Over the course of the first four games of the 2016 regular season, almost nobody has been better at throwing the deep ball than has Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. I saw almost nobody because exactly one person has been better, and that is Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who has a pretty good wide receiver to throw to.
Ryan leads the league with 21 passes of at least 20 yards and a somewhat ridiculous eight passes of at least 40 yards, but Dalton is right behind him in both categories. The sixth-year quarterback has thrown 20 passes that have gone for explosive plays, and five of those have gone for at least 40 yards.
For comparison’s sake, Ben Roethlisberger, after last night, moved into the third position on this list. He threw five passes of at least 20 yards, with one that went for over 40, and for the quarter mark of the season, that gives him 18 explosive passes with five that have gone for at least 40 yards—all of them happening to go to Sammie Coates.
At least when it comes to pretty much everything aside from touchdowns and interceptions—which is admittedly a pretty important part of the game—in fact, Dalton is doing better this year than he was even last season, which was clearly his best year to date.
His 66.4 completion percentage is a slight improvement from last season, which was then his best in his career. His 8.5 yards per pass attempt is also just a smidge higher than what he was able to average last season in 12 games, plus a drive or two against the Steelers before a thumb injury ended his season.
He is even averaging more yards per game, and that, unsurprisingly, has a lot to do with the improvement that the Bengals have seen in his vertical passing game, although that has been dictated in part by the fact that they have been playing from behind often during their 2-2 start to the season.
“His vertical throws have been spot on”, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis told reporters in the wake of his team’s victory at home on Thursday night. “It counts for the yards per attempt. His ability to throw the ball based on the look has been really good as always,” he added.
“It’s also the maturity and understanding of the rest of the group, and being able to handle that. The guys are also coming up and making the catches. We’ve had some drop passes and we want to eliminate those. We have to keep catching the football when he makes those throws”.
A.J. Green, unsurprisingly, has eight of those explosive plays for 271 yards and a touchdown. Brandon LaFell also picked up four for 120 yards. Six more players have at least one explosive play through the air, showing that Dalton has been able to get a wide variety of players to contribute in this respect.