Is Andy Dalton the problem in Cincinnati?

The Bengals are as talented as any team in the NFL with some, including myself, going so far as to call them one of the best, top to bottom, even factoring in teams like Seattle, Denver and San Francisco.

Yes. The Bengals have the talent to matchup and beat anyone, but there seems to be something holding them back. Some say Marvin Lewis can't coach them deep into the playoffs, others blame the lack of offensive weapons (now young weapons), but the more accurate root of the problem is the play of quarterback Andy Dalton.

Dalton, a third-year player out of TCU, has been a saving grace for Bengals' fans following Carson Palmer's exit from the midwest, but the clock does seem to be clicking.

In his first two seasons, Dalton led the Bengals to their first back-to-back playoff appearances, and subsequently lost both to Houston, in 30 years. In those losses, Dalton combined for 384 yards passing, zero touchdowns and four interceptions. Many argued that he was essentially left out to dry with receiver A.J. Green looking like his only quality weapon offensively, but those losses still showed Dalton's lack of deep ball accuracy, and inability to consistently move the offense.

Questions of arm strength have reared their ugly head throughout Dalton's career, but we should clarify that rather general statement. His arm can get the ball out there, not like Brett Favre used to or anything, but he can get it deep. The issue is that he has lacked the arm strength to effortlessly get it there and accurately place the deep throw. I'm a Dalton fan, but how many times have we seen Green win a jump ball deep? There are times when a well placed deep throw lets Green run onto the throw instead him of waiting for it in an attempt to win a jump ball.

That isn't necessarily a death sentence in terms of quarterback success, but without perfect execution at other key positions, it also isn't ideal. Over the past two seasons, offensive coordinator, Jay Gruden, has utilized a creative approach to maximize Dalton's ability and get the ball to playmakers like the immensely talented Green. However, with the exception of Green's Week 1 explosion, the ball isn't getting to Green. While other young weapons are showing promise (see Giovani Bernard and Tyler Eifert) and are rookies still adjusting to the game, without Green, the Bengals offense is bound to struggle against defense like Cleveland's, that is much better than people give them credit for. I think the Cleveland game was the first time we really saw the impact of missing Andrew Hawkins as there didn't seem to be any electricity on the offensive side of the ball with the traditional outlets getting bottled up.

Don't get me wrong, this isn't Gruden's problem. Should he get more out of the offense against the Browns even with Dalton's seemingly apparent limitations? Sure. But last week wasn't the only time Dalton looked "off". Against Pittsburgh in Week 2, Dalton was wildly inaccurate even on throws under 20 yards, which is something that had been considered a strength of his. In Week 3, Dalton made a couple questionable decisions throughout the game, including a terrible interception where Packers' corner, Sam Shields, was standing in front of Green on a curl route and Dalton forced it anyway.

The decision-making should work itself out. I stress the "should" part. I also believe the Cincinnati coaching staff is still defining their offense. With Bernard taking on a larger role and being more impactful, while trying to get the same out of Eifert, who looks equally as promising, I feel Gruden is having trouble suddenly juggling these weapons as well as Green, who is, more than ever, a focal point of opposing defenses.

Dalton's accuracy issues appear to be technique related as many of his errant throws seem to be coming when he doesn't step up into his throws, delivering the ball with pace and efficiency. Still, you can't help but feel nervous if you're a Cincinnati fan. Losing to Cleveland isn't the end of the world. In fact, I wrote about Cleveland making it a game as divisional matchups, particularly in the AFC North, normally are. The real issue is, the loss brings about more concerns in relation to Dalton, just fueling the critics who jumped on him in Week 1 and after both playoff losses. You can't deny that there is an unnerving pattern here.

So, does Dalton finally show that he is more than just a solid quarterback? Well, next week will be another rough matchup against New England. Green will probably be a non-factor yet again as the Patriots will scheme for him, begging Dalton to beat them with Cincinnati's other offensive weapons. The game figures to be close with neither offense looking like the Denver Broncos of late and both defenses playing very well in the early weeks. But the Patriots are 4-0 for a reason. They have Tom Brady, willing points out of New England's offense. The Bengals sit at 2-2 with questions aplenty following last week's loss on both sides of the ball. Beating Tom Brady and the Patriots would not only get the Bengals back above .500 to 3-2, but would also, potentially, help Dalton begin the long process of silencing the critics.

Not the easiest task.

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