need to see russell bodine get embarrassed before they upgrade center? pic.twitter.com/DjPIUlHayQ
— charles mcdonald (a guy at the airport) (@FourVerts) September 11, 2017
Nobody kills more plays or limits the guys around him on the Bengals offense more than Russell Bodine. pic.twitter.com/H1Qpf5Egik
— Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry) August 18, 2017
And one more to really pound the point home:
Is Russell Bodine Cincinnati's second best starting OL right now? Life comes at you fast, man…. pic.twitter.com/DlrBhxDvAe
— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) April 9, 2017
The depth chart he leaves behind him isn’t anything to get excited about, with TJ Johnson (2013 seventh-round pick) sitting there as a rotational C/G back-up who doesn’t have a lot of experience getting the ball to the QB. The draft should deliver a starting caliber center, assuming the Bengals do what I’d like to assume they should do and spend some high draft capital in one of the players on many analysts’ big boards. guys like James Daniels of Iowa, Billy Price of OSU, or Frank Ragnow of Arkansas. If any of them can be plug-and-play starters and become anywhere near league average it will be an immediate boost to a struggling pass blocking unit.
The Rest of the O-Line
With a decent pairing of guards who seemed to meld as the season went on, Cincinnati did what they could to address a glaring — is there a word more glaring than glaring? — weakness at their offensive tackle position. It didn’t exactly start off with a blockbuster signing:
#Bengals 2017 OT PFF grades:
Andre Smith 48.0
Jake Fisher 45.3
Eric Winston 44.0
Cedric Ogbeuhi 41.0
Bobby Hart's 522 snaps at RT: 37.7
— Justin Edwards (@Justin_Redwards) February 14, 2018
But the move back to the No. 21 overall pick in this year’s draft in exchange for Buffalo’s oft-injured Cordy Glenn should pay immediate dividends. The new left tackle is expected to be fully healthy by OTAs, giving him plenty of time to get acquainted with his new teammates and start at LT right out of the gate. As with the center position, simply league-average play would suffice as an upgrade, but a return to top-five or top-10 form by Glenn would be an incredible improvement.
Six players rotated in and out of the two tackle positions for the Bengals last year and accumulated a combined 1,934 snaps over the course of the season. They allowed 75 hurries of the quarterback, or, one hurry in every ~26 snaps. Over the last three seasons, Glenn has racked up 2,010 snaps — all from the left tackle position — and has allowed 48 hurries of the quarterback, or, one hurry in every ~42 snaps. That’s as actionable of a stat as there is, ladies and gentlemen and everyone in between. That’s one big positive for Dalton’s backside and he didn’t even need plastic surgery.
Simply put, Dalton is much better with Tyler Eifert running free down the seam and boxing out defenders in the red zone.
Although the differences may seem negligible (0.3 more touchdowns/game, 29 more yards/game), they equal out to 45 more fantasy points over a season. That difference helps to average Dalton out to 345 fantasy points over a 16-game average with Eifert, or what would have been the overall QB7 in 2017.
Assuming the perfect health of someone who has missed more games than he’s actually played is certainly shooting for the moon, but if the touchdown scoring machine can simply stay on the field for 12 games in 2018 it can and will provide a shot in the arm to his quarterback’s bottom line.
After trudging through the trenches above, you would be right to assume that the running game was nothing to admire. Cincinnati ranked 31st in the league in rushing and set a franchise record with 1,366 rushing yards. That’s a franchise low, by the way.
With Jeremy Hill off to New England to do his best Corey Dillon impression, the backfield is at least all put into the mitts of Gio Bernard and Joe Mixon, who vastly outperformed the former LSU and current Patriots back. Hill plodded to a career low 3.1 yards per carry in the first eight games of the season, “starting” each of those contests before Marvin Lewis allowed Joe Mixon to grace the field. Marv shares Hue Jackson’s style of crushing a rookie’s confidence for no apparent reason and Mixon’s sophomore season should be devoid of meaningless benchings.
With all that said, I believe a Mixon/Bernard combo can keep drives going and help Dalton string together those 250+ yard games we had become accustomed to before last season. Keep in mind that Bernard remains a good to very good receiving back
AJ Green is AJ Green (see: very good) and Brandon LaFell is… well… Brandon LaFell (see: just a guy). So we have a team with too many problems to be selecting skill position players in the early rounds of the draft and an offseason that has already tapped them out financially. Don’t we already know what we have here? Maybe. And maybe not.
Enter: John Ross, owner of the fastest 40-time in the history of the combine and accomplished NFL … wait, what’s that? Oh, John Ross only played 16 snaps last season? Six…teen? Much of his lack of playing time can be blamed on injuries, including one before the season began and another that sent him to the IR and required shoulder surgery. If one squints hard you can remember and/or find quotes where Marvin Lewis was seemingly tearing Ross down. Let’s just pass that off as more Coaches-From-Ohio-Who-Hate-Rookies and concentrate on the fact that the Bengals drafted him as the No. 9 overall pick in the 2017 draft.
Assuming health (and all signs point to health), Andy Dalton will finally have the field-stretcher he needs after a terribly disappointing year of deep passing. In the 2015 season, Dalton completed 47.3 percent of his passes targeted 20+ yards down the field, good for fourth-highest in the league. In 2016, that number dropped a little bit to 45.9 percent, but was still the ninth-highest mark in the league. The 2017 season delivered awful results with AJ Green constantly double-covered — Andy completed 28.6 percent of his deep balls, good for 22nd in the league out of 23 qualifying passers. The only quarterback he beat out was Eli Manning. Just the mere presence of the speedy Ross should clear things up.
Wrapping it up
In a pure talent standpoint, Dalton has been appropriately surrounded by both new athletic pieces who have assimilated to the league (Mixon, Ross) and old standbys who have proven they are at the top echelon of their positions when they are on the field (Eifert, Green). An O-Line that can keep him upright may be the piece de resistance to keep him propped up as a top-12 QB with spike weeks to sprinkle some salt on your opponents. As hyphy as everyone is this spring about the playmakers the Chiefs have surrounded Patrick Mahomes with, don’t forget about the ol’ Red Rifle. A phoenix with cartoon eyebrows, rising.