Numbers adding up

Andy Dalton

Some of the numbers heading into Sunday's game in Tennessee (4:05 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) that have been huge in the Bengals 5-2 start:

Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is on pace to throw 21 touchdown passes, surpassing the club rookie record of Greg Cook in 1969 (15) and equaling Carson Palmer's total in the 2009 division championship season. And the Red Baron's projected 3,381 passing yards would be more than Boomer Esiason had in leading the Bengals to the 1990 division title and Palmer had in the 2009 run.

With Sunday the halfway point of the season, people are starting to notice not only Dalton, but Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. Such as future Pro Football Hall of Fame member Kurt Warner, an NFL Network analyst.

"When we came into this year, I wasn't sure what he brought to the table physically," Warner said Wednesday on the Network. "I didn't know if he had a strong enough arm to make all of the throws, but I've been continually impressed. The one great thing about Cincinnati's offense is it's very much a ball-control offense; it's about making reads, getting the ball out of your hands fast.

"I think of all the rookie quarterbacks, he's the most anticipatory quarterback that I've seen this year. He understands where to go with the football, he hits that back foot and lets the ball go. He's able to get through his reads very quickly, and I have seen an arm that allows him to make throws down the field. I've been extremely impressed with that whole football team, but it starts with that young quarterback and how well he's played."

On the same day, Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck admitted in a conference call with the Cincinnati media that Dalton is his favorite rookie quarterback to watch this season.

"I'm not sure who's calling the plays, but they're doing a good job," Hasselbeck said. "I know Jake is a fan of 14 there as a person. When you like the guy that you're watching, you end up watching a little bit more of them when you get to pick what film you want to watch. So we've been watching some Bengals film."

After just seven games, the Bengals have already racked up more punt return yardage with 358 than in every year in the Marvin Lewis era but 2009, when Quan Cosby set the season club record with 474. They are only 18 yards away from matching Mike Martin's 376 when he led the NFL with a 15.7-yard average in 1984.

Wide receiver Brandon Tate, named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week on Wednesday for his 56-yard punt return in Seattle, has 295 of those yards, easily projecting to a club record of 674.

And it's never too early to keep an eye on it. Only four Bengals have two punt returns for TDs in their career. Lemar Parrish leads the way with four and Peter Warrick, Craig Yeast and Mitchell Price have two each. Parrish (1974) and Yeast (1999) are the only ones who have two in the same season.

Cornerback Adam Jones has another 63 yards on the return he tweaked his hamstring Sunday, the longest Bengals punt return in 128 games since Warrick went for a 68-yard touchdown in 2003.

But special teams coach Darrin Simmons knows it's not how it's drawn up.

"Touchdowns come when you block your guy … things have to be right to score," Simmons said. "People have to be out of position; you have to do a good job of blocking. Never really is a return executed exactly as it's drawn up.

"It's a returner making a play. Somebody being out of position. Both of these here were no different. There were a couple of great runs, there were some good blocks in there, don't get me wrong. But they didn't execute it exactly the way it was drawn up. It's a matter of those guys being able to adjust on the move."

Mike Nugent is on pace to break Shayne Graham's club record for field goals in a season with 34. Graham had 31 in 2007, the only year a Bengals kicker has hit 30. Plus, his percentage of 93.8 (15-for-16) would edge Graham's 91.2 in '07 when he missed only three. The only year a Bengals kicker went to the Pro Bowl, 2005, Graham hit 87.5 percent of his tries on 28-for-32.

Tate's return and safety Reggie Nelson's 75-yard interception return at the end of the Seattle game obscured Nugent's huge 48-yard field goal with 4:50 left in the game that gave Cincinnati an eight-point pad.

But it wasn't lost on Simmons. Nugent failed to negotiate the wind in the previous two games when he missed an extra point in Jacksonville and his only missed field goal two weeks ago at Paul Brown Stadium on a 43-yarder wide right.

He played the one in Seattle just right.

"I was fired up for that play as much as anyone," Simmons said. "It was a 48-yard field goal at a critical time. In the course of the game that was a big play because it puts a different feel on their sideline. They were thinking beforehand that a touchdown wins it, now it's a touchdown and two-point conversion just to stay in the game. It sucks a little bit of the life out of them. I know how big those plays are and how good it is to hit them.

"Completely different complexion and at the time the game was starting to swing in their favor. They were starting to move the ball and hit a couple big plays. That helps stymie their momentum. Good play."

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