Will Andy Dalton Ever Be the Answer for the Cincinnati Bengals?

The Bengals haven't had a losing record in four seasons with Dalton at the helm, but is he really the right man for Cincinnati?

Depending on how you feel about him, you could make pretty much any case for or against Andy Dalton.

As the Cincinnati Bengals' starting quarterback, Dalton is 40-23-1, which means either a lot or nothing to you depending on how you feel about quarterback wins. Same goes with his 0-4 record as a starter in the playoffs.

But after career highs in yardage last year (4,293) and touchdowns (33), Dalton regressed to 3,398 yards (the exact tally of his rookie year) and threw for only 19 touchdowns (good for just 17th in the NFL) to 17 interceptions (one pick shy of the most in the league).

Of course, Dalton played the entire year without Marvin Jones and all but a few snaps without Tyler Eifert, and A.J. Green wasn't at full health during the season. Combine this with a banged-up Giovani Bernard and the emergence of Jeremy Hill, and it's no wonder the cumulative stats weren't on par with his marks from 2013.

But just how "bad" was Dalton this year? And how "good" was his best year in 2013? Good enough for the Bengals?

Dalton's Rookie Year

Dalton's rookie season was pretty promising, if you view it through our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. NEP, by the way, indicates how far above or below expectation a player plays. Put another way, you can compare an NEP score to a replacement-level player and see how many points a team gained or lost as a result of that player's production by comparison.

Dalton's 540 drop backs in his rookie year (2011) netted him a Passing NEP of 12.64. This means his drop backs gave the Bengals 12.64 more points on the year than they would have scored otherwise. That needs some context.

Among the 32 most voluminous passers that year (to keep things consistent later on), Dalton's Passing NEP ranked 18th, which isn't bad for a rookie. I mean, this year, Teddy Bridgewater posted a respectable Passing NEP of 22.77. Derek Carr was at -40.94, and Blake Bortles managed a Passing NEP of -97.97, meaning he lost the Jags nearly 100 points with his 530 drop backs.

Simply put, Dalton didn't exactly have a historical rookie season, but he was very solid, which is something that not all rookies can accomplish.

The problem for Dalton is that he hasn't really improved -- or sustained any improvement.

Dalton 2012-2014

Dalton surely entered the NFL a competent quarterback, but nothing in his metrics really suggest he has improved very much except his 2013 year, which might be an outlier.

Here are his relevant metrics (Passing NEP, Passing NEP per drop back, and Success Rate, which measures the percentage of drop backs that increase Passing NEP) and ranks (out of the 32 quarterbacks with the most drop backs that year) in his four seasons.

SeasonPassesPass NEPPass NEP/Drop BackSuccess Rate
2011540 (14)12.64 (18)0.02 (18)43.33% (22)
2012575 (13)10.69 (20)0.02 (21)46.61% (14)
2013615 (9)54.69 (12)0.09 (12)47.32% (10)
2014*504 (18)24.54 (18)0.05 (19)47.02% (18)

*Two players attempted 247 drop backs in 2014, tying for 32nd. 2014 ranks are among 33 quarterbacks.

So, aside from 2013, all of Dalton's metrics have been below the "average" line. He dropped 30 points from last season -- but did attempt 111 fewer drop backs. Still, he was actually more efficient (adding 0.09 points per pass) at the higher volume last year than he was this year (0.05).

His Success Rate didn't drop that much, but his 47.32% mark last year would have only ranked 18th this year. That's why ranks alone can be misleading. Considering this, how far from the league's best has he been year after year?

Against the Best

Dalton's metrics aren't dreadful, and it's not like he's continually below zero with his metrics, but when compared to the top-10 in the league, Dalton just doesn't stack up.

Here are the average Passing NEP scores of the top-five quarterbacks in each of Dalton's four years in the league, as well as the median (third best) because there can be outliers at the top of the league.

Top-5 Passing NEP2011201220132014

Dalton hasn't been within 100 expected points of third place (the median) or the average of the top five in his career. For some context, this year, a discrepancy of 100 Passing NEP was the difference, more or less, between Aaron Rodgers (188.41) and Joe Flacco (89.35), Tom Brady (123.69) and Dalton (24.54), and Philip Rivers (105.93) and Geno Smith (5.25). And aside from 2013, he hasn't really even been close to just a 100-point gap.

So, Dalton isn't anywhere near top-five territory, which surprises no one. What about the top 10?

Top 6-10 Passing NEP2011201220132014

Dalton's metrics were up in 2013, but the back half of the top 10 was down significantly, placing him not too far from the median (eighth in the league). This year, when Dalton's Passing NEP dropped, the league actually swung the other way and became more top-heavy than ever before in Dalton's short career, widening the gap between the league's most successful passers and players like Dalton.

Game Manager?

In fairness, maybe comparing Dalton's passing marks -- despite a voluminous 2013 -- to the league's best each year isn't fair. The Bengals did run the ball more frequently than all but three teams this year. But even still, there's little promise in the numbers.

In terms of Passing NEP, five quarterbacks posted a score between 20.00 and 40.00 this year: Ryan Fitzpatrick (28.12), Dalton (24.54), Colin Kaepernick (23.31), Bridgewater (22.77), and Brian Hoyer (20.60).

If that's Dalton's peer group, that's not very promising. It doesn't mean that he should lose his job, but failing to explore other options will continue to handcuff the Bengals.

Cincinnati can still win a title, sure. After all, Flacco's Ravens won in 2012 when he posted a Passing NEP of 26.20, a per drop back score of 0.05, and a Success Rate of 42.93%. Again, Dalton was 24.54, 0.05, 47.02% this year. But Dalton's best season to date wasn't overly promising, and he's been over 100 points worse than top-five caliber passers and about 70 points worse than the back half of the top-10.

He's capable enough not to lose his job outright, but his metrics don't really show any promise that he's able of performing at a high level in the league when compared to the other quarterbacks. Dalton's metrics indicate he's probably in store for a long career in the league -- he's certainly not awful -- but sticking with him as "the guy" may not be in the best interest for the organization if he's going to produce like journeymen such as Fitzpatrick and Hoyer.