One of my favorite stats about Andy Dalton is that he has thrown 35 touchdowns in the red zone in his NFL career and no interceptions.
But ball security might not be enough to win in the playoffs.
Dalton has been sacked 46 times this season including eight times in the red zone – at least in part because of his reluctance to throw risky passes. Taking care of the football is obviously a good thing. But if the Bengals are going to beat the 12-4 Texans, Andy is going to have to take advantage of his opportunities to make plays.
“I watched all 46 sacks on Tuesday night because I wanted to see if there was any kind of consistency to them,” said analyst Mike Mayock who will call Saturday’s game on NBC. “I’m a big believer that pass protection starts with the quarterback and Andy is a young quarterback who is really concerned about protecting the football. So on the one hand, you applaud that – especially in the red zone – and he hasn’t thrown a red zone interception in his career. But the flip side to that is that I don’t think he rips the ball when he has a chance to rip it. I think what you’re seeing is a really intelligent young guy trying to figure it out, but for my money, right now he’s too far on the conservative side.”
“He’s a perfectionist and if it’s not perfect he’ll choose not to throw it,” said offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. “Sometimes he makes the right decisions and sometimes you’re like, ‘Thrown the dang ball please.’ But he’s got the ball in his hands and only he can see what he sees and the more he sees the route combinations and gets a feel for the defenses and how they’re covering, the better he is going to be. But for 30 starts or whatever it is, I think he’s done pretty darn good.”
If the Bengals can give Dalton time to throw against J.J. Watt (20.5 sacks), Antonio Smith (7 sacks) and the Texans pass rush, there will be opportunities to make big plays. Houston has good cornerbacks in Pro Bowler Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson, but safeties Danieal Manning and Glover Quin have not graded as well.
“The Texans have given up 29 touchdown passes compared to 18 last year,” said beat writer John McClain from the Houston Chronicle. “The only playoff team that’s given up more is Washington with 31. They’ve given up 54 pass plays of at least 20 yards. That is third worst among the playoff teams. It’s not the corners, it’s the safeties. They’ve had injuries and the backup safeties playing in the two-deep have killed them. They have just not played well on the back end in passing situations so I would expect Andy Dalton to be throwing the ball deep to A.J. Green quite a bit.”
“They’re not playing cohesively in the back end,” said Mayock. “My take on Houston is those two pass rushers on the inside make all the difference and when you protect your quarterback you can get into their secondary. I don’t think their secondary when you break them down individually is great. When you get time, you can get into the secondary and without (the injured) Brian Cushing back there, that’s another problem because he’s an athletic linebacker and not having him in that intermediate area is a big deal.”
Unlike Cincinnati’s AFC North rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore, the Texans are not especially confusing on defense. It’s a straight-forward scheme led by a tremendous player in Watt.
“I’ve never seen anybody in all the years that I’ve covered football have a season like Watt has had,” said McClain. “He has 90 plays – 90 – for zero or negative yards. On running plays alone, he has 24 tackles for loss and 15 tackles for no gain. He’s been involved in nine turnovers, set an NFL record with 16 passes deflected – the only thing he hasn’t done is intercept a pass and return it for a touchdown like he did in the playoffs last season.”
“They have some good blitzes here and there, but basically, they’re going to get after you with their front four and play a lot of man-to-man,” said Gruden. “By the time you can get open down the field, J.J. Watt and company are feasting at the quarterback. They done a great job with it, and the energy level that they play with on every snap is very impressive.”
“Their defense is more ‘Here’s what we do – beat it,’ ” said Dalton. “They have really talented guys up front and do a great job of rushing the passer and they rely on those guys a lot. That allows them to not do as much other stuff because they have a good front.”
Dalton was 2-0 at Reliant Stadium as a Katy Tiger and 1-0 as a TCU Horned Frog. He’s 0-1 as an NFL player in Houston, and Andy looks forward to getting another shot at beating the Texans in their own building.
“I know the stadium, I know the layout, I know all of that kind of stuff,” said Dalton. “Now it’s time for me to get the first win there as a pro.”
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