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Andy Dalton's hidden problem? Dealing with pressure

Andy Dalton has thrown 19 of his 20 TD passes this season when he isn't pressured by opposing rushers. Bob Levey/Getty Images

CINCINNATI -- For as many strides as Andy Dalton has made in displaying consistently strong play this season, there still is one area where he has struggled.

The numbers show the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback still doesn't handle pressure from opposing pass-rushers very well.

Sure, few quarterbacks do, but according to ESPN Stats & Information, Dalton's Total QBR when facing pressure is a mediocre 6.9, ranking him 24th among qualifying quarterbacks. That's right in line with the career 4.3 QBR he has when dealing with pressure, a figure that ranks him 26th among qualifying signal-callers since 2011, the year he began playing.

Alternatively, Dalton's 91.7 QBR this season when he isn't pressured is the best in the league. Without pressure, he also has thrown 19 of his 20 touchdown passes (he had 19 overall touchdown passes all last season), ranks fourth in passer rating (112.3) and eighth in completion percentage (70.9). When he has time and isn't running for his life, Dalton has been able to make a lot of good happen. When his pocket isn't as secure, problems arise.

The Arizona Cardinals must have seen that in their preparation. Per Stats & Information, the Cardinals sent pressure on 18 of the 71 snaps Dalton took Sunday night. That's the most times he has been hounded that way in a game this season. In the loss to the Texans the previous week, he was pressured 12 times.

During the Bengals' 8-0 start, Dalton was pressured an average 6.8 times per game. With pressure on just 84 plays this season, Dalton is one of the league's least pressured quarterbacks.

Although the numbers didn't much show it, Dalton's coaches thought he handled the Cardinals' added pressure OK.

"They're a good defensive football team, they've got good rushers and they brought the heat from everywhere," offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said. "They're entitled to do that. It's not illegal for them to do that. We've just got to block it better. But for the most part, we blocked some things and some of the layups [wide-open deep passes Dalton missed] we're talking about, if you hit some of those maybe the pressure slows down. But if you don't hit them, the pressure increases. That's just kind of the nature of football."

Although he attempted more deep passes -- balls thrown 15 or more yards downfield -- Sunday than he has in any game this season, Dalton posted some of his worst deep-passing numbers. He completed only two of those 10 throws and completed a season-low one for a first down. The play when he best beat Arizona's blitz came when he dumped off a short screen pass to Giovani Bernard just before halftime. The running back then sprinted 41 yards to put the Bengals in goal-line territory ahead of their first touchdown of the game.

Late Sunday, the Bengals found they could best move the ball by going regularly to Bernard on underneath throws.

Dalton's four sacks behind a constantly attacked offensive line matched his season-high against Houston and Seattle.

"That's the other part of it; you just have to keep playing, identify things and get it corrected," coach Marvin Lewis said. "We lost occasionally in those situations but all in all, we protected the quarterback very well. We have to continue to be better, because we don't ever want him touched. He did a very good job of avoiding the rushing and feeling sometimes the loss of containment because of the overload [defensive formations], and then stepping around and making plays. We have to continue to do a good job on the perimeter in those situations, providing a target for him."