- Coley Harvey, ESPN Staff Writer
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CINCINNATI -- With the regular season in its final stages, we'll be examining each Friday through Week 17 what we'd like to see particular Cincinnati Bengals players or position groups do with the remainder of the season.
We started last week by offering four things we'd like to see receiver A.J. Green do over the season's final four games. This Friday, we're looking at the three things we'd like to see quarterback Andy Dalton do in the final three games. Next week, we'll do two things and then down to one thing we'd like to see one person or position group do in the game that's left. Make sense? We hope so.
Here are the three things I'd like to see Dalton do the rest of the way:
Tap into a well of consistency. It's no secret that the one problem that has resurfaced throughout Dalton's three-year career has been his inconsistency. For three weeks, he can play the best football of his life. For four more, he can look like someone just handed him a ball for the first time. If the Bengals are going to end the regular season the way most believe they can, Good Andy is going to have to return, and not just for one or two weeks. If Dalton wants to officially silence his critics and prove his value, he needs to showcase the better version of himself for five or six weeks or more. Perhaps the most frustrating part of Dalton's hot and cold play is the fact that when he's good, he's really good. That stretch in October in which he led the Bengals to a 4-0 record and posted a string of 300-yard games? That was impressive. The methodical manner in which he routinely broke down Indianapolis' defense on drive after drive last week? That had shades of elite quarterback play.
With an offensive line that features the physical Andrew Whitworth at left guard and the athletic Anthony Collins sealing the edge, Dalton has one of the best protection units in the NFL. He was barely pressured last week and hasn't been sacked once in the past three games. With such protection in front of him, one has to imagine his confidence will increase and his trust in the players around him will go up, as well. Additionally, the arrival of his running game in recent weeks has shown the Bengals can run a balanced offense. There is no reason Bad Andy should come back this season.
Finish with two 300-yard passing games. This is actually a lot easier said than done, particularly when the type of balance that we just referenced starts showing up in an offense. Still, we'd like to see Dalton finish the year with at least two 300-yard passing games across this final three-game stretch. It's definitely doable. If it doesn't happen this week at Pittsburgh, there are reasons to believe Dalton could cross that threshold against the Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens in the final two weeks of the season. For the record, he's already gone over 300 passign yards four times this season.
The reason it might be hard to expect a 300-yard game this weekend is because the Steelers feature a pass defense that is every bit as good as the Bengals'. In a three-way tie with the Browns, the Bengals and Steelers rank seventh in the league in pass defense. Each team enters the week having allowed just 222.38 yards of passing offense per game. Baltimore isn't too far away from that, giving up an average of 231.69 yards, but Dalton did throw for 274 in the previous meeting with the Ravens last month. Of course, 51 of those yards came on the game-tying Hail Mary to Green at the end of regulation. As far as Minnesota goes, the Vikings boast the league's third-worst pass defense.
Find Green. In order to keep winning games, it would be in Dalton's best interest to keep spreading the ball around to his different playmakers. A.J. Green isn't the only person on this team who can catch a pass. Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Andrew Hawkins, both tight ends and rookie running back Giovani Bernard have all been more than capable of snatching a pass from Dalton and picking up big yards after it. But it would be nice to see in these final games enough playmaking opportunities for Green to capitalize upon some of what we mentioned last week. Among other things, we said we wanted to see Green have another 100-yard game and another multi-touchdown game. Neither happened last week.
For Green's sake, it would be nice if such a performance could come against Pittsburgh's Ike Taylor on Sunday. Taylor has owned Green the last two times the teams played, holding him to seven catches for 49 yards and a touchdown. In order to answer his own critics about facing tough division cornerbacks, Green certainly would enjoy having a big 100-yard, multiscore game.