The question way back when about Andy Dalton—and maybe it is still out there for the most skeptical of the skeptics—had been about his arm strength.
But what about the ice cold throw The Red Baron made on third-and-10 last Sunday in the Seattle sound machine with five minutes left in a game there for the taking?
With all his receivers covered and his pocket taking water, Dalton scooted to his left and threw a seed to wide receiver Andre Caldwell breaking off his route for a four-yard gain that gave Mike Nugent a shorter 48-yard field goal for an eight-point lead.
GOING LEFT. A tough throw for any righty.
"Plenty strong," said quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese, who remembered an even longer throw earlier in the game going to Dalton's left that just ticked off wide receiver A.J. Green's fingertips. "That was a hell of a throw because he was about to get blasted rolling left."
It's never pretty for an offensive line these days in Seattle. Not only is it the loudest venue in the league, but the Seahawks had enough talent to be ranked in the top 10 defensively. That made for less than immaculate pass protection, but the line was poised enough and Dalton was quick and heady enough to give up just one sack. His efficiency throwing on the run and out of the pocket has really emerged the past few weeks and he was so seamless in Seattle it was easy to forget he was making so many of those throws with his legs.
"His movement skills last week were really good," Zampese said. "(Seattle) doesn't let you throw from the same spot. ... They're going to make you move around and they do enough coverage-wise that will make you hold it and then you have to move and make a play. He salvaged some plays last week that we really needed badly because that defense can sack you pretty fast with all the crowd noise and guys coming off the edge. They can do that without any of that. Those front guys were real good and we were moving around and we didn't get caught. There were some incompletes that were like Houdini things, getting out of trouble and just getting it out of our hands."
So Zampese likes Dalton's footwork for the most part, but he isn't thrilled about both interceptions, long balls headed inside the Seattle 10 that Zampese characterized as "underthrown." Zampese had wished on both throws that instead of making Green fight for the ball, Dalton had given him a better chance by leading him longer.
"He's working on balance and being able to get enough on the ball where it will go far enough where guys can run out the other side of it and not have to fight for it on a short ball, so we keep guys running for the ball," Zampese said. "It all starts with our feet."
Zampese is working with Dalton on getting "his weight under him" when he strides. Which is what he did on the perfect floater to Green for a 43-yard over-the-shoulder touchdown.
Certainly there has never been a doubt about Dalton's command of a game since he arrived. The Bengals went into a yard where foes have committed the most false starts in the NFL over the past 50 games. But in the first half they had as many false starts as Seattle had with encroachments with two, and that's how it finished.
Right tackle Andre Smith had both of them, but after the first one on the first drive of the game, Dalton did exactly what he did at the end of the game to help Nugent. Zampese says the coaches preach at least getting closer field-goal range if the yardage is insurmountable.
So on seond-and-17 from the Seattle 31 after the penalty, Dalton bobbed and weaved a 10-yarder to Caldwell and a five-yarder to Green that nudged it for Nugent's 34-yarder.
"I feel great about it. All week his communication was good," Zampese said of Dalton's game management. "We didn't have a bunch of guys jumping offsides like everyone else when they go up there."
CJ STILL CJ: Titans running back Chris Johnson may be struggling at 2.8 yards per carry and the Bengals may have the second-best defense in the NFL against the run, but middle linebacker Dan Skuta says they are treating Johnson like he's the 2,000-yard Chris Johnson.
And, yes, Skuta says defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has been talking about the 51-yard draw play Johnson ran against the Bengals his rookie year in 2008. Of course, the Bengals have exactly three starters back from that day. But it was Zimmer's second game on the job and he's still fuming about it.
"With any player you don't look at just what he's done this year," Skuta said. "And there are some runs on tape this year where he looks like himself. We don't see him as struggling by any stretch. Yes, he's the best guy we've faced this year."
Skuta has come off the bench the past two games for Rey Maualuga (ankle) and the run defense has stayed intact after the Bengals gave the Colts 94 rushing yards on 23 carries and 61 to Seattle on 20 carries, 28 on the useless last play of the game.
With Indy and Seattle playing more out of a spread, Skuta expects to get more snaps against the fullback-tight end oriented Titans offense designed to pound Johnson. Skuta, playing mainly against run formations and on run downs, played only 27 of Seattle's 71 snaps last week.
"They come after you downhill, so I'm excited to get more involved," Skuta said. "We have to rally to the ball. (Johnson) is crafty. He's not so much running around them or juking them. He slips by guys. He's got the great speed. We've got to get guys around him so if one guy misses him, the other guys can clean up."
One of the unsung heroes last week in Seattle was outside linebacker Brandon Johnson coming off the bench to play for Thomas Howard, limited with a hamstring problem. Counting special teams, Johnson logged 85 snaps but he probably won't have to be yeoman like that again. It looks like Howard is back full steam, since Friday's injury report had him going full in practice.
Howard's return comes at a good time with the Bengals facing an excellent tight end in Jared Cook, one of the big-play Titans threats. Howard has proven to be a versatile three-down player excellent in pass coverage.