NFC South: Andy Dalton

NFC South QB Watch

November, 12, 2012
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Let’s take a quick look at the performances by the four NFC South quarterbacks in Week 10:

Josh Freeman, Buccaneers

Sunday: Completed 14 of 20 passes for 210 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in a 34-24 victory against San Diego.

Sunday’s Total QBR: 94.4.

Season Total QBR: 58.0, which ranks No. 16 in the NFL.

In a nutshell: Freeman’s Total QBR was second best (Andy Dalton led at 94.8) in the NFL. Freeman also had the second-best Total QBR of his career. His best was 96.5 against Carolina in Week 2 of the 2010 season. Freeman has been one of the league's most consistent quarterbacks over the last five games.

Matt Ryan, Falcons

Sunday: Completed 34 of 52 passes for 411 yards with three touchdowns and one interception in a 31-27 loss to the Saints.

Sunday’s Total QBR: 84.9.

Season Total QBR: 79.2, which ranks third in the NFL.

In a nutshell: Ryan had a big day statistically, but the bottom line was that his team didn’t win. Ryan, who is a master of the comeback, had two late chances to rally the Falcons, but did not.

Drew Brees, Saints

Sunday: Completed 21 of 32 passes for 298 yards with three touchdowns and one interception in a 31-27 victory against the Falcons.

Sunday’s Total QBR: 81.1.

Season Total QBR: 69.3, which ranks ninth in the NFL.

In a nutshell: By Brees’ standards, he didn’t have a spectacular day. But he didn’t need to because he got some strong help from his running game and some timely plays by the defense.

Cam Newton, Panthers

Sunday: Completed 21 of 36 passes for 241 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Also was sacked seven times.

Sunday’s Total QBR: 2.0.

Season Total QBR: 36.4, which ranks No. 31 in the NFL.

In a nutshell: The 2.0 was the lowest Total QBR of Newton’s career. His previous low was 15.1.

You can see league-wide Total QBR for the season here and for Week 10 here.

Observation deck: Falcons-Bengals

August, 16, 2012
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I saw some signs the Atlanta Falcons can be the team they want to be in Thursday night’s 24-19 preseason loss to Cincinnati.

There were some explosive plays on offense, a turnover created by the first-team defense, some steady pressure by defensive end Ray Edwards and even a few screen passes.

Quarterback Matt Ryan played until midway through the second quarter and the rest of the starters were done by halftime when the Falcons led 13-10. Not much mattered after that, but there were lots of encouraging signs from the starters. Let’s run through some observations:
  • Ryan’s numbers (18-of-21 for 174 yards and a touchdown) look spectacular and he completed his first 11 pass attempts. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Ryan’s first eight passes were mostly short ones and he didn’t have a long completion until connecting with Roddy White for a 24-yard gain on his ninth pass. He followed that with a 21-yard pass to Tony Gonzalez and later had a downfield completion in traffic to Julio Jones. Ryan seemed under pressure early, but the offensive line seemed to settle down as time went on. Ryan also missed slightly on a deep throw for Jones. The ball was well thrown, but it went off Jones’ fingertips.
  • In his first two preseason games, Ryan has completed 27 of 34 passes for 329 yards and two touchdowns.
  • Speaking of the offensive line, Garrett Reynolds got another start at right guard and it looks like he could remain there. There had been thought that rookie Peter Konz would overtake him. But Konz went down with an apparent leg injury in the third quarter. Konz did return to the game, but it remains to be seen if he'll be healthy enough to play in the third preseason game. If Konz doesn't start in the third preseason game, then the starting job likely belongs to Reynolds.
  • Ewards, who played hurt and wasn’t productive last year, was a definite factor against the Bengals. I saw him get good pressure on Andy Dalton once and he also chased down a ball carrier in the backfield.
  • Speaking of maligned defensive linemen, former first-round pick Peria Jerry continues to play well. He’s starting in place of the injured Corey Peters. Jerry had a sack on Dalton, although he did get called for a late hit two plays earlier. Still, it was nice to see Jerry show some of the skills that made him a first-round pick. If he keeps playing the way he has been, he might have a chance to move ahead of Peters or at least get significant time in the rotation.
  • Jerry wasn’t the only interior lineman producing pressure. Jonathan Babineaux sacked Dalton, but the play was nullified when Babineaux was called for a face-mask penalty. I watched the replay several times and saw no indication that Babineaux’s hand ever got close to Dalton’s face mask. I think the replacement refs botched that call.
  • Thomas DeCoud and William Moore have made some noise that they believe they can be one of the best safety tandems in the league this year. That seems like a long shot, if you go simply by what they’ve done in the past. But there was a moment against the Bengals when it looked like that could become a reality. Moore stripped the ball from running back Brian Leonard and DeCoud quickly pounced on the fumble.
  • The Falcons appear to be very serious about throwing more to their running backs. Michael Turner, Jacquizz Rodgers and Lousaka Polite each caught passes. Polite, who recently was signed to provide depth at fullback, caught a short touchdown pass. I’m not sure I want to see too many passes to Turner and Polite in the regular season because I don’t see either of the making big plays after the catch. But I think Rodgers has the skill to do that and he should be targeted often. Also, Rodgers had a very nice run between the tackles in the second quarter. A lot of people think Rodgers can’t run between the tackles because he’s short. But the Falcons believe Rodgers is thick enough to run up the middle and I think you’ll see a fair amount of that this year.
  • Speaking of Rodgers, he also got a long look at punt returner and kickoff returner. The highlight was a 29-yard punt returner, before giving way to Dominique Franks, who is competing for the job as the punt returner. Rodgers is competing for the kickoff return job with his brother, James.
  • I saw some good and bad things out of cornerback Asante Samuel. He did a nice job going up with A.J. Green for a pass and breaking it up. But Samuel also got beat badly by Green on a 55-yard touchdown pass. Samuel sat on a short route, looking like he thought he could jump in and intercept. But Green took off downfield and left Samuels to chase him.
  • I keep liking what I see out of undrafted rookie quarterback Dominique Davis. He throws well and is athletic. He might be raw, but I think the Falcons could develop him into something if they keep him around. I think Davis could be an upgrade over No. 3 quarterback John Parker Wilson. Davis looked great with the fourth team. The Falcons might be wise to give him a look with the second or third team in the final two preseason games.
I don’t think this will come as a surprise to anyone, but Carolina quarterback Cam Newton has been named the Offensive Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press.

The real surprise would have been if Newton had not won the award. But that didn’t even come close to happening. Newton received 47 of the 50 votes. Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton received the other three votes.

In many other years, Dalton’s season would have been enough to earn him the honor. But Newton had no ordinary season.

Although the Panthers only won six games, you could make the argument Newton had the best rookie season ever by a quarterback. He set a new rookie record for passing yards and became the first player in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards and rush for 500 yards in the same season. Newton also set an NFL record for rushing touchdowns (14) by a quarterback.

Despite the losing record, Newton brought hope to a franchise that had been very down. Carolina went 2-14 in 2010 and coach John Fox wasn’t retained. He was replaced by Ron Rivera, who joined with general manager Marty Hurney in making what many viewed as a risky decision to use the first overall draft pick on Newton.

A lot of skeptics wondered if Newton would be able to run an NFL offense after running what those same skeptics said was a very simple offense at Auburn. Although the lockout prevented Newton from working with coaches until the start of training camp, it didn’t take him long to grasp the offense.

He earned the starting job in training camp and opened his career in spectacular fashion, passing for more than 400 yards in each of his first two games.

Although Carolina’s defense was decimated by injuries, Newton and the offense continued to improve as the season went on.

During the season, Newton talked frequently about how the losing bothered him. If Carolina can just improve its defense a bit, Newton’s not going to have to endure many more losing seasons.

Ranking the NFC South QBs

February, 1, 2012
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Check out this Insider post by Trent Dilfer. He ranks the NFL’s quarterbacks, starters and even some backups, although Jimmy Clausen didn’t quite make the list.

Dilfer breaks the quarterbacks down into seven categories and I don’t think anyone will be surprised to hear that he’s got Drew Brees in his “Hall of Fame’’ category. There’s little doubt Brees will be in the Hall of Fame someday, and there’s absolutely no doubt he’s one of the league’s top two or three quarterbacks these days.

I think even fans of other teams freely will admit Brees is the NFC South’s best quarterback. That brings us to the quarterbacks of the other NFC South teams and how they fared in Dilfer’s rankings.

Two categories down, Dilfer includes Atlanta’s Matt Ryan in his “A Ring Away’’ category. He has Ryan grouped with guys like Philip Rivers, Joe Flacco, Tony Romo and Matthew Stafford.

The next category down is “Mostly Good’’ and that’s where Dilfer has Carolina’s Cam Newton and Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman. They’re grouped with guys like Michael Vick, Andy Dalton and Carson Palmer.

Overall, I’ve got no issues with Dilfer’s list. I’m often asked in chats to rank the four NFC South quarterbacks. During last season, I tried to stay away from picking between Ryan and Newton as the No. 2 quarterback in the division. That’s mainly because Ryan and Newton are completely different quarterbacks. It also was because we were watching Newton evolve in his rookie season and there were changes in his level of play (usually for the better) just about every week.

But, since the season is over and since we’re on the topic, I’ll go ahead and reveal my rankings of the four NFC South quarterbacks. I’ll go in the same order Dilfer did.

We already addressed Brees and we’ll finish with Freeman. But why am I taking Ryan over Newton? First off, I’m only taking Ryan slightly over Newton. He’s been in the league for four years and has won each of those seasons. He hasn’t won big yet, but he may. Newton has way more upside than Ryan, but he’s not a finished product yet. A year from now, I might be sitting here writing that Newton is way better than Ryan. Heck, I might even be writing Newton is better than Brees.

He’s got that kind of upside. But he’s only played one season and only won six games. Let’s see a little more of Newton.

That brings us to Freeman. At the start of this past season, I thought Freeman had a chance to jump over Ryan into the No. 2 spot. That obviously didn’t happen and Freeman tumbled to No. 4 in the division. But Dilfer wrote that he still thinks Freeman can become elite. I agree totally.

Yes, Freeman had a bad 2011 season and some of the blame falls on him for that. But I put more blame on his coaching and supporting cast. I think the talent is there and Freeman can bounce back in 2012.

Anyway, those are my rankings at the moment. I know they’re open to debate. That’s what the comments section below is for.

Pat Yasinskas' QB Watch

December, 28, 2011
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Aaron Rodgers and Drew BreesBrian D. Kersey/Getty ImagesAfter a shootout in Week 1, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, right, and New Orleans' Drew Brees remained on top of their game throughout the 2011 season.
This will be this season’s final edition of QB Watch, a weekly project I’ve enjoyed tremendously this season. With that in mind, we will make this our awards edition.

Here are the awards:

Most Valuable Player: Aaron Rodgers, Packers. He carries Green Bay and is more valuable to the Packers than any player on any team. He also seems to have the ability to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants. We all should enjoy what may be the golden age of quarterbacking. We know all about Tom Brady, who may be the greatest ever and is still outstanding, but he might be only the third-best quarterback in the league.

Best quarterback: Drew Brees, Saints. Rodgers will win the MVP award and he should, because without Rodgers, the Packers would be the Colts without Peyton Manning. But Brees is setting all sorts of records and the Saints are having a great season. You could argue Brees gets to play in one of the most quarterback-friendly offenses in history and has as many weapons as any team ever has. But it’s tough to imagine another quarterback running the New Orleans offense as efficiently as Brees.

[+] EnlargeMatt Moore
AP Photo/Gregory BullMatt Moore has been solid for the Dolphins this season.
Best surprise: Matt Moore, Dolphins. If the Dolphins had turned things over to Moore a bit earlier, their season might have been respectable. Moore’s been efficient without a lot of weapons around him. Whoever is coaching the Dolphins next year has to at least consider keeping Moore as the starter.

Worst surprise: Josh Freeman, Buccaneers. I truly believed we’d see greatness out of Freeman this year. His 2010 season, his first as a starter, was filled with all sorts of promise. But 2011 has been a disaster. Freeman deserves some of the blame, no doubt. But his supporting cast has been dismal and that’s made him look even worse. The Bucs have to do something dramatic or else they’re going to ruin this kid.

Worst injury: Jay Cutler, Bears. Before he went down, the Bears were on target for the playoffs. Once Cutler went down, they fell apart.

Best non-injury: Matthew Stafford, Lions. For the first time in his career, Stafford has been healthy enough to start every game. It’s no coincidence the Lions are in the playoffs for the first time in a generation.

Best response to injury: After starter Matt Schaub and backup Matt Leinart went down, the Texans turned to rookie T.J. Yates. He led them to victory in his first appearance and won his first two starts. The Texans have stumbled and lost the past two games, but Yates did enough to get the Texans into the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

Best fullback playing quarterback: Tim Tebow, Broncos. Let’s be honest. Despite all the miracles, Tebow does not throw like an NFL quarterback. But he can run and he can buy so much time that it sometimes doesn’t matter if his passes are fluttering toward receivers.

Best rookie quarterback ever: Cam Newton Panthers. The numbers say it all. He’s already broken the rookie record for passing yards and has a chance at 4,000. He’s also run for more touchdowns (14) than any quarterback in history. He’s also turned around a franchise that had absolutely no hope a year ago.

Cam newton
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhCam Newton has helped make Carolina Panthers football exciting once again.
Best rookie if this had been a normal season: Andy Dalton, Bengals. Carson Palmer has been forgotten in Cincinnati. Dalton (along with Newton) is just one of five rookie quarterbacks in history to throw for 20 touchdowns.

Worst rookie: Blaine Gabbert, Jaguars. Jacksonville threw this rookie in long before he was ready, and it showed. Gabbert’s completed just 50 percent of his passes. While Newton and Dalton have shown they can be the answers for the Panthers and Bengals for the long haul, the Jaguars -- and whoever their new coach ends up being -- are going to have to decide if Gabbert really has a future or if they should look for an alternative.

Best recovery: Alex Smith, 49ers. He’s never going to live up to his 2005 draft status, but the arrival of coach Jim Harbaugh has finally allowed the 49ers to get something good from Smith. He’s not a great quarterback, but he’s shown he can be a very efficient one on a very good team.

Strongest sign that it’s time to hang it up: Donovan McNabb, formerly of the Vikings. Mike Shanahan benched him in Washington last year. The Vikings benched him in favor of Christian Ponder this year. McNabb asked for his release at a time when Chicago and Houston had major injuries at quarterback, but nobody signed him. That should tell McNabb something.

Biggest decision ahead: The Indianapolis Colts. Do they bring back Manning and hope he’s fully healthy? Or do they draft Andrew Luck?

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Cam Newton by the numbers

December, 25, 2011
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With some help from ESPN Stats & Information, let’s take a look back at the big day Carolina quarterback Cam Newton had in Saturday’s 48-16 victory against Tampa Bay.
  • Newton
    Newton
    Newton threw for 171 yards and now holds the rookie record for passing yards with 3,893. He’s got another game left (at New Orleans on Jan. 1), so a 4,000-yard season is not out of the question. Peyton Manning set the previous record (3,739 yards) in 1998. Oh, by the way, Newton also has rushed for 612 more yards than Manning rushed for as a rookie.
  • Newton threw three touchdown passes against the Bucs. He has 20 for the season. He is one of just five rookies in NFL history to throw for 20 touchdowns in a season. The record is 26, set by Manning.
  • Newton now has 14 rushing touchdowns this season. That’s the most ever by any quarterback.
  • With help from Minnesota’s Christian Ponder and Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton on Saturday, Newton has helped this year’s group of rookie quarterbacks combine for 22 victories. That ties the record set in 2008, when Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco were lighting it up as rookies.

Pat Yasinskas' QB Watch

December, 21, 2011
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Cam Newton, Andy DaltonUS PresswireThe Panthers (with Cam Newton) and Bengals (with Andy Dalton) are two examples of teams that successfully used the draft to fill a void at quarterback.
In the past few months, we’ve seen the Panthers, 49ers and Bengals discover they’re just fine at quarterback. In those same few months, we’ve seen even more teams discover that they’re not in great shape.

That’s why the 2012 draft and free-agency period could provide a shopping spree for teams looking for starting quarterbacks. I’m looking around the league and seeing that roughly a quarter of the 32 teams could change starters in 2012.

Maybe they'll find solutions in the draft, as the Panthers did with Cam Newton and the Bengals with Andy Dalton. Or maybe they'll take a guy who has been around for a while, put him in the right situation and find out he can play, the way the 49ers did with Alex Smith.

But neither method is foolproof. Drafting a quarterback early doesn’t always work. That’s why I’m putting the Vikings and Jaguars on my list of teams that might look for a starter in the offseason. Bringing in a veteran, as the Cardinals did with Kevin Kolb, didn’t bring any dramatic changes, and that’s why Arizona also is on my list of teams with uncertain quarterback futures.

Let’s run through the list, in no particular order.

Redskins. Who really thought it was a good idea to go into a season with John Beck and Rex Grossman as your only options? Owner Daniel Snyder and coach Mike Shanahan must realize now that they’re going nowhere with journeyman quarterbacks. That’s why they have to find someone who can be a franchise quarterback.

Seahawks. Same story as the Redskins. Pete Carroll generally had more talent and depth in his quarterback groups at USC than he did when he decided to go with Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst. Letting Matt Hasselbeck go wasn’t necessarily a bad move, but heading into a season with guys who never have been and never will be any good made no sense.

Dolphins. The tandem of Chad Henne and Matt Moore was as uninspiring as what the Seahawks and Redskins brought to the table. That’s why the Dolphins will be looking for a new coach. Moore has played pretty well at times, but ownership seems intent on making a big splash to bring some life back to this franchise. The quickest way to make waves is to add a high-profile quarterback, but keeping Moore around as a backup is a nice insurance policy.

Colts. Had Indianapolis had a backup like Moore, this season wouldn’t have been so disastrous. Everything fell apart as soon as it became apparent that Peyton Manning wouldn't play because of a neck injury. The Colts could get a healthy Manning back, or they could draft Andrew Luck. But, if they let Manning go and draft Luck, they should go out and get a backup who is capable of starting.

Vikings. They tried to use Donovan McNabb as a bridge to first-round draft pick Christian Ponder. The bridge quickly collapsed, and Ponder was thrown in over his head. Ponder may eventually turn into a decent starter, but we’ve seen no solid evidence that will happen. That’s why the Vikings need to have an alternative.

Jaguars. You can put Blaine Gabbert in the same category as Ponder. The jury is still out on him. Like Miami, this is another franchise that will hire a new coach and try to energize a fan base. Just a thought here, but there’s a hometown guy who could sell out the stadium every week, if he somehow becomes available. (See below.)

Broncos. Tim Tebow has pulled off miracles by putting the Broncos in playoff contention. The guy has all sorts of intangibles, but he doesn’t throw like an NFL quarterback. That’s why it looks as though John Fox and John Elway are forcing smiles every time Tebow leads them to an awkward victory. You get the sense that, deep down, Fox and Elway would rather have a conventional quarterback.

Cardinals. The Cardinals thought they found their franchise guy when they traded for Kolb. He hasn’t played like a franchise quarterback, but the Cardinals don’t necessarily have to go outside on a shopping trip. John Skelton has played pretty well in relief of Kolb. Come training camp next summer, let Kolb and Skelton compete and settle this thing once and for all.

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Revisiting Cam Newton vs. Andy Dalton

November, 30, 2011
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Just about two weeks ago, I wrote a column on how I see Carolina quarterback Cam Newton as a slam-dunk winner for offensive rookie of the year.

While giving due respect to Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton and Dallas running back DeMarco Murray, I said Newton will win easily. I said Newton had the award won two weeks into the season and my thinking hasn’t changed a bit.

But the debate, minus Murray, has surfaced again. In their latest edition of Hot Button, Ashley Fox and John Clayton debate whether Dalton or Newton should be the offensive rookie of the year. Fox takes Dalton’s side and Clayton sides with Newton.

Taking it one step further in this Insider post, KC Joyner really digs into the metrics and says Dalton should win.

I have great respect for the work of Fox and Joyner and consider them both to be friends. Besides that, we’re not allowed to criticize other media here. So let’s just say I’m siding with Clayton, a friend, a mentor and a truly great mind.

Cam's a slam for Rookie of the Year

November, 17, 2011
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Cam NewtonStreeter Lecka/Getty ImagesCam Newton made a statement early, accumulating 854 passing yards in his first two games.

On the surface, it looks like there’s a great argument brewing out there about who should be the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year.

The names Cam Newton, Andy Dalton and DeMarco Murray are getting tossed around. It makes for great conversation, but let’s face reality.

Newton won the award a long time ago. This race was over two weeks into the season. Despite some really nice deeds by Dalton and Murray, nothing really has changed and it’s not going to.

As the first overall pick in the draft, Newton came with all sorts of flash and glitter. He was a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback on a national championship team at Auburn and that made him a strong favorite to win Rookie of the Year before the season ever started.

Newton settled it in two weeks. He threw for more than 400 yards in each of his first two games. No rookie quarterback had ever done that, and that’s the kind of thing that’s going to stick in the mind of voters.

Speaking of voters, let’s be very clear. We’re talking about the Associated Press NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. There are other rookie honors out there and they matter. Just not as much as the one by the Associated Press.

If you don’t believe me, consider this: If a player gets an incentive clause in his contract for winning a Rookie of the Year award, it almost always is stipulated that he only gets paid if it’s the one from the Associated Press.

[+] EnlargeCarolina's Cam Newton
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesCam Newton has passed for 2,605 yards this season and 11 touchdowns, and has also rushed for 374 yards and seven more scores.
The way it works is the voters are writers from every NFL city. Majority rules and, unless Newton suffers a season-ending injury very soon, he’s going to win.

Yeah, I can hear the arguments coming from Dallas and Cincinnati and I respect them. But those folks can save themselves some pain later by realizing now that Murray and Dalton aren’t going to win the award.

I know everything is bigger in Texas and that’s why Dallas fans are going crazy about Murray. He has been incredible since Felix Jones went down with an injury in mid-October. Murray has 674 rushing yards this season with 601 of them coming in the past four games.

And I understand that the Cowboys are “America’s Team,’’ and Dallas is a much bigger media market than Charlotte or Cincinnati. But that actually could end up working against Murray. For a long time, there have been grumbles that it’s harder for Cowboys to get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame because voters feel saturated by anything to do with Dallas.

A lot of those voters are the same ones who select the Rookie of the Year. The Cowboys haven’t had one of those since Emmitt Smith in 1990.

Murray is good, but he’s not Emmitt Smith. You could make the case that we saw Murray last year. Tampa Bay’s LeGarrette Blount rushed for 1,000 yards in basically half a season (and for his next trick he’s trying to learn how to pass block) and he didn’t even come close to winning the award.

Sam Bradford did.

That’s because Bradford is a quarterback. Let’s face it, quarterbacks generally are going to win popularity contests simply because they’re quarterbacks. Four of the past seven winners have been quarterbacks. Heck, even Vince Young won it in 2006.

Once in awhile, as happened in 2007, an Adrian Peterson comes along. And in the years when no rookie quarterback does much, the award goes to a Percy Harvin or a Cadillac Williams. This isn’t one of those years.

That brings it down to Dalton and Newton.

Dalton is doing what Bradford did last year and what Matt Ryan did in 2008. He’s come in, played very well and his team is winning. The Bengals are 6-3 and Dalton has thrown for 1,866 yards and 14 touchdowns. He’s smart, doesn’t make big mistakes and there’s no doubt Dalton is a big reason Cincinnati is one of the league’s most surprising teams.

But he’s not the only reason. Cincinnati’s defense has been shockingly good. Dalton really hasn’t been shocking. He has only had one 300-yard game, and only one game in which he’s thrown more than two touchdown passes.

Is anybody really ready to call Dalton a franchise quarterback? Yeah, I know it might be a little tempting because it’s been tough to even call the Bengals a franchise for most of the time they’ve been in the league. But Dalton is not Newton. He’s not even close.

By about halftime of the opener, the world knew Newton was a franchise quarterback. He threw for 422 yards that day in Arizona. Then, he came back the next week and threw for 432 against Green Bay, and, suddenly, the Panthers had hope for the first time in a long time. They've still got it.

Yeah, both those games were losses, and, despite Newton’s play, the Panthers have continued to do a lot of losing. They’re 2-7 and we are talking about a game that’s supposed to be the ultimate team sport.

But Rookie of the Year isn’t a team award, which is significant because if you factored in the play of Carolina’s defense, Newton would be wearing heavy anchors on both his legs.

Rookie of the Year is an individual honor, and even if it wasn’t, Newton still would have the edge. He’s thrown for about 800 yards more than Dalton. Oh, and since we mentioned Newton’s legs, let’s take a look at rushing stats. Newton has rushed for 374 yards and seven touchdowns.

Dalton has run for 26 yards. If you really want to pad his stats, you could say he’s run for 78 feet, which is nice. But we’ve seen Dalton before. He compares nicely to guys like Ryan, Bradford, Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez as rookies.

We’ve never seen anything like Newton before. You could say he runs like Tim Tebow or Michael Vick. Or you could say he throws like Dan Marino or Peyton Manning. You’ve never been able to say both things about any single quarterback. Until now.

Yeah, Newton’s not perfect. He has thrown 10 interceptions (but Dalton has thrown nine on 40 less attempts). It also would be nice to see Newton get some wins. But those will come next season when the Panthers have had time to rebuild a defense that got shredded by injuries.

This is about this year. There’s no question Newton and Dalton have turned heads. But Newton is the only rookie who has had heads spinning.

Pat Yasinskas' QB Watch

October, 19, 2011
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DaltonFernando Medina/US PresswireWhile his numbers aren't off the charts, Andy Dalton has helped lead his team to a 4-2 start.
With Carolina’s Cam Newton, there’s been shock, awe and a lot of losing. With “the other’’ rookie quarterback that’s been starting all season, there simply has been a lot of winning.

That’s Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton, who, very quietly, has his team off to a 4-2 start. Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert was tossed into the starting role after opening the season on the bench, and the same is about to happen with Minnesota’s Christian Ponder.

Newton’s had 400-yard passing games and turned heads with his feet. That’s great, but the only rookie quarterback who is winning regularly so far is the guy who was drafted in the second round. Dalton was taken with the 35th overall pick at a time when it still looked as if Carson Palmer might return and the rookie could develop slowly behind him.

Instead, Palmer stuck to his demand to be traded or released and stayed away from the Bengals. That cleared the way for Dalton to be the No. 1 quarterback right away. The numbers haven’t been quite Newtonesque, but Dalton has had games where he threw for 332 and 298 yards and the Bengals have won their past three games.

It’s not like Dalton was thrown in as a game manager and the Bengals are winning in spite of him. This was a team that couldn’t win with Palmer last season and Dalton has come in and made an immediate difference.

“The quarterback, he is our centerpiece, and we develop offense through Andy,’’ Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said. “Everything we do comes through Andy. People asked me, ‘How are you going to be with a young quarterback?’ Well, a young quarterback is going to be our offense and he is going to be what our offense is. You can see what we do and we do it through him. That’s why we felt so good about this guy.”

What Dalton did at Texas Christian was throw accurate passes and win. After an 8-5 record as a freshman, Dalton was 34-3 the next three seasons.

It’s been more of the same since Dalton took over the Bengals. He’s completing 62.4 percent of his passes. Tight end Jermaine Gresham and rookie receiver A.J. Green have made Dalton look good by catching some passes that weren’t exactly where they were supposed to be. But there haven’t been off-target throws.

But the best thing the Bengals might have done for Dalton was to pair him with offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. A longtime Arena Football League coach, Gruden puts an emphasis on getting rid of the ball quickly.

That helps limit the pressure on Dalton and eliminates room for potential mistakes, and Dalton’s only getting better. In the past two games, he’s thrown just one interception and been sacked twice. In Sunday’s victory against Indianapolis, Dalton completed a season-high 78.1 percent of his passes and he’s singing the praises of Gruden.

“There is a lot of give and take,’’ Dalton said. “We don’t know anything different. With he and I coming here at the same time, we were both going to have new people around us. It has been great. He’s done a great job calling plays.”

It’s all worked out so well with the arrival of Dalton and Gruden that the Bengals finally put Palmer in their past. They traded Palmer to Oakland on Tuesday because they already had moved on so nicely without him.

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Seems like it’s a big day for lists. We already showed you the Harris Poll that ranks the NFL teams in order of popularity. Now, we’ve got the annual rankings of the best sports cities in North America by The Sporting News.

This one has some surprises (some pleasant and some unpleasant) when it comes to the NFC South cities. The rankings are based on a bunch of categories that include won-lost records, postseason appearances, number of professional and college teams and attendance.

Atlanta, which doesn’t often get labeled as a great sports town and just lost its hockey team, comes out on top among NFC South cities. I’m a bit surprised that Atlanta made the top 10, but am even more surprised Tampa Bay also did.

The Tampa Bay region came in at No. 10 and as a resident of the area, I’d argue that this is a much better sports town than Miami, which came in at No. 9. Monday night was a classic example, when the Bucs were hosting the Colts and the Rays were hosting a playoff game. Even in a brutal economy, both games sold out. When the Lightning were in the NHL playoffs in the spring, there was a definite buzz in an area where hockey doesn't have deep roots.

Atlanta and Tampa Bay were the pleasant surprises. Now, let’s flip over to the other side. New Orleans came in at No. 22. That’s one spot behind Cincinnati. Really? I guess Andy Dalton is bigger than Drew Brees. Listen, I know New Orleans has only the Saints and Hornets as pro franchises, but I think the hold the Saints on this city should count as bonus points. Outside of Green Bay, I’d argue the Saints have the most dedicated fan base in the league.

Speaking of dedicated fans, I’m also surprised to see Charlotte at No. 47. Yeah, I know last year’s 2-14 record by the Panthers didn’t help the point total. But the Panthers have sold out every home game since George Seifert’s finale in 2001. I lived in Charlotte for just about nine years. It might not be the best sports city, but it deserves to be ahead of cities like Montreal and Calgary, which are on the list ahead of Charlotte.

Pat Yasinskas' QB Watch

September, 14, 2011
9/14/11
12:00
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Cam Newton and Andy DaltonGetty ImagesCarolina's Cam Newton, left, and Cincinnati's Andy Dalton are the latest examples of quarterbacks who started the first game of their rookie seasons.
There’s an ancient NFL proverb that says you shouldn’t play a rookie quarterback right away. If you do, the logic goes, you might ruin him.

In breaking and somewhat related news: The world is flat.

Yeah, Christopher Columbus shot the second one down, and let’s turn to Cam Newton and Andy Dalton to take care of the first. Let’s label the exhibits Rookie QB 1 and Rookie QB 2.

Just look at the evidence Newton and Dalton put on the field Sunday as the only two rookie quarterbacks to start the season. Newton threw for 422 yards, the most ever by a player making his NFL debut.

And this was a guy who some fans and draft gurus said wouldn’t be able to run an NFL offense?

Then there was Dalton. He wasn’t as flamboyant as Newton, and he left the game with an injury. But, before he did, Dalton was a very efficient 10-of-15 passing for 81 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions to help the Cincinnati Bengals kick off the post-Carson Palmer era with a victory against Cleveland.

And Dalton slid all the way to the second round of the draft?

There’s a lesson to be learned from what Newton and Dalton did on Sunday. You can start a rookie quarterback right off the bat. And this theory’s not exactly brand new.

Take a look at recent years. Sam Bradford, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez have played quickly and fared well. As a matter of fact, can you name the last early draft pick who truly got "ruined" by playing too soon?

I say it’s David Carr, and that was a long time ago and in unique circumstances. Carr was playing on the expansion Houston Texans, who never really did anything to build a quality offensive line during his tenure.

You can throw out names like Joey Harrington, JaMarcus Russell, Vince Young and Alex Smith. But I think those were guys who were going to struggle no matter how soon they played.

Yeah, maybe in a dream world you can let Aaron Rodgers sit behind Brett Favre for a few years. But the NFL’s not a dream world, and maybe it’s time for those still clinging to the myth that a quarterback has to sit to let go.

Maybe it’s time -- or at least close to time -- for the Vikings, Jaguars and Titans to realize they’ve got nothing to lose by playing Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker sooner rather than later.

In a new age when first-round rookie contracts are limited to four years with an option for a fifth, there’s a sense of urgency to find out what a quarterback can do. Yeah, you can make the argument that’s throwing a guy to the wolves. But the Panthers threw Newton to the Cardinals and the Bengals threw Dalton to the Browns and no one got ruined.

This is the inaugural edition of Quarterback Watch. We’ll be here every Wednesday throughout the season, examining the trends and themes involving quarterbacks and looking at whose stock is on the rise and whose is declining.

TRENDING UP


TRENDING DOWN


The great John Clayton has his annual ranking of quarterbacks, which is always a topic for debate.

In this year’s version, Clayton lists includes 13 “elite’’ quarterbacks. What exactly is an “elite’’ quarterback? Well, I think you could debate that for weeks on end. But for the sake of simplicity, let’s go with Clayton’s definition. That’s only fair because I talk to Clayton on a daily basis and know he puts an enormous amount of time and thought into this.

“Elite quarterbacks are the ones who usually make the playoffs, so I categorize the elites as the ones who give their franchises the best chance,’’ Clayton wrote. “The league has 12 playoff spots, and usually 10 or 11 of the elite quarterbacks fill those positions. To be elite, a quarterback must have 4,000-yard potential, complete 60 percent of his passes and score more than 20 points a game.’’

The good news for the NFC South is that it has three quarterbacks in the elite category. Clayton also gives the same honor to the NFC East, but I think you could make the argument the NFC South has the strongest overall quarterback group based on where he has the guys from each division ranked.

New Orleans’ Drew Brees is No. 4 and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan is No. 7. They both come before the NFC East run of Michael Vick, Eli Manning and Tony Romo at Nos. 8 through 10.

Clayton also has Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman at No. 13. Although that’s one spot beyond the number of playoff teams, Tampa Bay fans shouldn’t feel too badly about this one. Clayton has the arrow pointing up on Freeman, who has had only one full season as a starter. I know Clayton is very high on Freeman and believes he could move into the top 10 before long.

After the big three, there’s a huge drop to Carolina’s Cam Newton. Clayton has him at No. 32, but the good news here is that Newton’s not last on the list. Clayton ranked 33 quarterbacks and Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton is at the bottom of the list.

Whatever happened to Chris Gamble?

August, 25, 2011
8/25/11
11:50
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I’m not sure if Cincinnati rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green are going to be the NFL’s next great quarterback and receiver or if Carolina cornerback Chris Gamble is totally washed up.

Gamble
Gamble
I’m leaning toward the latter after watching Gamble get beat badly twice by Green in Carolina's 24-13 loss in Thursday night’s exhibition game. It got so bad that Cincinnati broadcaster Anthony Munoz joked that Gamble was seen being escorted to the locker room to have aloe applied to his burns.

I’m starting to think the Panthers have a big problem on their hands. It actually might have first surfaced last season, when former coach John Fox took Gamble’s starting job away. Fox may have been going through a catastrophic season, but the man always has known what he’s doing when it comes to defense. The Panthers shrugged it off as a conflict with Fox and decided to keep Gamble while not really addressing cornerback early in the draft or free agency.

Green first beat Gamble on a deep ball in the first quarter. Gamble caught a break when officials reviewed the play and decided that Green didn’t make the catch in bounds, but it was still worrisome because the receiver got open with ease.

Gamble wasn’t nearly as lucky the next time around. Dalton threw deep for Green in the second quarter and the rookie caught the pass easily in the end zone. It doesn’t get much worse than that, and I’m wondering what the Panthers are going to do.

For a lot of years, Gamble was a pretty good cornerback, but he was never great. Last season and this preseason have shown that he might be in sharp decline.

Gamble is 28 and scheduled to make $6.24 million in base salary and count $9.24 million against the salary cap. Those are the kind of numbers you associate with a No. 1 cornerback. Gamble doesn’t look like a No. 1 cornerback anymore.

Captain Munnerlyn is the other starting cornerback and he’s never going to be a No. 1 guy. In fact, he’d be a No. 3 or 4 on a lot of other teams. Beyond Munnerlyn, the Panthers don’t have much else at cornerback.

The Panthers may have to make a move to get some help at cornerback before the regular season starts. Maybe that comes off the waiver wire or maybe via trade. The Panthers have $8 million in salary-cap room and they also might want to add some help at defensive tackle (yeah, I know they got Kentwan Balmer off waivers, but is he really the answer?) and receiver. But cornerback seems to have moved to the top of the shopping list.

If the Panthers go into the regular season with Gamble as their top cornerback and he continues to play like he did Thursday night, they’re going to have major problems.

Video: Newton, rookies discuss lockout

May, 21, 2011
5/21/11
2:00
PM ET

Rookie quarterbacks Cam Newton, Andy Dalton and Blaine Gabbert talk about how they're handling the NFL's labor situation.

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