Andy Dalton had his worst games of the season Sunday when the veteran quarterback threw three interceptions in the fourth quarter, as the Cincinnati Bengals attempted to rally back in a 27-17 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Bengals coach Zac Taylor understands the finger-pointing but isn’t ready to give up on Dalton yet. Rookie Ryan Finley’s time apparently has not yet come.
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“That’s the easiest one to point the finger at when things aren’t going well,” Taylor said Monday during a press conference at Paul Brown Stadium. “I could show you a lot of things yesterday that people would probably point the finger at Andy and I would say, ‘How about this player do something different’ and ‘Here’s why that throw looks like it does. Here’s the window I see.’ We just have to find a way to win as a unit. … There were a lot of 50-50 opportunities for the receivers yesterday. They’ve got to step up and make plays too. Sometimes the linemen have to do better with the pocket, sometimes the backs have to do better in protection — either getting out quicker or staying in there to make the block so there aren’t three runners coming. Everyone is the piece to the puzzle.”
Dalton completed 22 of 43 passes for 276 yards and one touchdown and finished with a season-low quarterback rating of 50.1. His completion percentage of 51.16 also was his worst performance of the year.
His first interception was what offensive coordinator Brian Callahan called the most critical mistake of the game, as it came on a first down at the Jaguars’ 15-yard line right after the Jaguars went up 17-10 with 12:45 left. Callahan said it was a good play by Myles Jack, but the ball also was thrown a little too far behind Tyler Boyd.
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The second interception, which turned into a pick-six, came on a screen play the Jaguars sniffed out with pressure coming at Dalton from all angles, and the third was simply Dalton trying to make something happen late in the game.
Taylor said the only thing Dalton needs to do better is the same thing missing from everyone else – consistency.
“Just consistency from not only him but every single player,” Taylor said. “He’s poised. He stands in there, takes some hits, usually gives himself the allotted time to make a decision before someone’s going to hit him and he’s got to get rid of the ball. The screen’s a great example. Everyone’s getting off the quarterback and we’ve got to make sure we’re blocking the right guys and we can get out on the screen and make a play. Unfortunately, the pick-six goes down in his book, but that plays on the whole unit.”
Callahan said it’s unrealistic to expect Dalton to do more when the running game isn’t alleviating any pressure from him and the protection isn’t up to standard.
Cincinnati ranks as the league’s worst rushing offense with just 53.1 yards on the ground per game, including 33 yards Sunday. According to NFL Next Gen stats, the Bengals have allowed the second most quarterback pressures with 93 this season.
“Is it realistic to ask any quarterback in the NFL outside of two or three to dropback and carry a team given our struggles, it’s probably not very realistic,” Callahan said. “He fights and he does it every week as best as he can. He could be better in certain aspects, but that’s a tall task. That’s a lot to ask of anybody.”
That’s why the Bengals aren’t ready to hand the keys over to Finley just yet. They drafted him in the fourth round out of N.C. State, and he showed tremendous improvement during the preseason, following a rough start with the team, but he is yet to make his NFL debut.
Taylor said Sunday he plans to “keep it steady now” with Dalton. He easily could have thrown Finley in at the end of the game when the Bengals were down 17 points with less than two minutes left, but Dalton went back out and led a touchdown drive that he capped off with a 1-yard keeper.
When asked Monday if there will be a point the Bengals need to start looking ahead to 2020, Taylor said his focus is just on trying to win the next game. Cincinnati plays his former team, the Los Angeles Rams, on Sunday in London.
“Honestly, when we show up on Monday morning, it’s how are we beating the Rams?” Taylor said. “That is the conversation right now. That will make everybody feel better. You put in all this work for the last nine or however many months, and it hasn’t paid off yet, but that doesn’t mean there is not progress being made in a lot of areas. Some of it’s seen and some is unseen, but we still find the positives to build off of.””
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