While I feel this is a pivotal season for Andy Dalton to establish himself as the Cincinnati Bengals' franchise quarterback, Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green doesn't agree with that line of thinking.
"I don't feel like it's a make-or-break year for him," Green recently told the Bengals' official website. "He's still the quarterback of the future because he has every intangible to be a great one. He works hard, he has great leadership. I think he'll be fine."
Right now, Dalton is a good quarterback, not a great one. It's hard to knock his results in the regular season. He led the Bengals to the playoffs in consecutive seasons, something that hasn't been done in Cincinnati in more than three decades. Dalton also has thrown 47 touchdowns in 32 career games.
But, as offensive coordinator Jay Gruden pointed out in March, Dalton "has a long way to go." Here are the three areas that Dalton has to improve upon to convince everyone that he's the team's quarterback of the future:
Reduce turnovers: The Bengals turned the ball over 30 times, and Dalton had a hand in 20 of them. He threw 16 interceptions (tied for eighth most in the NFL) and fumbled four times. The turnovers proved costly, too. Four interceptions were returned for touchdowns.
Step up in pressure situations: Dalton has to figure out a way to extend drives and finish them off. Last season, he completed 47.5 percent of his passes on third down. The only starting quarterback who failed to connect on half of his third-down passes was Chad Henne. Dalton also knows he has to help the Bengals improve from being the NFL's 16th-best red zone offense.
Play big in big games: Dalton is 0-2 in the playoffs and is a major reason for those defeats. He threw three interceptions in his first playoff game in the 2011 postseason (including a critical pick returned for a touchdown by J.J. Watt) and failed to complete half of his throws in his second postseason game in the 2012 playoffs.
"You look at Tom Brady and all the best quarterbacks in the league, it takes four or five years for them to really get in a groove," Green said. "Aaron Rodgers sat behind (Brett) Favre for years. (The criticism) comes with the territory."
Well, Brady won a Super Bowl in his second year in the NFL. A better comparison could be Drew Brees, who is a former second-round pick like Dalton. Brees didn't win his first playoff game until his sixth season. It took a change of teams for Brees to do this.
The Bengals are built to win now. They have one of the top defenses in the NFL and they have added more intriguing pieces on offense. The key, as I've written all offseason, is the play of Dalton.