Thursday, December 5, 2013
Strong run game is clearly better for Dalton
By Coley Harvey
CINCINNATI -- You hear offensive-minded coaches say it all the time.
"We have to be balanced in what we do."
Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden uttered those very words 67 days ago. At that time, his offense was in search of an identity. It still wasn't quite sure what it wanted to resemble, but he knew that it had to feature some form of balance. The Bengals needed to run the ball, and they needed to pass it, too. And they needed to do a good job of both.
In the weeks since, they have, at times, figured out how to do just that.
The Bengals are 8-1 with QB Andy Dalton when the offense produces at least 150 rushing yards.
Last Sunday in San Diego was one of those times. So was eight weeks ago at Buffalo, 12 months ago at Philadelphia and two years ago at home against Arizona. Among other instances, those are just a few of the times when the Bengals -- paced by some of their best rushing performances in recent seasons -- enjoyed the type of balance that led to wins, as well as allowing their quarterback to assert himself that much more.
Those games, among others, help highlight this unchanging football fact: a strong run game makes for an even better passing offense. Clearly, for Bengals third-year quarterback Andy Dalton to succeed, that has to be the case.
In an effort to prove just how much a solid running game can help Dalton, I took a look at some of the Bengals' best rushing performances over the past three years, and tried to see how Dalton and the rest of the team fared in those games. How did I determine what qualified as a strong enough rushing performance? I followed the Bengals' own formula.
Just after Sunday's game at San Diego, offensive tackle Anthony Collins was beaming about Cincinnati's 164-yard rushing performance. He was giddy because finally, one of the Bengals' weekly offensive goals was going to be met. When he and the rest of the line were going to walk into their meeting room Monday morning, he predicted prideful smiles to be on their faces when they saw a "Yes" on the wall next to the number 150.
Cincinnati coaches use 150 yards as the benchmark for a quality team rushing performance. So, that's what I did with this exercise, too.
Because wins are what quarterbacks are ultimately judged by, I wanted to first see what the Bengals' record was the past three seasons in games when their running backs topped the 150-yard plateau.
They are 8-1.
The only time the Bengals have lost a game that they ran for more than 150 yards in a game Dalton started was on Halloween of this year, when they fell at Miami in overtime, 22-20. That night, Cincinnati rushed for 163 yards while Dalton threw for 338. Untimely turnovers -- Dalton had three interceptions -- hurt the Bengals the most that night.
In the games the past three seasons in which Cincinnati rushed for fewer than 150 yards, its record is a more mediocre 19-16.
When it comes to Dalton's statistics, the difference between what he puts up in 150-yard rushing games and what he does in games where the offense runs for fewer than 150 yards is actually quite negligible. He's marginally better in passing yards, interceptions and leading touchdown drives in the games when his running backs hit the 150-yard barrier.
One of the areas where he actually is somewhat worse is in QBR. His quarterback rating of 51.9 when they rush for fewer than 150 yards plummets to 39.6 when they top 150 yards. That could be a sign of lacking rhythm. Since the bigger rushing outcomes are typically the product of the running backs being constantly given the football, Dalton's opportunity to get into a consistent throwing rhythm can suffer in those games. Sacks also could result when defenses start committing to stopping the run on downs when Dalton might suddenly end up passing.
Drastic changes to QBR and marginal increases to Dalton's other statistics aside, though, the most important thing is what happens in the 'W' column. Clearly, the better the Bengals run, the better off they are as a whole.