In the last two games
And quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese has as good a reason as any.
A snap of his fingers. And it's not because it's easy as a snap. It's because Dalton's passes have been as quick as a snap.
"We're asking him to do things that are in his wheelhouse. The past couple of weeks we've been in a pretty good rhythm," Zampese says. "He's thrown accurate balls and his confidence is moving forward. He's getting in rhythm with his guys and we're giving him some easy things to do. When the ball comes out fast, it's a good thing for him. It helps. It's what he's used to. Give somebody what they're used to."
This is why offensive coordinator Jay Gruden coveted Dalton coming out of Texas Christian above all the rest in the 2011 quarterback draft. He felt like Dalton's quick-rhythm passing matched his West Coast offense.
Since the Sept. 29 loss in Cleveland, Dalton has thrown just five passes 20 yards or longer (according to Pro Football Focus that has him with two completions) and yet his yards per attempt has jumped nearly half a yard to 7.22 for the season, which nearly matches Joe Flacco and Andrew Luck at 7.24, and is more than Tom Brady, Robert Griffin III and, yes, Carson Palmer.
If the long ball hasn't been there, the strong accurate pass has been. Here are two throws Zampese liked from Sunday:
» The 18-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver
But what Zampese really liked about the throw, besides the fact Dalton got it off with Mario Williams bearing down on his face from the right edge, is that the same play didn't work in practice.
"He made it right on the same look on game day," Zampese says. "We missed it in the week of practice. We made our adjustments and he nailed it. We talked about it off the practice tape. Just make sure you get it timed up between you and A.J. The footwork of the quarterback. The depth of the receiver. The location of the ball and the angle of the receiver coming out of his break."
» A short bullet to wide receiver
"That was a good thing to see between him and the receiver," Zampese says. "Those out breaks against man-to-man coverage. We had four of those that didn't go our way in Cleveland. But that throw was as tight as it could be."
Another factor that has been in Dalton's wheelhouse the past two weeks is the running game. After games the Bengals ran it 39 and 41 times, Dalton's record is 16-1 when they have at least 30 rushes with the only loss coming in Baltimore his rookie year when he threw three interceptions. In those 17 games, he's thrown 24 touchdowns to 12 interceptions.
The two interceptions the past two weeks rankle Zampese, thrown across the middle to defenders that seemingly only Dalton didn't see.
(After Sunday's pick thrown directly to safety Jim Leonhard, Gruden said he told Dalton, "You need to look" when Dalton told him he didn't seem him.)
"Very uncharacteristic," Zampese says. "We take those out of our game, keep the rhythm we've got going right now; it will be good for us and good for him."
Zampese has heard the criticism of Dalton despite numbers good enough to complete 61 percent of his passes and win 61 percent of his starts. Dalton also has a better completion percentage (65) than Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford, and a better passer rating than
Zampese thinks it comes with the territory. He's not talking about the position Dalton plays, but his draft position. No. 35, just out of the first round.
"If you're not taken in the first round, then you have all these hurdles you have to overcome," Zampese says. "When you supposedly don't have this and don't have that, then all these hurdles get thrown up in front of you for you to overcome.
"Granted, playing better overcomes all of it. And that's the goal: just play better. Don't give anybody anything to say. Because you can do that. That's within your wheelhouse."
At the moment, that's where Dalton seems to be.