Andy Dalton’s most impressive numbers so far: zero interceptions, zero sacks. When it comes to avoiding the big mistake, the Bengals quarterback is perfect through two games.
So is his team. And there’s a close correlation.
The Bengals (2-0) are one of seven unbeaten teams, and the only one that so far hasn’t fumbled, thrown an interception or allowed a sack. Dalton and Houston’s Ryan Fitzpatrick are the only quarterbacks without a sack or interception.
It’s only two games, but it’s a pronounced change. Dalton’s main flaw during his first three seasons in Cincinnati was his penchant for forcing a throw and making the game-changing turnover. He had two interceptions and a fumble during the second half of a 27-10 playoff loss to San Diego last season.
Dalton had never gone two games without a sack or interception until now. He’ll try to extend the streak Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium against Tennessee (1-1), which is tied for second in the league with eight sacks.
“It’s huge,” Dalton said Wednesday. “To not have negative plays, especially in the passing game, and then to not give the other team the ball, it’s been a thing we’ve really prided ourselves on. That’s one of our top goals.”
A few things have figured into the perfectly clean start.
Dalton has gotten plenty of time from an offensive line that handled whatever Baltimore and Atlanta threw at it. He was seldom touched during a 24-10 win over the Falcons on Sunday.
“I didn’t get hit that much last week, so I feel pretty good right now,” Dalton said.
Dalton had plenty of time even though guard Kevin Zeitler left in the first half with an injured right calf, forcing changes in the line. Rookie center Russell Bodine has been solid through the first two games. There haven’t been any moments of confusion that allowed a pass rusher to get into the backfield unblocked.
“The NFL’s much different than it was five years ago, 10 years ago,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “Now every guy on the field’s a rusher. It’s a heck of a task to keep the quarterback clean, much less not give up a sack. It’s important and it’s another one of our focuses – no turnovers, not getting the quarterback hit. We expect to go into every game and accomplish that.”
Avoiding turnovers has been a point of emphasis for new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, who would rather have Dalton throw the ball away than take a sack or try to force a third-down completion. Also, the Bengals have given Dalton some options when he’s in trouble.
With two Falcons closing in on him Sunday, Dalton saw running back Giovani Bernard open, yelled his name and flipped the ball to him. The improvised play turned a near-sack into a 46-yard gain.
“At that point, I saw that the guy he was blocking was on the ground so he was kind of just standing there like, ‘What do I do?'” Dalton said. “And so I’m glad he listened to me.”
Another game without an interception or sack would allow Dalton to match his career highs. He went three games without an interception during each of his first three seasons. Last year, he went three games without a sack for the first time. Until now, he’s never gone even two games without either.
“Those are good numbers and things that we want to keep working at,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “That takes 11 guys to get to that point.”