No quarterback has won more games at Paul Brown Stadium than Andy Dalton or has a better road winning percentage for Cincinnati. But the Bengals hope to pin a loss on him in all phases Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Fox 19) when he leads the Cowboys into PBS.
Dalton, who won 41 games at The Paul, returns as a backup behind Dallas' battered offensive line that has lost six of the last seven.
The Bengals.com Media Roundtable is a bit flummoxed about this one. Both teams are led by backup quarterbacks working behind re-shuffled lines. The Bengals defense hasn't allowed more than 20 points in the last three games, but the Cowboys have a top 10 offense. The Bengals offense has scored two touchdowns in the 10 quarters without Joe Burrow, but the Cowboys have allowed the most points in the league. The Bengals have a top ten special teams, but probably won't have their best player in Brandon Wilson.
So The Table sees a tight game with the majority giving the nod to Dalton's experience over Bengals quarterback Brandon Allen. All except Bengals voice Dan Hoard, who called all of Dalton's 133 Bengals games while dubbing him, "The Red Rifle." But he sees the Bengals defense able to silence him by taking advantage of Dallas' undermanned front.
Jay Morrison, The Athletic's Bengals beat man and stat savant, points his dominating decimal points to the Dallas offense after covering all of but one season of Dalton in Cincinnati.
The Cowboys have long been chronicled by the best in the game and no different now.
ESPN's Todd Archer, long-time Cowboys beat reporter for The Nation who broke into the NFL covering the Bengals for The Cincinnati Post afternoon daily, thinks Dalton plays well enough this Sunday P.M. to carry the final edition.
Rick "Goose," Gosselin, an influential Pro Football Hall of Fame voter and an encyclopedic anchor of the Talk of Fame Network, can't see the Bengals offense keeping pace with Dalton's available options
Let's go around The Table. As always, visitors and alphabet first.
It's hard to get a read on this one because I don't have a read on the Cowboys. They've lost six of seven. They really don't do anything very well. They turn the ball over too much, they don't take the ball away, they have the worst run defense in the league. They're 3-8, they're virtually out of it. I don't know how head coach Mike McCarthy rallies his troops. And it's a short week. There are a lot of things going against the Cowboys.
Andy Dalton may have the edge over Brandon Allen, but look at Dalton's offensive line. He played pretty well against Baltimore, but they don't make explosive plays on offense any more. They've been so inconsistent on the offensive line, you just don't know what you're going to get. They were bad against Washington because Washington's front is really good and they lost right tackle Zach Martin and let tackle Cam Erving in the first series.
And they haven't run the ball well. They're ranked below the middle at 17th. Running back Zeke Elliott has fumbled the ball five times. To me this is going to be a low-scoring affair.
THE EDGE: Dalton will play well, if not spectacularly, on his return against a Bengals defense that doesn't take it away much. COWBOYS, 23-20
If the Cowboys let Zeke Elliott run, they can control the clock with Joe Mixon out and win the game. They're an offensive team. The problem is their defense. They're on pace to set a record for points allowed and giving up the most points in the league. Cleveland ran for 307 yards on them. Baltimore ran for almost that against them. If Mixon were playing, I think it would be interesting. If you can run the ball, you can beat the Cowboys.
Dallas' best three offensive linemen are down. They just have a bunch of bodies in there. But you still have to commit to Elliott. They made him the highest-paid running back in football. You can't say, OK, we're going to make you the highest paid running back and give you the highest paid offensive line. You can pay one or the other. Your running back should make the line better and the line should make a lesser back better. You've got an elite back, he should make the line better. But they don't give him the ball. Derrick Henry is averaging 23 carries a game and Elliott has not gotten the ball 23 carries in any game this year.
THE EDGE: Dallas has the best quarterback, the best running back, the best trio of wide receivers in the game. COWBOYS, 31-20
My reasons for favoring the Bengals might stun people. It's because of their offensive line. As badly as we thought the Bengals had it last year when they played four different left tackles and none of them were the guys that was supposed to play left tackle, the Cowboys have had it much worse this year.
La'el Collins, one the best right tackles in the NFL, hasn't played a snap. Tyron Smith, one of the best left tackles in the NFL, suffered an early season-ending injury. Travis Fredrick, who was one of the best centers in the NFL for a long period of time, retired. Zack Martin, one of the best guards in the NFL, will not play in this game. I can't remember a team losing four offensive linemen that good in such a short period of time. They've got a couple of undrafted free agents starting on the offensive line and for that reason I will take the Bengals.
My first year was Andy's first year and that began the run of five straight play-off appearances. I really admire Andy. I thought he was underappreciated. He did far more good than bad during his nine years with the Bengals. I will always root for him, except for this week.
THE EDGE: Between the offensive line and the Cowboys' short week, I think the Bengals squeak one out. BENGALS, 21-20
It's hard to kind of analyze this one. Andy is in a different situation, but he looks like the same guy. Against the Ravens on Tuesday night it was a lot of the same stuff we saw here where he gets the ball out quickly. He makes some good decisions. He misses some easy throws at times.
He's got an offensive line that has issues and we saw that here. When he had a good offensive line he was really good and when the line wasn't as good, that's when the trouble set in. It comes down to which team can get after the other team's quarterback the most. Dallas does that a little bit better. I could see the Bengals taking advantage of that banged up offensive line and finally getting some pressure, something that's been missing all year.
I think getting cornerback Darius Phillips back is going to be big for the Bengals because LeShaun Sims really struggled and Darius isn't great, but he's an upgrade there. I think cornerback William Jackson III is going to shadow Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper. They've been using him to travel the last three weeks. If you can put Will on Cooper, have Darius on Michael Gallup and have an experienced guy like Mackensie Alexander on rookie CeeDee Lamb in the slot, I think they match up pretty well. And if you can force Andy to go to second and third reads and not get the ball out so quickly I think we'll see ends Carl Lawson and Sam Hubbard maybe get home more than they have.
THE EDGE: I don't think the Bengals have enough firepower to move the ball consistently enough and if you're not going to have Brandon Wilson to give you a couple of short fields on kick return that makes it all the tougher. COWBOYS, 24-14
THE BOTTOM LINE
Fitting that Hoard returns after his COVID-related quarantine of two games to call Dalton's return. His first year in the Bengals radio booth with analyst Dave Lapham turned out to be Dalton's first and they were off together on that run of five straight postseasons. Hoard avoided the virus, but his streak of calling 175 straight regular-season and play-off games didn't. His new streak starts five years to the day Dalton's streak of 77 straight was literally broken when he fractured his throwing thumb against the Steelers.
No mystery here. Without having both Joes, Mixon and Burrow, and having six straight different offensive lines, the Bengals have found running the ball to be a frustrating exercise. Since Burrow went down ten quarters ago, the Bengals running backs have rushed for just 64 yards on 26 carries.
Defenses have simply forced them to throw the ball and they haven't been able to do that. In those ten quarters there have been 12 sacks and 49 percent passing (32 of 65) for 359 yards on 5.5 yards passing. And that's including a 72-yard screen.
So they must run the ball against a defense that has allowed more than 300 yards rushing to AFC North rivals Cleveland and nearly 300 yards rushing to Baltimore. The Bengals have rushed for 150 yards combined the last three games.
And their three receivers have to outplay Dallas' receivers. Maybe it comes down to A.J. Green outplaying Michael Gallup. The Cowboys' Amari Cooper is ranked 23rd by Pro Football Focus, the Bengals' Tyler Boyd is 27th. The Bengals' Tee Higgins has 729 yards, second among rookie receivers, Cowboys rookie receiver CeeDee Lamb has 696 for third. Green is overdue coming off the first back-to-back catch-less games of his career. Gallup has 13 catches the last two weeks.
The Bengals get a lift in the secondary with the return of cornerback Darius Phillips, but they're down two back-up safeties in Shawn Williams (suspended) and probably Brandon Wilson (hamstring), impacting their numerous three-safety looks.
The Bengals and their fans know Dalton better than anyone and they know they can't confuse him, but he's certainly not as good under pressure as he is bouncing on his toes and going through his progressions. Like most. They also know he tends to get the ball batted at the line. The Bengals, last in the league in sacks and pressures, according to pro football reference.com, are 10th in passes defensed and have four from linemen probably playing against Dalton.
The Bengals have forced two fumbles in each of the last two games and no doubt have their eyes on Elliott. The Cowboys bell cow has six fumbles and lost five.
The Bengals have been searching for the same formula going with a back-up quarterback and they've generated a couple of them over the last two games. Turnovers for short fields and unconventional scores. Now it's up to the offense to outplay an old friend.