Last season, the Cincinnati Bengals—and quarterback Andy Dalton most specifically—took significant strides forward in a manner that could threaten to make the team, at least offensively, a perennial threat for the division title, and for a postseason run more broadly speaking.
That pathway was diverted late last season when Dalton suffered what proved to be a season-ending thumb fracture while attempting to tackle Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt after he intercepted a screen pass targeted for his running back out of the backfield.
Still, the strides that he made last year are not to be dismissed, as he set a variety of career-high marks, including 66.1 completion percentage, completing 255 of 385 pass attempts for 3250 yards in roughly three-quarters of a season. He averaged 8.4 yards per pass, which was among the best in the league.
He was also distinctly efficient, throwing 25 touchdown passes versus only seven interceptions, including his fateful final pass of the year that Tuitt unkindly plucked low out of the air. 6.5 percent of his passes went for touchdowns, while only 1.8 were intercepted. Both figures ranked high league-wide last season.
Because he was sacked so few times—only 20 times during the year—he also posted an adjusted net yards passing figure of 7.71, a career-best by a substantial margin, as was his far more conventional 106.2 passer rating.
All of these are well and good, but the question that now remains is whether or not, essentially, he can do it again.
That is precisely what Pro Football Focus was wondering when the website listed Dalton on the top of their list of the seven players looking to maintain career-best play after previously underwhelming performances.
While Dalton threw 34 touchdowns in 2013 including the postseason—that is actually more than any Steelers quarterback ever has—he also threw 22 interceptions that year while ranking in the bottom third of the league in terms of accuracy under pressure.
The site points out the fact that Dalton’s contract extension of last season was rather-friendly was an indication of just how middling his performance under center largely has been in spite of the fact that the team had actually been getting to the playoffs in a rare change of pace, though they have promptly been swept out in the first round each time thus far.
Beyond the statistics, Dalton’s improvement last season was notable, and noticeable, in a variety of ways, as he was also among the league’s most accurate passers in the league in terms of targeted passes, and also posted the best quarterback rating on throws under pressure.
For whatever it might be worth, PFF believes that the sixth-year quarterback has a good chance of continuing his positive swing in spite of the fact that he lost a couple of his receivers and a starting offensive lineman during free agency this year, though the latter already had an in-house replacement, and the others were addressed in free agency and in the draft.