Andy Dalton thriving under Cincinnati Bengals' new offensive coordinator

By Jeff Walner, The Sports Xchange  |  Oct. 2, 2017 at 11:07 PM
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CINCNNATI -- It has only been two weeks, but versatility has become a hallmark of Bill Lazor's offense since he took over as Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator on Sept. 15.

One of the primary goals was to get quarterback Andy Dalton into a rhythm and comfortable in the pocket.

Mission accomplished.

"Offensively, a really good job of continuing to do things, the quarterback being patient with things, not trying to force things that way," head coach Marvin Lewis said. "We did different things that gave us positive plays to get the ball in space."

It's fair to point out that the Bengals' most complete offensive performance of the season came against the winless Cleveland Browns, and that Dalton has had two of the best performances of his career against Cleveland, including Sunday.

But, no apologies were needed after a 31-7 rout at FirstEnergy Stadium. It was the Bengals' first win of the season. It also was the second straight week in which Dalton has excelled in Lazor's new up-tempo system.

Dalton had one of the best games for any quarterback this season on Sunday, going 25 of 30 for 286 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. The 146.0 passer rating was second-best in his career to a 146.8 rating on December 6, 2015, also at Cleveland.

Dalton's completion percentage of 83.3 percent also was tops in the NFL on Sunday. The previous week at Green Bay, Dalton was 21 of 27 for 212 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.

The difference is a quick-hitting passing game designed for high-percentage throws involving myriad receivers, including running backs. It has helped take some pressure off a suspect offensive line and keep opposing defenses on their toes.

It's in stark contrast to the Bengals' offense that slogged through the first two weeks under Ken Zampese, who was fired after an ugly 13-9 loss to the Texans.

The Bengals rotated offensive linemen throughout Sunday's game, with seven players seeing snaps. The display of depth wasn't exclusive to the offense, with 16 defensive players having at least 20 snaps each on Sunday.

Lewis wouldn't say whether that would be the plan moving forward.

"It depends on the opponent," he said. "Sometimes you'll have 40 snaps with that personnel. Sometimes it will be 10. We're just going to keep going day-to-day or week-to-week. We had a struggle on a play or two, but I thought they played a better football game."

Dalton was sacked three times on Sunday, but was on target most of the afternoon.

"Well, like we've said, we want to make sure we keep Andy on progression," Lewis said. "He's done a nice job. He's felt comfortable with it, and we've just got to keep going and keep building."

The Bengals' offensive line still had its issues and the running game is a work in progress with rookie Joe Mixon getting most of the touches while the team averaged fewer than three yards per attempt.

The Browns rank 17th in total yards allowed and are third-worst with more than 25 points allowed per game. But, after not scoring a touchdown for the first eight quarters to begin the season, the Bengals will take Sunday's 350-yard performance in which they gained 5.6 yards per play.

Giovani Bernard's 61-yard catch-and-run on a short dump pass contributed to Dalton's lofty rating as he sprinted untouched into the end zone. But, the Bengals' quarterback was efficient throughout the afternoon, completing passes to nine different receivers, including five to A.J. Green, who caught the game's first touchdown.

On Sunday, the Bengals were without tight end Tyler Eifert who is out with a back injury. But, Tyler Kroft stepped in and had six catches for 68 yards and two touchdowns.

"Tyler Kroft has shown he's every bit as good a receiver," Lewis said. "He's done a nice job blocking. When his number is called, he's able to come up with a contested catch. That gives the quarterback confidence."

Dalton will take plenty of confidence into Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills at Paul Brown Stadium. Lewis already has turned the page.

"Yesterday is yesterday," he said. "We're moving on."

--Bengals linebacker Nick Vigil continues to progress in his second season. With Vontaze Burfict back from suspension, the Bengals now have a solid linebacking duo that is adept in pass coverage.

"It helps in all the intermediate passing," said head coach Marvin Lewis of Vigil's improvement. "You should have gains nullified. We want to dictate where the ball is thrown. He provides the flexibility of being able to run and tackle."

Vigil had a team-leading seven tackles on Sunday with one sack and three tackles for loss.

"He was involved in a lot of open-field plays," said Lewis. "He took some growth steps yesterday, which was good."

--It's uncertain how long tight end Tyler Eifert will be out of action with a back injury. But, even after having back surgery in the offseason, it's possible that it might be a lingering issue for the Bengals' Pro Bowl tight end. Enter Tyler Kroft, a third-year player who has been biding his time waiting on an opportunity. On Sunday, Kroft had six catches for 68 yards and two touchdowns, including a leaping touchdown under tight coverage.

"Tyler Kroft has shown he's every bit as good a receiver," head coach Marvin Lewis said. "He's done a nice job blocking. When his number is called, he's able to come up with a contested catch. That gives the quarterback confidence."

NOTES: LB Vontaze Burfict returned to action Sunday following a three-game suspension and finished with four tackles. Head coach Marvin Lewis said Burfict was able to keep his wind despite missing so much time, but expects him to begin carrying a full workload beginning Sunday vs. Buffalo. "The weather was great for that," Lewis said. "I think he will be ready to go full bore (Sunday)." ... RG T.J. Johnson took over at right guard for Trey Hopkins, who has been out since injuring his knee in the season opener. But, Johnson left Sunday's game with a neck injury in the fourth quarter. Alex Redmond replaced him. The seriousness of Johnson's injury was not immediately known.

REPORT CARD VS. BROWNS

--PASSING OFFENSE: A - Andy Dalton had one of the most complete performances of his career, going 25 of 30 for 286 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. His 146.0 passer rating was just shy of his career-high of 146.8 on Dec. 6, 2015, also at Cleveland. Tight end Tyler Kroft stepped in for the injured Tyler Eifert and had six receptions for a team-leading 68 yards and two TDs. Dalton completed passes to nine different receivers.

--RUSHING OFFENSE: C - Rookie Joe Mixon was the featured back with 17 carries for 29 yards. No other back had more than six attempts on Sunday. The Bengals averaged 2.9 yards per carry on 30 attempts, totaling 86 yards. The passing game was much more of a focus on Sunday for Cincinnati.

--PASS DEFENSE: B-minus - The Bengals did exactly what you're supposed to do to a rookie quarterback who is struggling. They pressured, pestered and made DeShone Kizer uncomfortable for most of Sunday's game. Kizer finished 16 of 34 for 118 yards with an interception. Kizer finished with a 43.5 passer rating. The only blemish was a pair of pass interference penalties on CB William Jackson III and LB Nick Vigil that led to the Browns' only touchdown in the final minutes.

--RUSH DEFENSE: A - Cleveland managed just 45 rushing yards on Sunday for an average of 2.6 yards per carry. Isaiah Crowell was the Browns' leading rusher with just 20 yards on seven carries. Cleveland averaged 87 yards on the ground coming in.

--SPECIAL TEAMS: A - It was a relatively quiet afternoon for the Bengals' special teams with Kevin Huber punting just four times and Randy Bullock making good on his only field-goal attempt from 41 yards. Adam Jones had a 40-yard punt return, helping Cincinnati average 12.2 yards on six returns.

--COACHING: B - With the caveat that Sunday's 31-7 win at Cleveland was, well, against the Browns, the Bengals appeared fully prepared to do what was expected of them. For the second straight week under new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, quarterback Andy Dalton had a solid performance. On Sunday, Dalton produced a 146.0 passer rating, second-best of his career. The defense would have pitched a shutout had it not been for a couple costly pass interference penalties in the closing minutes.

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