After going to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, Andy Dalton improved his numbers in nearly every category last year, went 3-0 on the road in December and led the Cincinnati Bengals to back-to-back playoff berths for the first time in 30 years.
But Dalton’s performance in the two playoff losses was subpar at best, causing some to question whether he is the long-term answer at quarterback.
He heads into his third season with 11 returning starters on offense to go along with some new weapons after the Bengals used their first two picks in last weekend’s draft on players expected to create matchup nightmares for opposing defenses.
With so many pieces in place, the onus is on Dalton to take the Bengals to the next level in 2013.
Speaking with reporters Monday morning, Dalton’s message was clear: “No pressure. No excuses.”
“There’s not any more pressure,” he said. “For me, I felt like I got better last year than I did after my rookie year. So I’ve just got to keep getting better each year. Regardless if we didn’t even get anybody, I would still expect to be better. That’s all you can expect of yourself.
“Hopefully making the improvements will help with the win-loss record and we win more games and we get back to the playoffs and we win games in the playoffs,” Dalton continued. “I think that’s what it comes down to.”
The additions of Tyler Eifert, a 6-foot-5 tight end who can stretch the field or work the middle, and Giovani Bernard, a speed back who is as dangerous as a receiver as he is a runner, can only enhance an offense that already includes a pair of two-time Pro Bowlers in A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham and a running back in BenJarvus Green-Ellis who is coming off a career year.
“There shouldn’t be any excuses,” Dalton said. “The players we already have and adding these guys is just going to make the offense better. So I expect us to take the next step. I expect us to improve from where we were last year. Time will tell, but we’ve got the right attitude going in and the way we’ve been working, I don’t expect any less.”
The Bengals finished 22nd in the NFL in total offense last year, marking the fourth time in five seasons the unit has ranked 20th or worse.
With a defense that has been in the top 10 in three of the past four years, the offense doesn’t have carry the team. It just needs to be more productive than it has been.
Dalton said the addition of Eifert and Bernard, along with sixth-round wide receiver Cobi Hamilton, should allow offensive coordinator Jay Gruden to get more creative with his play calling.
“Having another big target out there with Tyler, I think he’s going to make us be able to do some things we didn’t do the last couple of years,” Dalton said. “And same thing with Giovani. I think we’ll be able to do some stuff with the route running and things like that that will help us. So we’ll see how these guys are. They’ve just got drafted. We haven’t seen them on the field yet. Hopefully they’ll really help us out, and I think they will.
“I think it felt like there’s areas where we could improve and we went after it and got them,” he added. “One of the biggest things with the whole draft was getting Andre (Smith) signed, not having to use a pick on a tackle early on and getting him back. So I thought overall, we drafted really well.”
The Bengals re-signed Smith to a three-year, $18 million deal Friday just before drafting Bernard in the second round with the 37th overall pick.
“It’s big,” Dalton said. “We don’t have to worry about are we going to have to go after somebody else, is he going to have to learn a position, is he a rookie? He was the one starter on offense that we were missing, and I think it was time for him to get signed. I think it all worked out.”