Everyone has attempted to figure out the change in Andy Dalton this season. No doubt the fifth-year Cincinnati Bengals quarterback is having a career year.
So was it his off-season work with former Texas Rangers pitching coach Tom House? His increased arm strength? More confidence in himself? Better players around him? The comfort he has in his home life with wife, Jordan, and their 4-month-old son, Noah Andrew?
Or could it possibly have anything to do with his new, more modern hairstyle?
“I don’t know about that,” Dalton said in a phone interview, laughing. “But I finally have a hairstyle.”
The former TCU star has come a long way, quieting his detractors with his stellar play.
Obviously, it isn’t the focus or even a thought right now. Our whole thing is we’ve just got to keep winning games. Whatever it takes to do that, we’re going to do it. If [the MVP] comes with it, that’s great. But obviously that’s not a focus.
Dalton leads the league with a 116.1 passer rating. He has completed 67.4 percent of his passes for 1,761 yards with 14 touchdowns and two interceptions.
The Bengals stand among the NFL-record five teams that remain unbeaten entering Week 8.
“It comes down to having the success that we expect of ourselves, and so there’s a lot of people who have criticized me in the past who aren’t criticizing me anymore,” Dalton said in a phone interview. “It’s just kind of the nature of it.”
A quarterback has won the league’s MVP award six of the past seven seasons, so why not Dalton this season?
Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers and New England quarterback Tom Brady annually rank among the candidates. Dalton’s name has earned a place among the NFL’s best this year.
“I think it comes with the success that the team has had,” Dalton said of the MVP talk. “We’ve just got to keep finding ways to win. Obviously, it isn’t the focus or even a thought right now. Our whole thing is we’ve just got to keep winning games. Whatever it takes to do that, we’re going to do it. If [the MVP] comes with it, that’s great. But obviously that’s not a focus.”
88.8 Dalton’s best passer rating over a season (2013) before this year. His NFL-best 116.1 rating in 2015 far exceeds his career rating of 87.8.
Everyone loves him now, especially his adopted home, but it wasn’t always this way.
Dalton, a two-time Pro Bowler, clearly heard the boos directed at him during Major League Baseball’s All-Star Week in Cincinnati this summer. Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has called that the “turning point” for Dalton, though the quarterback downplays the significance it has played in his season.
“Nobody was booing when I hit a home run,” said Dalton, who makes his off-season home in Fort Worth. “Or the second time I hit a home run. I think it’s just one of those things that comes along with it. It’s unfortunate that it happened, especially here in Cincinnati, where we’ve been able to accomplish a lot. But it is what it is.”
With Dalton as their quarterback, the Bengals have produced a 46-23-1 regular-season record with four consecutive playoff appearances. But they have gone 0-4 in the playoffs, leaving the franchise’s last postseason victory as a 41-14 victory over the Houston Oilers in the wild-card round.
“Our whole goal is not for one playoff win,” Dalton said. “As I keep saying, yes, do we want to win a playoff game? Absolutely. We want to get that monkey off our back. But that’s not why you play this game. You play it to win the whole thing.”
My five cents
1. The Philadelphia Eagles are in a pickle. They signed DeMarco Murray to a five-year, $42 million deal in the off-season, but Ryan Mathews better fits their offense. Mathews gained 97 yards on only six carries last week. He averages 2.5 yards per carry more than Murray, the league’s leading rusher last season, but gets only eight carries a game compared with Murray’s 15.
2. Bill O’Brien and Rick Smith have downplayed talk of a power struggle in Houston. Smith’s contract, which has one year remaining, gives him control over personnel. O’Brien’s contract, which has three years left on it, allows him to decide the lineup.
3. Whether Colin Kaepernick is “on an island” in the locker room or not, little doubt exists that his career in San Francisco has reached a crossroads. He looks nothing like a championship quarterback, with six touchdowns, five interceptions and an 82.8 passer rating.
4. The Arizona Cardinals insisted their defense wouldn’t change when coordinator Todd Bowles left to become head coach of the New York Jets. It hasn’t. The Cardinals continue to blitz more than any other team. James Bettcher’s defense has blitzed the same rate that Bowles’ did, calling for extra rushers 42 percent of the time.
5. The Carolina Panthers owned the top pick in 2011, but Andrew Luck, the consensus top pick, announced he was staying at Stanford for his senior season. Carolina instead took Cam Newton, and Luck became the top pick of the Indianapolis Colts a year later. The teams and the quarterbacks meet Monday night.
Minnesota Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs has 19 catches for 324 yards in his first three NFL games. Diggs and Anquan Boldin rank as the only receivers since at least 1960 to have that many catches for that many yards in their first three games, according to STATS. Boldin made 23 catches for 378 yards in his first three NFL games in 2003.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Alterraun Verner, who signed a four-year, $25.5 million contract with the team before the 2013 season, was benched in Week 3. He has regained his job, but has allowed 12 completions for 172 yards and two touchdowns while being targeted 19 times.
2016 NFL Draft
Dane Brugler of CBS Sports and NFLDraftScout.com gives his top-10 senior defensive tackles and top-five draft-eligible underclassmen at the position for the 2016 draft:
1. Adolphus Washington, Ohio St., 6-4, 290
2. Jarran Reed, Alabama, 6-3, 313
3. Sheldon Day, Notre Dame, 6-1, 285
4. Sheldon Rankins, Louisville, 6-1, 303
5. Vernon Butler, La. Tech, 6-3, 309
6. Adam Gotsis, Georgia Tech, 6-5, 285
7. Luther Maddy, Va.Tech, 6-0, 293
8. N. Lawrence-Stample, FSU, 6-1, 323
9. Javon Hargrave, S.C. St., 6-1, 298
10. Matt Ioannidis, Temple, 6-3, 292
1. Robert Nkemdiche, Miss., 6-4, 296
2. Andrew Billings, Baylor, 6-1, 300
3. Kenny Clark, UCLA, 6-3, 308
4. A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama, 6-3, 312
5. Montravius Adams, Auburn, 6-3, 296
3 Players with a kickoff return for a touchdown against the team they played for the previous season. New York Giants returner Dwayne Harris, who had a 100-yard return against the Dallas Cowboys, joined Bo Roberson (87 yards for Oakland vs. San Diego on Sept. 30, 1962) and Aaron Stecker (98 yards for New Orleans vs. Tampa Bay on Dec. 19, 2004).
In the first seven weeks, 30 running backs reached the century mark in 48 games. The Cowboys had their first last week with 152 yards from Darren McFadden.
Eagles running back DeMarco Murray has averaged 2.8 yards per carry on first down. He has 147 yards on 53 first-down carries.
The Saints have at least one touchdown in 152 consecutive games, the season-longest streak in NFL history. The Browns own the record with at least one touchdown in 166 consecutive games from 1957-69.
The Jets are 30-51-1 all time in games played in the Mountain or Pacific time zones. That .372 winning percentage trails the franchise’s all-time winning percentage of .457.
The Cardinals have had six 1,000-yard rushers since 1988 when they moved to Arizona. Chris Johnson is on pace for 1,300 yards.
Texans defensive end J.J. Watt needs two sacks to pass DeMarcus Ware for the third-most sacks in a player’s first five seasons.
DeMarcus Ware leads the Denver Broncos with 4.5 sacks and 12 quarterback hits.
The Vikings’ Mike Zimmer has an 11-11 record as an NFL head coach, but he has yet to beat a team with a winning record.
The Ravens’ Joe Flacco ranks as the worst quarterback in the league against the blitz, with a 53.5 passer rating and five interceptions.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has 22 road victories, one shy of tying Dan Marino, Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan for most road wins by a quarterback in his first five seasons.
The Browns are 2-10 in their past 12 games.
Jets receiver Brandon Marshall is on pace for 104 catches, which would break the record of 93 that Al Toon had in 1988. Marshall also is on pace for 1,541 receiving yards, which would shatter the previous team high of 1,434 set by Hall of Famer Don Maynard in 1967.
Philip Rivers has four consecutive games with at least 300 passing yards, tying him with Hall of Famer Dan Fouts for the Chargers record.
Quarterbacks have targeted Panthers cornerback Josh Norman only once in his past two games.
Information from The Sports Xchange was used in this report.