Andy Dalton finished Week 1 of the season with less NFL fantasy points than his backup AJ McCarron. That seemed odd since McCarron hadn’t played a single down, but when you throw four interceptions without a touchdown or a whole lot of yardage, you get funny numbers. Dalton’s fantasy score was -3.
The Bengals faced the Houston Texans in Week 2, who had already replaced their starting quarterback. Fortunately for Dalton, he works for Marvin Lewis and not Bill O’Brien. After another uninspiring effort in Houston, Lewis fired his offensive coordinator and replaced him with quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor.
Since then, Dalton has thrown six touchdowns and no interceptions. The Bengals gave the Green Bay Packers a run for their money before crushing the Cleveland Browns. In that Week 4 game, Dalton threw four touchdown passes for the first time since 2015 and finished with a third-best NFL fantasy point total of 28.34. Only a game-opening fumble kept him from topping 30 points for the fifth time in his career.
So, does Bill Lazor bring Andy Dalton all the way from the deepest depths of NFL fantasy leaderboards to a must-start this weekend? Let’s analyze the situation.
How is he doing it?
Dalton changed nothing in his delivery or preparation. He is a seasoned quarterback and a former NFL fantasy QB-1. His improvement directly results from Lazor’s offensive philosophy, which can be summed up as “if you have star players, use them.”
The Bengals have stars. AJ Green is a premier wide receiver. For some reason, he wasn’t targeted once in the second half of the Houston game. Star tight end Tyler Eifert was healthy for the first two games but was an afterthought in the game plan. Rookie Joe Mixon was the most exciting player in the backfield, but the Bengals seemed determined to split touches evenly between Mixon and the incumbents Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. An awful offensive line further handicapped a complicated mix of plays to kick off the season.
Since Week 3, Green is the clear-cut primary receiver and Mixon is the clear-cut feature running back. Eifert has been out with a back injury, but his replacement, Tyler Kroft has taken over and rekindled the tight ends’ role in the offense. Dalton looks more decisive and his passes are crisper for it.
Can he keep doing it?
Green Bay and Cleveland, while boasting stronger-than-expected defenses, are not teams regularly used to measure one’s offensive prowess against. As good as everyone in Cincinnati is feeling about their first victory and scoring touchdowns again, Dalton continued to be harassed and sacked these past two weeks. Neither the Packers nor the Browns had a shutdown cornerback to negate AJ Green.
This week, Buffalo marches into Cincinnati with the best defense by points allowed per game (13.5). They don’t have a true shut down corner, but they have two good ones and Micah Hyde, a free safety who plays like a third corner, and who owns three of the Bills’ six interceptions on the season. The Bills defensive line will come in healthy for the first time since Week 1. Despite injuries, they have 11 sacks and won’t make Dalton feel any safer behind his deficient offensive line.
So, you’re saying…
Despite the feel-good attitude in Cincinnati recently, it’s back to reality in Week 5 for Andy Dalton and the Bengals. Until they get their offensive line fixed, they will be prone to horrors against good pass-rushing defenses. If that defense also has a good secondary, things will be that much uglier.
Andy Dalton is best streamed against lesser defenses and benched against stronger ones. A good game this week will result in a mid-range NFL fantasy rating for Dalton. He is definitely not a must-start in Week 5.
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