Oct 8, 2017; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) against the Buffalo Bills at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 8, 2017; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) against the Buffalo Bills at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterback Andy Dalton didn’t enjoy a strong start to the 2017 season, in part leading to a change by the Bengals at the offensive coordinator position after two games. Since then, Dalton hasn’t had a bad outing.

The same can’t be said for other AFC North quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco — one of whom entered the season on the heels of a lengthy retirement charade, the other of whom entered after a detail-light sequence of events regarding shoulder surgery. Both quarterbacks were playing to notably less than their usual level early, and the chorus of fans nationally asking what’s wrong with them has grown as the season has worn on. To say nothing of Cleveland’s current (*constant) predicament at the position, it’s safe to say that quarterback play in the division has been less than optimal.

It’s fair to ask whether that means, in light of recent success, that Dalton has a chance of running the season as the division’s best quarterback. It’s a valid argument, but one that requires numerical context, regarding the numbers of the three quarterbacks as well as Dalton’s improvement under Lazor.

That’s what will be covered here, in lieu of the Bengals having a game this week. Below, Dalton’s completion percentage, passing yardage and touchdown totals — as well as average deviation of each on a per-game basis as an indicator of consistency — will be measured against those of Roethlisberger and Flacco. Additionally, his five-game totals for these numbers will be measured against his three-game totals from games played with Lazor as coordinator.

Finally, each of the four models – Dalton under Lazor, Dalton overall, Roethlisberger, and Flacco — will have bell curve projections of their 16-game season totals taken (based on their average deviations versus their current logged averages) and displayed side-by-side. This provides full room for the good and bad versions of each quarterback, to the extent they’ve appeared so far this season, and puts them together for context.

Here’s a look: (spoiler alert: Dalton won).


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Completion Percentage

Dalton (Lazor): 73.12% completion — 8.96% average deviation
Dalton (Overall): 65.41% completion — 11.33% average deviation
Roethlisberger: 61.54% completion — 3.5% average deviation
Flacco: 63.89% completion — 9.97% average deviation

Completion Percentage Bell Curve
 Dalton (Lazor)  Dalton (Overall)  Roethlisberger  Flacco
 0th  64.55%  57.62% 59.13% 57.04%
 25th  67.63%  61.52% 60.34% 60.46%
 50th  70.71%  65.41% 61.54% 63.89%
 75th  73.79%  69.30% 62.74% 67.32%
 100th  76.87%  73.20% 63.95% 70.75%

 

The most flattering category for Lazor Dalton (and Flacco), and a strong tell of Lazor’s influence on the offense. In his first two games, Dalton had completion rates of 51.6% and and 57.1%; in his last three, he had rates of 77.8%, 83.4%, and 61.1%. While the small sample size is likely obvious here, a completion rate of >70% on the season is feasible for Dalton if he upholds his recent improvement down the stretch.

Roethlisberger’s 100th-percentile completion rate is lower than the bottom percentile rate for Lazor Dalton. His average deviation, 3.5%, would make his numbers seem like the surest set in this whole exercise. Both numbers seem odd — would it be accurate to say  Roethlisberger is just falling off in a less-than-chaotic fashion?

Maybe, but he mostly hasn’t been hitting deep passes this season. Per NFL.com’s Next Gen Stats, Roethlisberger’s 10.1 intended air yards per attempt ranks 3rd in the league, while his 6.0 air yards per completion ranks 22nd. The -4 differential Roethlisberger has here is the highest in the league by a fair amount — Dalton’s -2.5 margin ranks 8th; Flacco’s -1.8 ranks 23rd.

In any case, this is a battle that ordinary Dalton would appear to win without isolating the games spent under Lazor. Doing so just drives the point home further.


Passing Yardage

Dalton (Lazor): 826 yards — 275.33 yards per game — 42.223 average deviation
Dalton (Overall): 1,220 yards — 244 yards per game — 50.4 average deviation
Roethlisberger: 1,269 yards — 253.8 yards per game — 26.96 average deviation
Flacco: 823 yards — 164.6 yards per game — 72.08 average deviation

Passing Yardage Bell Curve
 Dalton (Lazor)  Dalton (Overall)  Roethlisberger  Flacco
 0th  3,784  3,350 3,764 1,841
 25th  4,016  3,627 3,912 2,237
 50th  4,249  3,904 4,060 2,634
 75th  4,481  4,181 4,209 3,030
 100th  4,713  4,458 4,357 3,426

 

Flacco looks outlier-level bad here, and that’s partially true – his 8/18, 28-yard outing against the Jaguars was a debacle for the entire Ravens’ team (the Jags really threw a wrench in this entire exercise). His 121-yard performance against Cincinnati is his second-lowest total on the season, with his other outings in a tight, lower 200-yard range.

The numbers are still accurate, though — Flacco’s strength is attacking downfield, and that’s not what he’s done this season. At all. Per NFL.com’s Next Gen Stats, Flacco averages 4.9 air yards on completed passes and 6.8 air yards on attempts, both good for 31st in the league. Flacco’s attempt numbers have been all over the table as well – his 17, 34, 18, 49 and 26 attempts cover a range of 35 numbers. Dalton’s attempts cover a range of nine. That’s not about the Ravens trusting Flacco; that’s a planning issue.

Like with the completion percentage, one has to wonder how many yards Roethlisberger has left on the table due to not hitting downfield targets. His curve would be even more marginal if not for (again) his game against Jacksonville, where he threw for 312 yards on 55 attempts. Roethlisberger didn’t exceed 40 attempts in any other game, and his second highest yardage total is 263 (his lowest being 216).

As for Dalton, the Bengals’ quarterback has improved his yardage output game-to-game (170, 224, 212, 286, 328). While there’s a logical ceiling to that trend, it supports the idea that Dalton has improved consistently over the season and makes his higher range of results seem more plausible. The 4,713-yard mark is approximately 317.5 yards per game away, but Dalton could match his 2013 career high of 4,293 with 279.4 per game down the stretch. That’s conceivable if the Bengals’ 28th-ranked run game doesn’t pick up and Dalton has to pull the weight.


Passing Touchdowns

Dalton (Lazor): 7 touchdowns — 2.33 touchdowns per game — 1.11 average deviation
Dalton (Overall): 7 touchdowns — 1.4 touchdowns per game — 1.28 average deviation
Roethlisberger: 6 touchdowns — 1.2 touchdowns per game — 0.64 average deviation
Flacco: 4 touchdowns — 0.8 touchdowns per game — 0.64 average deviation

Touchdown Bell Curve
 Dalton (Lazor)  Dalton (Overall)  Roethlisberger  Flacco
 0th 20  8 12 6
 25th 27  15 16 9
 50th 33  22 19 13
 75th 39  29 23 16
 100th 45  36 26 20

 

Touchdowns, with their low overall quantity, are difficult to project like this — Dalton’s curve is uselessly broad here as a result of him scoring over half of his season total in one game. Hitting the 45 touchdown mark would require Dalton scoring 38 touchdowns over his last 11 games. Not an impossible mark, but at 3.45 touchdowns per game, Dalton would match Peyton Manning’s single-season record if he’d held that clip for a full season. The only less fathomable projections are the floors for every other column, thanks to some zeroes.

(Imagine how stupid the interception columns would look for these guys.)

Roethlisberger and Flacco should both finish well ahead of their averages — Dalton’s (first) outlier game came against the Browns, Roethlisberger and Flacco should each get theirs in due time. Roethlisberger has the pieces around him to rip off 5 or 6 touchdowns at a time if his offense can come together; Flacco is elite is part of a unit that simply must improve (for a program that hasn’t been afraid to sack offensive coordinators midway through seasons).

That doesn’t mean Dalton’s projected total is contrived from one game, though — two touchdowns per game would put him at 29; 33 isn’t too many steps further. It would match Dalton’s career high from (like with passing yards) 2013.


 

Andy Hammel is the Managing Editor of cover32/Bengals. Follow us on Twitter at @cover32_CIN, and follow him at @Andy_Hammel.