AFC North: Dan Santucci
November, 27, 2013
By Coley Harvey | ESPN.com
AP Photo/Rick OsentoskiThe Cincinnati Bengals are counting on Andy Dalton to return to the form that helped lead the team to a 4-1 record in October.CINCINNATI -- Earlier this week, Cincinnati Bengals players like cornerback Chris Crocker were adamant in pointing out the urgency they need to play with throughout the month of December.
"It's all about winning in December," Crocker said. "Let's win out and see where the chips lay. Why can't we win out? I don't see why we can't."
If you ask some Bengals fans and most NFL analysts, they'll give you one big reason why they don't believe Cincinnati will be able to go 5-0 to close out the regular season: No. 14.
That's right. To some, the primary obstacle in the way of end-of-season perfection for the Bengals is Andy Dalton, the player who has quarterbacked the franchise into the playoffs each of the past two seasons, and who constantly is trying to prove himself to those who consider him just another member of a mostly failed 2011 quarterback draft class.
For that reason, as the Bengals gear up for a stretch run that could give them a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the playoffs, an important question has to be asked.
Can December Andy mimic October Andy?
As we've written countless times in the past month, October Andy was indeed a dandy. Through the first four games of that month, Dalton threw for 1,243 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also completed 67.9 percent of his passes, won four games, had a passer rating higher than 116.0 and a QBR above 83.0. He was, quite simply, brilliant. His play was so sharp back then that on the final day of the month, hours before the Bengals were set to take on the Dolphins in a road Thursday night game, he was named the AFC's Offensive Player of the Month.
And, yes, even though, comparatively speaking, he didn't look as good overall against the Dolphins and ended up taking the game-winning sack for a safety in overtime, Dalton still had a rather special performance in the 22-20 loss. Aside from not completing a touchdown pass and getting intercepted three times, he threw for 338 yards, marking the fourth straight game he had gone over the 300-yard passing mark.
Overall, October Andy was Good Andy.
But now here comes December with all of its postseason potency. If Cincinnati hopes to set itself up for the type of playoff seeding Crocker believes it deserves, then it will have to play its best ball across the next five weeks. That's especially the case for Dalton and a Bengals offense that has looked rather anemic in the past three games.
One look at Dalton's previous December stats and it doesn't appear the third-year star should have any problem showcasing even a sliver of the success that made him and his team so good about two months ago.
After a rocky December as a rookie in 2011, Dalton was among the difference-makers last season when the desperate Bengals were in need of a strong final month just to secure a playoff berth. One year after going 2-2 in the month, Dalton went 4-1 during December 2012. The lone loss came after the Dallas Cowboys made a field goal in the final seconds to win 20-19.
While the level of desperation may be different this December, the Bengals are looking for Dalton to thrive under similar pressure-packed moments during this one. This time around, the pressure on Dalton mainly stems from the fact that so many are fed up with his play from the past three games. In them, he's thrown eight interceptions and been sacked 10 times. Across the latter two of those games, he's completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes and hasn't posted a QBR higher than 18.0.
Weather factored heavily in Dalton's inability to move the ball in those two games. Windy conditions at Baltimore and windy and rainy conditions against the Browns sent some of his passes sailing and forced others into the hands of defensive backs.
Although weather shouldn't be a concern this weekend in San Diego (the forecast calls for partly cloudy skies and a delightful high of 71 degrees Sunday), it could be the rest of the season. Farmer's Almanac projects cold, damp conditions for all of December in the Ohio Valley. It should be noted that after Sunday's game, the Bengals are home three of the next four weeks. Their only remaining road game is at Pittsburgh.
Throughout his career, Dalton has performed better in warmer games. In games with temperatures 50 degrees or higher, he has a 20-14 record, an 85.1 passer rating and a 52.5 QBR. In games with temperatures at 49 and lower, he has a 5-5 record, a 75.4 passer rating and a 32.9 QBR. Dalton's last three sub-49-degree wins came last December, though; a sign that perhaps he's turning a corner in cold-weather contests.
Whatever the conditions and whomever their opponents are, when it comes to the next five weeks, the Bengals can only hope that Dalton turns into the same man who torched through this October.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals wrapped up their 2009 mandatory minicamp Saturday.
Here are some final observations:
- Bengals fans were allowed to watch the final practice thanks to Cincinnati's select-a-seat program. The public entered the stadium and could potentially buy tickets for seats that were still available for the 2009 season while the team ran through its final session.
- Although it's just June, based on this minicamp it's safe to assume the early leaders in the race to be Cincinnati's No. 3 receiver are Chris Henry and Andre Caldwell. Both stood out and made plays throughout the three days of practices and separated from the pack that also includes former second-round pick Jerome Simpson and veteran Antonio Chatman.
- Speaking of receivers, overall Chad Ochocinco had a good camp. He did drop a few passes, which could be a product of not working with the Bengals' quarterbacks for a majority of the offseason. But Ochocinco looked explosive and had few problems separating from defenders. He also caught a long touchdown pass from quarterback Carson Palmer in Saturday's practice and had some fun with the fans.
- There are still some concerns about Cincinnati's offensive line. I didn't want to focus on it too much because the Bengals were playing without pads. But it is a major question this year, so I took notice throughout the week. I felt the offensive line was a little shaky early in camp and gradually improved.
- Fullback/tailback Brian Leonard, who was recently acquired in a trade with the St. Louis Rams, is getting a lot of carries at tailback, which could be a prelude to training camp and the preseason. Leonard also caught the ball well out of the backfield this week.
- The Bengals made a series of roster moves following minicamp. They signed sixth-round pick and running back Bernard Scott, who became the third draft pick under contract. Cincinnati also waived four players: Tight end Matt Sherry, receiver Mario Urrutia, quarterback Billy Farris and long-snapper James Smith.
- Lastly, the Bengals got out of minicamp in good health. Center Dan Santucci injured his foot. Other than that, there were no significant injuries for the team.
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