The first time Browns rookie defensive end Billy Winn faced Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, Winn’s Boise State team defeated Dalton and TCU on a fake punt in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl.
The first time Dalton came to Cleveland Browns Stadium, the Bengals won on a quick snap.
Dalton had been knocked out of the game by then, suffering a wrist injury at the end of the first half when hit by Browns defensive tackle Phil Taylor.
But it is no coincidence that big plays seem to follow Dalton, many by his own hand.
“He’s a real explosive player,” Winn said Thursday. “He’s able to make a lot of things happen throwing the ball and running the ball.
“He’s smart. He’s got a good range of vision. He’s able to read the field and read defenses really well.”
Coming into the game today, Dalton is 3-0 against the Browns, compiling a 114.0 passer rating and completing 71.4 percent of his passes for 669 yards with five touchdowns and one interception. In his last meeting with the Browns on Sept. 16, he compiled a career-high 128.2 passer rating, which he surpassed the next week against the Washington Redskins.
Even with a lackluster day last week in a loss to Miami, Dalton’s 92.9 rating is better than any Bengals season-ending number since Carson Palmer posted 93.9 in 2006.
Dalton leads the AFC in fourth-quarter passer rating (127.7). He ranks fourth in the league in yards per attempt (7.96), seventh in passing yards (1,111) and seventh in touchdowns (nine).
“I told him Sunday after our game, ‘You keep doing it your way and we’ve got to do it better around you,’ ” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said on a conference call.
Browns defensive end Frostee Rucker played with Dalton last year in Cincinnati and saw him go to the Pro Bowl. But Rucker thinks Dalton has improved in his second year with Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.
“[He’s made] huge strides,” Rucker said. “It’s all about confidence. He’s really sure of what he’s doing out there. As he goes, they will go.
“That’s just another year Gruden’s been there with him. They both were having their rookie year last time. Now they’re in it together and on the same page.”
Dalton said some of his improvement comes from better understanding the offense, some from better understanding of the NFL.
“I know what the season’s like. I know the grind of it. I know what to expect in games. I feel like I can respond well on the sidelines, understanding if the defense is doing something different,” Dalton said on a conference call. “I’m a lot more comfortable and confident out there, and we feel like this offense is better than it was last year.”
Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron saw Dalton throw three touchdowns against Cleveland in Game 2, hitting A.J. Green on a 10-yard pass, Andrew Hawkins on a 50-yarder and Brandon Tate on a 44-yarder.
“I think he’s probably just the same guy with more experience,” Jauron said when asked how Dalton had improved. “He was very good in his rookie season. Probably his whole career he’s been this guy who appears to be in control, he’s calm in the pocket, he makes plays when he has to, he’s good extending the play. He moves well. He’s really a good quarterback.”
Browns defensive captain D’Qwell Jackson said what stands out about Dalton is his game management and his lack of turnovers. In his career, Dalton has 22 turnovers (19 interceptions, 3 lost fumbles) against 29 touchdown passes.
It doesn’t hurt that he has a big target in 6-foot-4 Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green and has found another playmaker in Hawkins, an undrafted 5-foot-7 speedster from the University of Toledo.
“It feels to me watching the game that he’s more comfortable with more of his skill players,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said of Dalton. “I think that’s a function of being able to work with them.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.