Andy Dalton was atrocious two weeks ago against the Browns. He was 10-33, for 86 yards and 3 interceptions. That’s about as bad as you can play as a quarterback. Quite frankly, Dalton has been inconsistent all season. However, last week against the Saints, he was suddenly an efficient and effective quarterback, going 16-22, for 220 yards, 3 TD’s, 0 INT’s and a 143.9 passer rating. So what did Dalton do differently?
The answer lies in what offensive coordinator Hue Jackson did. Against Cleveland, Dalton was struggling to see the field and make good decisions. So Jackson simplified the offense.
The Bengals ran the ball and then stuck with the run. They played with lots of 2 wide receiver sets. This kept the Saints in their base personnel where they bring fewer blitzes. Cincy kept the action in the middle of the field. The run sucked in 7 or 8 defenders. Off of these runs, the Bengals used play-action, and they did so with great execution.
On the play below, the Bengals ran a lead inside, gaining 5 yards.
On the very next play, the Bengals used the exact same run action. Can you tell the difference?
Only this time, it was a play-action pass. You can see that the Saints defense was sucked into the middle of the field.
From the sideline angle, you can see Andy Dalton at the beginning of his motion. He’s throwing the ball to A.J. Green, isolated on the outside 1-on-1.
The shaded area shows that there are no underneath defenders between Dalton and Green. No one who can undercut the route. This was the effect of the run and the play-action. The result here was a 13-yard pass and a first down.
The Bengals used this type of sequence often against the Saints; a run play followed by almost identical run action. All of this served to simplify the game for Dalton. Instead of reading and scanning the entire field before making a throw, something he hasn’t been able to do consistently with accuracy and good decision-making, Dalton turned his back to the defense on the play fakes. When he turned back around, he had 8-man protection, time to throw, and a simple 1-on-1 matchup to read on the outside. Make the throw to beat the coverage for a completion, or sail the ball out of bounds and live to play another day.
Using this simplified style of play, the difficult decisions were taken out of Dalton’s hands. The reads were defined for him. This allowed him to deliver the ball decisively and with confidence, which increased his accuracy tremendously. Dalton was a more effective quarterback as a result.
Three and a half years into his career, it has become clear what type of quarterback Andy Dalton is. He cannot consistently lead his offense if he is asked to make complex reads and throw on down after down. He needs a simple approach, and he needs the offense around him to work.