The Week in Overreactions: 'Nothing to worry about with Andy Dalton'

Can Andy Dalton finally lead the Bengals to a deep playoff run? (USATSI)

New storylines emerge every week. Some are reasonable, most are not. "The Week in Overreactions" focuses on the latter. Those items that offer a cursory "How do you do?" as they blow past reality straight for THIS IS THE MOST AMAZING THING EVER! We're here to keep everything in perspective. Questions, comments, casserole ideas? Hit us up on Twitter at @ryanwilson_07.

'Andy Dalton is a a legit franchise quarterback'

First things first: The Cincinnati Bengals are your AFC North champs. And they're going to the playoffs for the third year in a row. It's hard to dispute either of these statements, even with seven games left in the regular season.

This isn't about that. This is about how far the Bengals can expect to go with Andy Dalton as their quarterback.

Doubting Dalton is neither new nor original. But we're not interested in piling on just for the sake of it; we're genuinely curious if the third-year quarterback can be something more than "that guy who threw those jump balls to A.J. Green when he wasn't handing it off to Gio Bernard."

Dalton certainly showed glimpses of that recently. During a three-game stretch in Weeks 6-8, the 2011 second-round pick completed 66 percent of his passes for 1,034 yards, 11 touchdowns and one interception. During that stretch, the Bengals were 3-0, beating the Buffalo Bills , Detroit Lions and New York Jets (who were a combined 10-8 heading into their respective matchups with Cincy).

But then there are the egg-laying outings like last Thursday night. Dalton went 32-of-53 for 338 yards (so far, so good) but threw three interceptions against no touchdowns. He also lost a fumble. Yes, you can argue that one of the picks wasn't his fault and we agree.

But the other two were horrible. The first led to a  Miami Dolphins field goal, the second a 94-yard pick-six. Behold the awfulness:

Dalton has a clean pocket and a clear throwing lane, and he still throws the ball behind Marvin Jones on what should be a simple out pattern. That can't happen (duh).

And that's the thing that concerns us: When he's on, Dalton can look like one of the NFL's most efficient passers, a ginger Drew Brees with the anticipation and timing to put points on the board in bunches. But when he's off, Dalton looks out of rhythm, out of sorts and ultimately, out of his depth to do anything to change his -- or the team's -- fate.

One thing we've noticed is that Dalton doesn't seem to show up for big games. Whether's it's coincidence or something more is another matter, but here's how he's performed in nationally televised games, including playoff appearances, going back to his rookie season in 2011.

2011 season
* Wild card loss to the Houston Texans , 31-10. Dalton: 27-of-42 (64.3 percent) with 0 TDs, 3 INTs.

2012 season
* Sunday Night Football, Week 7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers , 24-17. Dalton: 14-of-28 (50 percent) for 105 yards, with 1 TD, 1 INT.

* Thursday Night Football, Week 14 win over the Philadelphia Eagles , 34-13. Dalton: 13-of-27 (48.2 percent) for 127 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs.

* Wild card loss to the Texans, 19-13. Dalton: 14-of-30 (46.7 percent) for 127 yards, 0 TDs and 1 INT.

2013 season
* Monday Night Football, Week 2 win over the Steelers, 20-10. Dalton: 25-of-45 (55.6 percent) for 1 TD, 0 INTs.

* Thursday Night Football, Week 9 overtime loss to the Dolphins, 22-20. Dalton: 32-of-53 (60.4 percent) for 0 TDs, 3 INTs.

Below: A graphic  of Dalton's performance, on average, in all games other than the six national games mentioned above compared to his performance in just those national games. 

The news isn't much better when you look at Dalton's individual game grades, per Pro Football Focus.

* In the playoff loss to the Texans following the 2011 season Dalton had his second-worst outing of the season.

* In 2012, Dalton graded out slightly below average in the Week 7 loss to the Steelers, had an average performance against the Eagles in Week 14, and had his fifth-worst game of the season against the Texans in the wild-card rematch.

* In 2013, Dalton registered below-average grades in the Steelers and Dolphins, but graded out worse against the Green Bay Packers and Cleveland Browns (Weeks 3 and 4 respectively).

So what's the takeaway?

The glimpses of brilliance remain overshadowed by Dalton's inconsistencies. Why these inconsistencies seem to manifest themselves when everyone's watching remains a mystery. Whatever the reason, the bottom line is simple: If the 2013 Bengals are going to be more than division champs, Dalton will need help.

There are playmakers up and down the roster, starting with an offense that features Green and Bernard, along with Marvin Jones, Jermaine Gresham , Tyler Eifert and Andrew Hawkins .

The defense, meanwhile, has Michael Johnson , Carlos Dunlap and Vontaze Burfict , but two of their best players -- cornerback Leon Hall and defensive tackle Geno Atkins -- are lost for the year to injuries.

We'll find out in the next two months if Dalton can overcome the loss of Hall and Atkins, or if he's still a year (or more) away from being that guy.

There's plenty to celebrate in Cincy -- the Bengals are headed for their third-straight playoff appearance, after all, and Dalton has played a part in that -- but just making it to the postseason gets old quickly. Put differently: This is one of the most talented teams in the NFL, and two-and-a-half years into Dalton's tenure he's the biggest obstacle to a deep playoff run.

CBS Sports Writer

Ryan Wilson has been an NFL writer for CBS Sports since June 2011, and he's covered five Super Bowls in that time. Ryan previously worked at AOL's FanHouse from start to finish, and Football Outsiders... Full Bio

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