|Quarterback Andy Dalton has thrown at least one interception in each of the first six games, including three in a loss to Cleveland on Sunday. (US Presswire)|
On his run to 20 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a playoff berth, he didn't throw a pick in nine of 16 regular-season games.
The same success hasn't carried over to 2012. Through six games, he's thrown at least one interception in every game. The trend grew last week when he tossed three in a loss to the Browns.
To add more concern, three of his nine interceptions this year have been returned for touchdowns. Dating back to last year's playoff game against Houston where DE J.J. Watt pulled down an acrobatic interception for a touchdown, he's tossed four touchdown passes to the wrong team in seven games.
For Dalton, finding a common thread within the interception problem is as difficult as playing the quarterback position. He doesn't sense any differences in his style or that of the offense.
“There have been some decisions to throw the ball when I probably shouldn't have, but others have been tipped balls and things like that, too,” he said. “So I know when I can take my chances, I know when to take my shots. Hopefully, the interceptions will go down.”
Assessing blame for this issue means delving deeper than pointing a finger at the quarterback. One interception last week was a last-second heave the Browns came down with in the end zone. The pick-six for Sheldon Brown fell on WR Brandon Tate, who gave up on his route allowing the veteran corner to jump it.
Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden calls Dalton's pick-six by the Redskins Ryan Kerrigan “maybe one of the worst play calls of my football career.”
Some blame goes to the receivers, some to poor protection and, certainly, some blame belongs to Dalton.
“I have a problem with them but it's not like it's all on the quarterback,” Gruden said. “I think you see Philip Rivers throw four, I've seen (Drew) Brees throw three, I've seen (Aaron) Rodgers throw them, I've seen (Tom) Brady throw them. Quarterbacks throw them. They anticipate throws. Sometimes, defensive guys make great plays, you know if you throw 40 to 45 times a game they are going to break on some balls, too. I'm not going to make him gun-shy by any stretch.”
That's the major concern for Gruden and the Bengals. Dalton's also thrown 12 touchdowns with a completion percentage rate of 66.1, up nearly eight percentage points from last season. He's on a pace for 573 attempts, which would be 57 more than last year.
His decision-making and ability to anticipate windows down the field have produced an offensive capable of more explosive plays. The Bengals have thrown six touchdowns of 40 yards or more this season compared to only three all of last season.
“We do have to take a close look at the turnovers, the fumbles and interceptions alike and try to eliminate them,” Gruden said. “But quarterbacks, they start looking at too many negative plays and start getting a little gun-shy and, man, I don't want to take anything away from his aggressiveness because we have had some big hits down the field.”
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