Matchup of the Game, Part I


Andy Dalton

BENGALS QB ANDY DALTON VS. RAVENS FS ED REED

Dalton, a.k.a "The Red Baron," meet Reed, the greatest ground weapon in the NFL's aerial battles of the early 21st century.

Reed, the eyes in-the-back-of-the-head Ravens safety, leads all active players with 56 career interceptions in his first ballot Hall of Fame career. Six have come against the Bengals, all on Carson Palmer, two of them going for touchdowns and one off a lateral.

One day this week Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden tried to show how the quarterback can't look at his receiver for fear of tipping Reed's supernatural instincts. By the time he was done, Gruden looked like some kind of B movie zombie before breaking into a shrug.

"He's fun to watch," Gruden said, "when you're not playing against him."

All Gruden can tell Dalton is this:

"There are guys we tell him about every week … but Reed is in his own category (with Troy) Polamalu. You can't float balls and you can't stare guys down. You have to be precise with your ball. You have to put more on it sometimes and you can't stare at your receivers. No doubt about it, or otherwise he'll make you pay badly."

But there is always that fine line for the quarterback between anticipating a pass and rushing a throw.

Dalton and Gruden only have to go back to the fourth quarter against the Steelers last Sunday with 2:27 left and the Bengals on the Pittsburgh 25 down, 24-17, and his throw that got picked off by cornerback William Gay. Gruden loves the way Dalton anticipates throws, but he says this was an example where the ability hurt him.

As Dalton stepped back and looked to his right, he saw that the outside backer had running back Cedric Benson covered on a wide route in the flat. Dalton immediately looked to the next progression and saw wide receiver Jerome Simpson in a hole where he thought he would settle.

"He assumed our receiver would sit in that hole right there and he threw it before Jerome was ready and the guy made a great break on the ball," Gruden said. "If he had waited just one more count and threw it on his outside shoulder, the DB never would have got it. He threw it a little bit too early and Jerome wasn't quite ready for it. That type of throw, he's got to have Jerome's  eyes, or he's got to kick it out to Cedric for five, or work the other side where he had a couple of guys open. It was a great play by Gay. Combination."

But Gruden would rather have his rookie keep right on anticipating rather than what most rookie quarterbacks do.

"Hold on to the ball. Please don't do that. Don't hold on to the ball," Gruden said. "Throw it. I'd rather have that."

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