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What the Bengals can expect from starting QB Jeff Driskel

For better or for worse, the final third of the Bengals season belongs to the explosive and erratic Jeff Driskel. What awaits the Bengals offense with Driskel at the helm?

Cleveland Browns v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Let’s get something straight: the Bengals are not going to be carried deep into the playoffs because Jeff Driskel became the starting quarterback.

With that said, the Jeff Driskel experience could be fun regardless.

The Bengals can let it be known that they’re still playing for the playoffs, and it’s already tough to get 50+ professional athletes in a locker room to play to lose in the first place (it’s actually impossible), but their fate for 2018 has all but been set. At 5-6 with at the very least three superior teams left on their schedule, the Bengals should finish the season with a record reminiscent of the past two years.

The forthcomings of this reality had already resonated with close friend and YouTube colleague Dadio McDuck two weeks ago before the shellacking the Browns gave the Bengals that put them in this spot. McDuck and I discussed the validity of inserting Driskel into the starting lineup with the season out of hand just to see what the Bengals had in the third-year quarterback. Benching Dalton for the sole purpose of trying something new and seeing how a different quarterback would react and produce to the current system is not something the Bengals would ever consider doing unless it was forced upon them.

Well, the Bengals had no choice but to listen to my friend once they learned that Dalton was done for the year with his second season-ending thumb injury in three years. Now, Driskel is the guy for the Bengals up until there are no more games for them to play this season.

So what can the Bengals expect from Driskel?

Increased variance in and out of structure

On this week’s Orange and Black Insider, I roughly equated the Bengals quarterback situation to the one the Baltimore Ravens are currently experiencing for a specific reason. Joe Flacco had provided the Ravens stability and staleness at the quarterback position for a number of years since he peaked in the 2012 playoffs when he carried the franchise to a Super Bowl title. The organization knew this and acted upon on it by trading up back into the first round of this year’s NFL Draft to select Flacco’s successor Lamar Jackson.

Jackson got his first start of his career against the Bengals two weeks ago because of a hip injury that forced Flacco to miss his first start of his career. Jackson and the Ravens beat the Bengals and then went on to dismantle the Raiders the following Sunday. Jackson’s box score stats as a passer (61.38 completion percentage, 1:3 touchdown/interception ratio, 4.84 adjusted yards per attempt) don’t stand out in any particular way, and that’s because Jackson’s game is full of an equal amount of big errors and big plays.

And in a way, that’s the expectation with Driskel in this Bengals’ offense.

When it comes to the rhythm-based throws and single-read concepts, Driskel could show to be more inconsistent in terms of accuracy and timing in comparison to Dalton. Chemistry between quarterback and receiver is obviously a factor in that, but it’s also an area that can be considered a strength for Dalton. Driskel is erratic with his placement and footwork, leading to the occasional errant throws that end up looking like this:

The... lets call it enticing aspect with this is the flip side of the coin. Like with Jackson, for every regrettable toss, there is something that seems to counter it:

Throwing the situation of the game out of the window, those are big-time throws. More importantly, these are throws that Dalton has shown to be hesitant to make. Sometimes when the pocket breaks slightly, his feet get frazzled and his head drops. With Driskel, he’ll keep his head up and give his receiver that extra half-second to break open in the soft spot of the zone. If he makes the throw, it’s a big play. If he misses, at least it wasn’t because he was too timid to pull the trigger.

If the structure is slightly altered, the play is not lost.

These plays sprinkled in a game filled with head-scratching misses encapsulates what the Bengals will likely get out of Driskel for the remainder of the season, and ultimately describes what high variance at the quarterback position looks like.

Of course we also have to take into account whom Driskel the Bengals will be playing against in the coming weeks. Aside from the Raiders, who possess the league’s worst defense, the Bengals are facing four top defenses in accordance to the Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt they’ve allowed this season. Three of them are in the top 10, and those three games are on the road. The schedules looks like this:

For reference, the Bengals offense currently poises a 5.69 ANY/A, which is 18th in the league.

So... how about that Raiders matchup though?

We wouldn’t be doing Driskel a justice if we didn’t also cover his ability as a runner. Driskel’s athleticism is not “sneaky” despite his pigment, the man can scoot. This season, he’s accumulated 49 yards on just six carries and two touchdowns as well.

Driskel’s capability to create yards on his own and keep defenders honest when dropping back into coverage is without a doubt an advantage for the Bengals offense. However, considering Driskel is only starting because the team has already suffered a major injury to the quarterback position and the team has a whole platoon of players on injured reserve right now, it would not shock anyone if offensive coordinator Bill Lazor dials down the number of designed running plays for Driskel. God forbid the team puts Tom Savage in the game.

The Bengals aren’t going to find a franchise quarterback in Driskel, they may not even find a starting-caliber quarterback. But that’s not the expectation. The expectation is to witness a quarterback excel and struggle in varying areas that we’re used to seeing, and that at the very least is worth watching.