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Examining the Bengals’ backup quarterback battle leading up to roster cuts

With AJ McCarron gone, the Bengals need to find a reliable backup but have Matt Barkley or Jeff Driskel proved they’re ready for the QB2 job?

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Buffalo Bills Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals’ offensive line has looked pretty good in pass protection this preseason, but with AJ McCarron now a member of the Buffalo Bills, the backup quarterback role is a major concern.

As of Monday, head coach Marvin Lewis said “In my mind, we are still evaluating,” in regards to who will win the No. 2 quarterback role behind Andy Dalton.

Many fans had proposed trading for Teddy Bridgewater, but the New York Jets traded him to the New Orleans Saints on Wednesday, killing that already slim possibility.

The Bengals drafted Toledo quarterback Logan Woodside in the seventh round, but are looking for more experience for the number two slot. Jeff Driskel did some good things in the 2017 preseason and continues to impress in 2018. In the first three games of the preseason he completed 63.2 percent of his passes; throwing one touchdown and one interception while averaging 8.8 yards per attempt.

The Bengals brought in Matt Barkley in free agency, looking for a signal caller with some starting experience. Barkley has completed 51.5 percent of his passes this preseason; throwing one touchdown and one interception while averaging 7.0 yards per attempt.

Here is a look at how each quarterback fared against the Buffalo Bills in the team’s third preseason game and what it means as the Bengals evaluate which quarterback will make the roster behind Dalton this year.

Matt Barkley

Barkley has a strong arm, but often rifles the ball when he should be using more touch. This is an example of how good he can be when he does use touch. Barkley throws a perfect wheel route to rookie running back Mark Walton who unfortunately does not make the play. Barkley puts just the right amount of touch on the ball, dropping it past the defender and right in stride with Walton. This is a touchdown ball that Joe Mixon or Giovani Bernard would haul in.

From the way the defense adjusts to the motion it is evident that they are in man coverage. Knowing this, Barkley is probably thinking pre-snap that wide receiver John Ross and tight end C.J. Uzomah will clear out the defenders and open up wide receiver Alex Erickson’s route. That is not bad reasoning, but it doesn’t happen here. Barkley seems to be locked on this pre-snap thought process. When the defender sits on Erickson’s route, Barkley tries to rifle it in rather than moving onto his next read.

Barkley throws a great ball here on the deep out to tight end Tyler Kroft. Very good timing, accuracy, and ball placement by Barkley. He hits Kroft right in stride, giving him the ability to turn up field quickly and gain additional yards.

Here, Barkley is way off target. This ball needs to be at chest level and outside of Ross. That placement will ensure that Ross and only Ross can make the catch. Instead, it comes in low and behind. Ross does himself no favors by not coming back to it (he does the team a favor as he would have taken a shot), but this ball is placed in a dangerous spot where a pick-six is likely.

Jeff Driskel

Driskel also has some issues with ball placement. Here he has tight end Mason Schreck wide open on the play-action-pass, but throws the ball right to him instead of leading him. As a result Schreck needs to attempt some acrobatics to get in the end zone and winds up fumbling the ball.

If Driskel put the ball in front of Schreck rather than behind him, he could have caught the ball in stride and turned up the sideline faster. In that case he would likely have beat Bills safety Dean Marlowe to the edge and would have had to do little more than throw a shoulder at Bills cornerback Breon Borders in order to get into the end zone. It was certainly a positive play for the Bengals, but with better ball placement it could have been a touchdown.

Two plays later, in a play call that was likely an attempt to let Schreck finish what he started and score a touchdown in his college stadium, Driskel throws a ball so bad that it defies description. Schreck runs an arrow route, while the two wide receivers release inside. The idea here is to bring all the defenders inside and sneak Schreck outside. Schreck is wide open with no one outside of him. If Driskel puts that ball anywhere between Shreck and the sideline it is an easy touchdown. Instead he throws it behind Schreck and into a mess of white jerseys.

Driskel is an athletic quarterback and he may actually be a better passer on the run. This bootleg is one of his best passes of the day. He throws a great ball in front of Erickson who is able to turn up field and gain additional yardage despite tight coverage.

Here Driskel boots to the left and again throws a good ball. This one is not in front of Schreck, but that is acceptable because his route was bringing him very close to the sideline.

Between the two, Driskel has done more to prove that he is a capable replacement if Andy Dalton should be lost for any length of time. Driskel has preformed better on-the-field and seems to make better decisions. He brings more athleticism to the table than Barkley does and is more accurate on the run than he is in the pocket. If Driskel is needed, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor would be wise to run a lot of bootlegs and sprint out passes, working to Driskel’s strength.

Entering the last preseason game, head coach Marvin Lewis says the competition is still undecided, but we’ll have an answer by Saturday as the 53-man roster is former.