Andy Dalton has gotten overshadowed, unfairly perhaps. There was Colin Kaepernick, a second-round pick in the 2011 draft, dashing about and getting his San Francisco 49ers into a Super Bowl. And Russell Wilson, a third-rounder, lighting up the Bears on the way to taking Seattle to the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Dalton, the player taken one slot ahead of Kaepernick, was quietly making the Pro Bowl as a rookie and making himself into a “pocket Flacco,” as in Baltimore’s Joe Flacco, who has taken the Ravens to the playoffs in each of his five NFL seasons.
Dalton has gotten the Bengals to the postseason each of his two seasons and with a third can become only the fifth starting quarterback in NFL history to make a first-three (Flacco, Dan Marino, Bernie Kosar, Pat Haden).
How Dalton has done this has been to be a model of consistency. He has never been intercepted in the red zone through two seasons while throwing 35 touchdown passes on plays from inside opponents’ 20-yard lines.
And only Marino (68) and Peyton Manning (52) have thrown more TD passes in their first two NFL seasons than Dalton’s 47.
The perfect matchup: a quarterback who has never been picked once his offense is inside someone’s 20-yard line, vs. a defense that led the NFL with 24 interceptions and only allowed opponents to score at all 78 percent of the time they got inside the Chicago 20, second-best in the NFL.
“In preseason we did well, continued to take the ball away, so I don’t think we have a problem with the mindset we have,” said cornerback Tim Jennings, who played his way to his first Pro Bowl with an NFL-leading nine interceptions. “We just have to go out there and execute and be where you’re supposed to be and know that’s how it’s supposed to be.
“We’re going to go for the ball each and every time that we’re out there, try to get our offense back the back.”
The biggest single issue for the Bears’ secondary clearly is A.J. Green, whose 97 catches included 11 for touchdowns, second in the AFC. Green ranked behind only Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and the Bears’ Brandon Marshall in All-Pro voting.
Green is a matchup problem on the bases of both talent and size (6-4),
“We’ll just have to do our job, make sure we know where he is at all times,” said defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. “We’ve got to do a great job on him. He’s an excellent player. I think everyone in the league recognizes that he’s got great ability to make big plays. He works hard in the run game, blocking…. He’s in that category of guys that can wreck a game.’’
Safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright will be part of coping with twin receiving tight ends. But the Bengals have been looking for a wideout complement to Green and believe they have it in second-year receiver Mohamed Sanu, who had four TDs among his 16 catches last year.
Sanu also provided a highlight last year with a 73-yard pass of his own to Green at Washington.