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Greg Cosell’s Look Ahead: What’s causing Andy Dalton to be inconsistent

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(USA Today Sports Images)

A lot of people have taken note of the ups and downs of Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton. There's a reason for it.

Dalton has shown he can play well, but a lot of factors have to be in place. When the play-calling can get him into the quick passing game, when he’s sharp throwing the football and he’s throwing with anticipation and accuracy, he has good games. That's what happened last week against Indianapolis.

Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden did a great job getting Dalton comfortable early against the Colts with quick and defined throws. Dalton anticipates well and is very accurate in the short and intermediate game, and was allowed to do both against Indianapolis. It turned into the Bengals' most efficient game in quite a while.

The Bengals have to play to Dalton's strengths, and he can be effective when they do.

Dalton is not a dominant passer. He would be viewed as having some limitations as a passer. So you’re a coach, you like a lot of things about him – he’s smart, he understands the game, he’s a good guy ... there’s a lot to like – but everything gets manifested physically. You can either make certain throws or you can’t. So you know what he can and can't do, now what does his game have to be in order to be successful? You allow him to quickly process information (and you can be complicated, because he's smart), get the ball out fast and have an offense based on anticipation throws, which he's very good at. He's not going to drop back seven steps and stick a deep out 22 yards down the field.

That doesn’t always work. The defense is out there too, trying to take things away. That’s why he seems to be up and down. He’s not a guy who will make a "wow" throw or two. Matthew Stafford can have an inconsistent game and have three or four "wow" throws in the fourth quarter because his arm is top notch. Dalton needs to be helped by everything else.

And when that’s working he can be sharp. That’s what happened to Indianapolis. We'll see whether it all works on Sunday night against Pittsburgh. And whether it all comes together in the playoffs will definitely be something worth watching.

Broncos defensive issues

The Broncos' defensive struggles in Thursday night's loss to San Diego shouldn't have been a huge surprise. Denver already told us they were having issues on defense.

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Broncos S Duke Ihenacho in coverage (USA Today Sports Images)

The week before, the Broncos benched strong safety Duke Ihenacho and linebacker Wesley Woodyard. By doing that, they’re telling us they’re not that good on defense and they’re searching for answers. We don’t have to interpret anything. They’re telling that to us.

The Broncos struggle in coverage. They play a lot of man and they struggle a bit. There are certain things they can’t match up well to – they don’t match up against teams with good tight ends, for example. On a third down against San Diego, the Broncos had Ihenacho matched up with Antonio Gates on a crossing route. Gates beat him easily for 14 yards. It was just pitch and catch.

Ihenacho started the season well, but the more he played, his deficiencies in coverage became more pronounced.

But there shouldn't be a big surprise about Denver's defensive issues. The Broncos already let us know they were aware of them.

Tannehill progressing

Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill is progressing the way people used to think quarterbacks progress, gradually and steadily. He has faced the normal ups and downs, and is now showing improvement near the end of his second season. That's the way it works. He played very well against the Steelers last week, as he heads into an important game against New England.

Tannehill is also playing behind a below average offensive line with a below average run game with a No. 1 receiver who's not really a No. 1 in Mike Wallace, and no big threat at tight end. He has been working under difficult circumstances. He's the most sacked quarterback in the league, although that shows he's willing to stand in there until the last minute and throw the football, which is a positive. Despite everything, he's getting better.

Tannehill's physical skills aren't in question. He has the tools to be a high quality NFL starter.

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NFL analyst and NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell watches as much NFL game film as anyone. Throughout the season, Cosell will join Shutdown Corner to share his observations on the teams, schemes and personnel from around the league.

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