The numbers are disturbing but Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is literally keeping a close eye on his young guns and after his first unit has scrounged for just 10 points in the first two preseason games he sees more on the way.
"He missed some throws he shouldn't miss, obviously. He can do a lot better. But I'm not quite discouraged or in the tank," Gruden said Monday after digesting tape of rookie quarterback Andy Dalton and his gang in Sunday night's 27-7 loss to the Jets.
With Thursday's 7 p.m. Paul Brown Stadium opener against the Panthers, Gruden doesn't have much time to right some wrongs. Dalton has had a hand in four turnovers, his longest pass to a wide receiver is 11 yards, two of his drives have finished in the red zone and he's averaging barely 4.5 yards per throw.
Yet Gruden says Dalton needs more from around him, which makes you realize his top weapons are just as (A.J.) Green as he is at wide receiver, along with Jerome Simpson and his 21 career catches. Throw in second-year tight and Jermaine Gresham, out Sunday night but expected to play Thursday, and Gruden should be camp counselor instead of a camp coordinator.
"We had a slant that A.J. Green will catch 99 times out of 100, little bit of a high throw that was intercepted," Gruden said of the early pass that bounded off Green's hands. "And then the fumbled handoff and another interception were our first four drives. He came back against one of the top defenses in the league and led us on a couple (nice) drives. There are some positives there; we have to clean up a lot of things across the board. It's not just one guy, it's everybody."
Green and Simpson combined for one catch Sunday, a deathly stat once the regular season gets going, and Gruden defended them as vigorously as he did Dalton.
"The other guys just need time; they need to see the looks," Gruden said, "They haven't had a lot of them. Jerome was running off cards last year and A.J. has never done this stuff. He's been able to beat everyone's (butts) because he's A.J. Now that he's playing Revis and Cromartie (the Jets corners) and these guys, he's going to have to be better."
It is all about timing and reps and just flat out time. Gruden thought Dalton's second interception, which sailed over the head of wide receiver Andre Caldwell, had as much to do with timing as the wet ball.
"I think on that one if he waited another second he would have had a better look at it. He's been so programmed in his career, which is a good thing, that he is a timing-type guy," Gruden said. "When that timing gets rattled a little sometimes he still throws it instead of waiting another count or two and moving in the pocket slightly to give these guys time to get free. He is always throwing it 1-2-3-BANG it has to be gone no matter what and that happened on a couple plays."
One of them is when he threw it too early to Simpson on the sideline when Simpson had yet to turn his head. Gruden says Dalton can't keep throwing high slants and behind the receiver on quick outs.
"Jerome on the sideline, (Dalton) threw it too early and he wasn't ready and the ball went outside him," Gruden said. "There are some things we can clean up at the receiver position also."
But Gruden is also looking beyond the receivers to help Dalton. Although the offensive line played better and more physical, there were moments it struggled, such as when the Bengals went to their big package, moved left tackle Andrew Whitworth to the right, but couldn't get any movement on the second snap of the game.
"We can take lot of good from this and understand we cannot afford to be average with our technique, with our decisions and with our accuracy," Gruden said. "We have to be on top of what we're doing all the time. Our tight end can't get beat across his face in the running game and our left tackle has to be able to cut off the defensive tackle."
Gruden is also looking at fixing specific things, such as the blown handoff to running back Cedric Benson that went for a loss of 19 yards.
"It was a combination. I think Cedric has a tendency ... his paths seem to vary on certain tracks and we've just got to get him more consistent," Gruden said. "We've got to make sure that Andy really takes it back to him and looks at him and Cedric can see his cut before he gets the ball. A lot of times he might adjust his tracks because he seems, 'Hey, I'm going to bounce this one so I'm going to go wider before I get the ball. Or I might go inside and cut back before I get the ball.' So we've got to make sure we get the ball back to him quicker and deeper so he can make his adjustments."
Yet Gruden continues to be enthused about the supporting cast. Green, Simpson and wide receiver Andre Caldwell were all at the stadium on Monday on their day off putting some extra time in the classroom. He thinks Caldwell is his best all-around receiver and Green and Simpson just need time. Gruden is raving about the releases Green got against all-world corner Revis on Sunday, not the four drops.
"They just have to see the looks. They've got to feel two-man bump and run coverage. How to run a slant against each look and blitz. Sometimes they aren't consistent," Gruden said of Green and Simpson. "They've got to get more consistent where they line up and how to attack the different looks they're going to get. You practice a pattern against Cover 2, but in the game you get two-man. It's a totally different way to attack it. Or you get quarter-quarter-half where you get single high man or off coverage. There is only so much time to practice each concept. The more they see the better they're going to be. The upside with them is going to be great."