<
>

Bengals factoid: Dalton's completion rating

6/4/2014

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has been criticized often during his career about his ability to throw the deep ball.

It's something he doesn't do too often. Of the 1,510 passes he's thrown in the regular season and playoffs to this point, 23.4 percent of them have traveled 15 yards or more in the air. The rest have all been short- or intermediate-range passes that have been thrown on screens, slants, quick outs and the like. Even if Dalton isn't going deep all the time, he's going deep often enough to catch both the casual and die-hard fan's attention.

Wednesday's Bengals factoid has to do with Dalton's deep-ball completion percentage.

Here's the number of the day: 20.2

No, that's not his completion percentage on passes that travel 15 yards or more in the air. It would really be problematic if it was. That number, 20.2, is actually the difference between the completion percentage on Dalton's deep passes and his shorter ones.

On balls that travel zero to 14 yards in the air, Dalton has a 61.4 completion percentage. On passes that go 15 yards or further, that percentage dips to 41.2. It's not surprising the number falls the deeper the pass goes. After all, it's more difficult to accurately deliver a strike to a moving target that has sizable defenders on top of it the further it gets from the quarterback. There's no math required for that truism. It's just football common sense. Still, the drop-off between the two completion percentages seems quite stark.

The key word there is "seems."

Take a quick look at most other current quarterbacks and you'll see similar drop-offs between their shorter-range passes and their longer ones. In the last three years (playoffs included), Peyton Manning has a completion rating differential of 21.4 percent. Tom Brady's drop-off on deep passes was 25.1 percent. Joe Flacco's was 27.6 percent.

So maybe the heat Dalton takes when he goes deep ought to be extended to other quarterbacks, too. Maybe.

But then we see that not everyone has had such significant changes between their deep passes and shorter ones. Colin Kaepernick, the owner of a 62.2 completion rating on shorter passes, only has a completion rating differential of 14.9 the last three seasons. Alex Smith's difference in deep passes and shorter ones the last three seasons was just 12.4 percent.

Dalton's deep passing numbers draw criticism because it seems that when he misses deep, he often misses wildly. He overthrew receiver A.J. Green regularly last season and threw his share of interceptions to wide-open defenders who weren't draped on any of his passing targets. Of Dalton's 354 career passes of 15 yards or more, 21 have been intercepted. By comparison, Brady had 16 interceptions on deep balls the last three years and Flacco had 29. Of the aforementioned quarterbacks they're the best comparisons to use since the others missed all or parts of the last three seasons due to injuries.

By the way, 31 of Dalton's other 1,162 shorter passes were intercepted between 2011-13.

The reason we even raise Dalton's deep-passing completion rating is because the quarterback has resigned himself this summer to improving his deep-passing mechanics. He spent part of the offseason training with Tom House, a former Major League Baseball pitcher turned quarterbacks throwing coach who has worked with the likes of Drew Brees, Carson Palmer and Brady.

Dalton told me earlier this offseason that one of the biggest mechanical tweaks House made with him was a simple one. Instead of reaching out wide with his non-throwing arm like quarterbacks tend to do when they're gearing up to go long, House had him keep his front shoulder and elbow tucked more into his body, a lot like how a major-league pitcher delivering a 90 mph fastball. They found that by doing that, Dalton could keep his body more under control. By staying closed, he greatly minimizes the chance that his front side flies open, causing the ball to go sailing when it leaves his right hand ... as it has done in the past.

We'll see later this fall if that pointer and others will help.