Andy Dalton shows why Joe Flacco is so valuable

Joe Flacco’s underwhelming 2013 performance raised a lot of eyebrows, particularly in the wake of his massive contract extension this past offseason. I will grant the critics: this was not Flacco’s finest year.

But anyone wondering whether Flacco is worth that kind of money need look no further than Andy Dalton’s showing against the Chargers on Wild Card weekend Sunday. The Chargers put an uncharacteristic level of heat on the opposing quarterback, and Dalton did not always respond as the Bengals would have liked.

At times, Dalton was able to step up in the pocket; he completed a nifty shovel pass to Giovani Bernard on one such play. Other times, he delivered passes just before being driven to the turf. This second-quarter touchdown to Jermaine Gresham was a great example:

One of Dalton's all-too-rare great responses to pressure on Sunday.

One of Dalton’s all-too-rare great responses to pressure on Sunday.

But, as it has far too often this season, the heat forced Dalton into critical mistakes. Dalton made Shareece Wright look like an All-Pro when, late in the third quarter, Dalton threw across his body off his back foot to a double-covered receiver. Wright nearly returned the interception for a touchdown. Dalton had another interception and a fumble to his name, the latter coming on a scramble away from pressure.

Joe Flacco is no one’s model signal caller, but he may be competing for the mantle of best broken-play quarterback in the NFL. No one would ever mistake his scrambling ability for Aaron Rogers, but Flacco moves around in the pocket well enough, and always keeps his eyes downfield. What he does better than almost anyone on the planet, though, is deliver strikes on the run and from awkward angles. This combination of skills helps Flacco deal exceptionally with pressure, which is why he consistently throws fewer interceptions than almost anyone not named Brady, amongst full-time starters.

Lets give Dalton some credit: he has performed well, early in his career, under intense scrutiny. He’s punching well about the weight of a second-round draft pick.

But anyone looking to distinguish between passers with relatively similar stats on perennial playoff teams got a reminder Sunday of why Flacco is the franchise, while Dalton may be fighting for his job before long.

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