QB Watch: Bengals' Andy Dalton

A weekly analysis of the Bengals' quarterback play.

Rewind: Bengals coach Marvin Lewis danced around a question regarding Andy Dalton's play during his news conference that immediately followed Sunday's 17-6 loss at Cleveland. He said Monday he was glad he did. Dalton wasn't good Sunday, posting the third-worst yards per passing attempt average of his career at 4.9 yards. He also had his lowest completion percentage (54.8) and QBR (29.7) of the season.

Fast-forward: One week after facing the NFL's third-ranked total defense, Dalton goes against a New England Patriots unit this Sunday that has allowed the sixth-fewest points of any defense in the league. One of the reasons the Patriots have been so good on that side of the ball is because of their red zone defense. New England's defense is tied for fourth while in the red zone, and hasn't allowed a touchdown in a goal-to-go situation. Cornerback Aqib Talib has also had at least one interception in the past three games.

Third-down difficulty: Dalton passed well on third downs during the Bengals' loss at Cleveland, completing 66.7 percent of his 12 passing attempts. The problem, though, was that only four of those resulted in first downs. The other four completions ended up just short of the first-down marker. Dalton averaged 8.5 yards per third-down passing attempt, his second-highest mark this season.

Prediction: With fans critical of his play and angered by the apparent ineptitude of his offense against the Browns, Dalton has a heavy burden to shoulder this week. Those around him believe he's up to the task of playing well against the Patriots, but they know he'll need help. As the offense continues searching for an identity, Dalton needs his running game to come along in an effort to provide balance and allow his receivers to break free from corners like Talib. Look for a vastly improved Dalton on Sunday.