Dalton Expects ‘Big Test’ From Ravens

The Bengals are counting on their rookie QB to keep them in the playoff race.

Posted by Garrett Downing on Friday, November 18th, 2011 at 9:50 am | Categories: Garrett Downing, Week 11 vs Bengals

Through his first nine games in the NFL, Andy Dalton has been efficient and effective, helping the Cincinnati Bengals go from a four-win team last season to the middle of a playoff race.             

The rookie was the fifth quarterback taken in this year’s draft, yet he has thrown more touchdowns (14) in his first nine games than any other rookie since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, and the Bengals are the only team fighting for a playoff spot with a rookie starting at quarterback.

“He fits into the offense,” Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday. “I think they’ve built it very well for him.”

Cincinnati has asked Dalton to manage its offense rather than carry it, and he’s averaging 32 passing attempts per game.

He has benefitted from a good running game with Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott, and their first-round draft pick A.J. Green has been a favorable target at wide receiver.

“They’ve got a great one-two punch with those guys,” Ravens cornerback Cary Williams said. “They’ve got a great running back, which helps the passing game, and Dalton is making great decisions.”

Dalton has good pieces around him, but he’s also being recognized for his performance this season. He was named the AFC Rookie of the Month for October, and he is a top candidate for Rookie of the Year along with the draft’s No. 1 overall selection Cam Newton.

One area of high praise for Dalton has been his ability to keep turnovers to a minimum. A quick release on passing plays has limited opportunities for defenses to strip the ball, and he has not forced too many passes into tight coverage.

Dalton has nine turnovers this season, compared to 13 that former Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer had at the same point last year.

“He’s protected the ball really well,” Harbaugh said. “That’s what winning quarterbacks do, and he’s done a good job of that.”

Unlike his predecessor Palmer, who spent his first season watching from the sidelines, Dalton was asked to start from his first game as a pro.

“I am glad I came into this. I get to learn out there while I am playing rather than sitting on the sideline watching,” Dalton said on a conference call with Baltimore media. “I feel like I’m seeing things a lot better, and I have a really good understanding of what we’re doing and what the defenses are doing.”

Another quarterback who started from his first game in the NFL was Joe Flacco.

The comparisons between Dalton and Flacco are already being made, as Flacco played a similar role in his first year starting in 2008.

Flacco was also asked to manage the offense, as opposed to winning games with his arm, and the emphasis was to protect the ball and keep the turnovers to a minimum. Like Flacco, Dalton is also developing a reputation as a winner – even if he doesn’t put up gaudy statistics – as he has led fourth-quarter comebacks in three of Cincinnati’s six victories.

“The biggest thing is not trying to have too many negative plays going out and managing this offense and taking the shots when we think they’re there,” Dalton said when asked about the comparisons to Flacco.

Another point of emphasis for Cincinnati this year has been to protect their young quarterback, and keep him from getting chased around in the pocket. Dalton has been sacked only 12 times this season, which is the fourth best among starting quarterbacks.

“Avoiding sacks is the product of 11 guys,” Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis said. “We’ve got to continue with that and just keep working at it hard. [Dalton] has a great movement and presence in the pocket and ability to move away from the pressures to deliver the ball.”

Keeping Dalton upright is a focus going into this weekend’s game in Baltimore, as the Bengals face a Ravens defense that has typically wreaked havoc on rookie quarterbacks. Dalton struggled at times last weekend against Pittsburgh, and the Ravens hope that their defense is able to cause problems for the young signal caller.

“They’ve been really good for a while,” Dalton said. “So, it’s definitely going to be a big test for us.”

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