- Coley Harvey, ESPN Staff Writer
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CINCINNATI -- Late in Monday afternoon's practice, on one goal-line exercise, quarterback Andy Dalton stepped up in the pocket, then stepped back, rolled to his right away from more pressure, and threw the ball to an empty space well beyond the back corner of the end zone.
The play resulted in an incompletion. And his offensive coordinator couldn't have been happier.
"Good, Andy. Good job," Hue Jackson shouted as Dalton jogged back to the huddle.
Indeed, it was good recognition by the Cincinnati Bengals' long-embattled quarterback who has struggled in the past with deciding in similar scenarios of good defensive coverage and pressure whether he wants to tuck the ball and run, take a sack, throw it away or still try to complete the pass.
More often than not, his instinct in the past was to make the play work anyway. The end result of those decisions? Typically wobbly passes that fluttered into the hands of a defensive back who greedily picked off the pass that shouldn't have been attempted. A number of Dalton's 20 interceptions last season came when he tried to force a pass.
So for much of the offseason, Jackson made sure Dalton understood his decision-making had to improve.
"It was a huge emphasis," Jackson said. "First, one, it's what I believe in. It's what our staff believes in. But two, it's truly what the essence of playing quarterback is about: making sure you don't have negative plays for your team. You've got to do a great job of carrying everybody under your hand. When you've got the ball in your hand, it's just about making a good decision. He's worked his tail off at doing that."
One of the more telling comments Jackson made during a post-practice huddle with reporters was that he wanted Dalton to realize that his decision-making doesn't only impact the offense. It can impact the entire team.
"You've got to protect the offensive football team and our entire football team with the ball," Jackson said. "He's starting to understand that. The guy had 33 touchdowns last year. But if we can get him to where when those opportunities come that are not there, to get him to be good with the ball, then great things can happen with this football team."
On the first day of training camp Dalton accepted responsibility for what he felt was his role in the Bengals' 27-10 loss to the Chargers in January's wild-card playoff loss. He was right to do that, just as he was at other times the past seven months. He had three costly turnovers in the game. All in the second half, he lost a fumble and threw a pair of interceptions. The Bengals' four-point halftime deficit ballooned after the turnovers, and eventually the game was out of hand.
It's film of that game that has Jackson wanting to see more of the heady Dalton who threw that pass away Monday.
"That was outstanding," Jackson said. "That's what I'm looking for. My goal, my thing with him, is to get us to the next down with the ball. It's not always about throwing a touchdown pass.
"Sometimes we're going to play good defenses and they're going to do things that stop us. And when they do, we have to be a smart football unit to make sure we're making proper decisions. Which sometimes, you've just got to say, 'Uncle,' and throw it away. It might mean taking a sack. It might mean whatever those things are. But just get us to the next down with the ball and we'll have a chance."