Boxing fans who believed “The Great Red Hype” would ignite a changing of the guard with his glove against Floyd Mayweather are a lot like Bengals fans. When you peel back the layers of the Red Rifle, Andy Dalton, you’ll find a quarterback who won’t lose you a game, but he also doesn't seem like he can win you a big one. The question is whether he can finish what Carson "De La Hoya" Palmer started by wrestling power in the AFC North away from the champs in Pitt and Baltimore or if he'll be found wanting when he steps to the scales.
On Monday Night Football, the Cincinnati Bengals mauled the Pittsburgh Steelers and left their Steel QB, Ben Roethlisberger, warped from the physical beat down he took from Cincy’s swarming defensive front seven. Since the turn of the millennium, the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers have each stacked the AFC North’s vault with world championships behind great defenses. Marvin Lewis knows defense. The Bengals are a great addition in the secondary away from joining the Seahawks and Niners in the upper echelon of defensive patrols.
Yet, as he enters his third season, speculation is now abound as to whether Dalton can deliver the Bengals offense to Lombardi Land. Colin Kaepernick's selection one pick behind Dalton two years ago may forever haunt Bengals fans if Dalton doesn’t answer these burning questions with his on field play. In this day and age, quarterbacks are expected to walk out of the college football pipeline NFL-ready. Dalton has to show pronounced improvements in his third season after throwing a stinker against the Texans while his defense pitched a near shutout and Kaepernick nearly won a Super Bowl.
These questions aren’t batted around when the names of younger aces like Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson or RGIII are discussed. Watching Dalton skip misfired passes off the Paul Brown Stadium turf or sail them high makes you doubt him. We forget though that Big Ben began his career as a butler on offense. His primary job was to handoff to and ride the coattails of “The Bus” and the Steelers defense to Super Sunday.
Touchdown throws were his occasional hors d'oeuvres — consumed in moderation. Trent Dilfer clocked in to game manage the 2000 Ravens to a Super Bowl. Joe Flacco transforms into a different quarterback in January and his Super Bowl run silenced the critics. Meanwhile, Big Ben became a top 10 quarterback in the league once the Steelers entrusted the offense to him. So, is Dalton closer to Dilfer, Flacco or Roethlisberger?
Dalton is somewhere between Chad Pennington and a poor man’s Flacco. Game managers excel at ball security. Peep this Mayweatheresque red zone stat: Dalton has now thrown at least 36 touchdowns to zero interceptions inside his opponent’s 20 during his career. Outside the red zone? He’s thrown 31 interceptions in his short career for a subpar 3:5 touchdown-interception ratio.
At least Flacco’s deep ball is one of his strengths. Dalton can dink-and-dunk, however, unlike Big Ben and Flacco, he may never master the art of the deep ball. That’s a cruel fate for A.J. Green. If the Bengals want to bring a rare championship to Cincy, the “Red Rifle” may need something Flacco, Roethlisberger and Dilfer each benefited from that we didn’t see in large doses on Monday—a rushing attack that spits out chunks of yards.
Behind their defense, the Bengals will probably snatch the AFC North torch from the Steelers and Ravens. The pressure is now on Dalton to join them on their ascent.