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What are some of Ryan Finley’s biggest strengths for Bengals’ offense?

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Cincinnati made the decision to let their rookie quarterback start after the bye over Andy Dalton. What is he bringing to the table for the next eight games?

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One could say that the arrival of a new head coach for the Bengals was when the scribbling on the wall began for veteran quarterback, Andy Dalton. Regardless, Zac Taylor is looking to provide a spark for his team and made the decision to bench the longtime starter after an 0-8 start in 2019.

Opinions on the decision seem to be mixed among players, pundits and fans, but the fact remains that rookie fourth-round pick, Ryan Finley, is now the guy under center. We’ll see if he can provide that coveted spark that has seemed to be missing so far this year.

On this week’s episode of The Orange and Black Insider, John Sheeran and I played a little game called “Who has the edge?”, as it came to the Bengals’ quarterbacks. In five different categories, he and I looked at Dalton and Finley as to who has the advantage in certain traits.

It was relatively even, with some of the positives leaning towards Dalton’s experience and the negatives pointing to his recent regressions as a passer. Nevertheless, the preseason tape and pre-draft scouting processes of Finley gave us a baseline as to what he’s bringing to the table, as he ostensibly gets set to start the remaining eight games.

There are some major questions to Finley’s ability to be an NFL starter, namely in his questionable arm strength and sometimes-shyness in pushing the ball down the field for a big play. These and other intangibles learned via overall NFL experience are definitely factors that favor Dalton in a quarterback comparison.

Nevertheless, here are some of the areas that point to promise with Finley under center for what looks to be the rest of 2019.

Anticipation

If you watch Finley’s preseason performances, he knew where a lot of his passes were supposed to go. Because he doesn’t have a cannon, he relies more on touch, knowledge of the route tree in a given play and often throwing the ball before his receiver turns to look at it.

There were times where Finley ad-libbed upon escaping pressure, but a lot of his success was in “throwing guys open”. There is risk associated with this trait, namely in predictable throws or miscommunication with a younger receiving corps that hasn’t had many reps with the new quarterback, but this usually results in high-percentage plays to move the chains.

Accuracy

One of the facets to Finley’s game in which a lot of teams were drawn is his ability to complete passes at a high rate. In his final two years at NC State, Finley had a completion rate of over 65 percent (65.1 percent in 2017, 67.4 percent in 2018), while also completing 73.4 percent of his 64 preseason passes.

A lot of this speaks to Finley’s awareness as a passer and his aforementioned ability to “throw guys open”. We don’t expect to see many truly poor/missed throws from Finley—in fact, any interceptions he concedes will likely be a cause of a defender jumping predictable routes and play-calls.

Pocket presence

Unfortunately for Dalton, the Bengals’ offensive line began its continuous erosion back in the 2017 offseason with the losses of Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler, the former starter’s poise as a quarterback suffered. We’re not entirely sure that Finley has a massive upper-hand in this regard, but really, it couldn’t be much worse than what we’ve seen from Dalton in recent weeks.

In the preseason and playing behind a line that was as bad or worse than the one that the Bengals have employed through the first eight games, we saw some promising plays from Finley showing headiness in the pocket. On many occasions, Finley avoided the rush and/or navigated the pocket to make solid throws.

Of course, the flip side of this argument is that Finley was also going up against non-starters on defense in the preseason. Teams also use vanilla coverages, so Finley’s promising preseason tape may have an element of “Fool’s Gold”. Still, he didn’t seem to be rattled by poor protection.

System fit

This is pretty cut-and-dry, as Finley was the only drafted quarterback the Bengals brought in for a pre-draft visit. This clearly points to his being a guy Taylor envisioned being a solid fit in the system.

Finley should be able to work well off of the play-action (if the Bengals can somehow learn to run the ball effectively this year), while being able to throw those intermediate and yards-after-the-catch routes well. Finley has some perceived shortcomings as an NFL signal-caller, hence his being a day three pick, but this system could play more to his strengths and move his ceiling upward.

Also on this week’s episode:

  • Was the timing and way the Bengals handled Dalton’s benching appropriate?
  • Dalton now seems pretty ticked off at the decision (it’s only natural for him). Unfortunately, it’s another tough situation and/or distraction Taylor has had to deal with in his first season as head coach.
  • Are there any scenarios in which Dalton is the starting quarterback for this team again?
  • What happens if Finley wins a significant number of games for the second half of the season?
  • Did the Bengals employ the correct strategy at the trade deadline?
  • What does the future hold for Cordy Glenn, A.J. Green and others with the Bengals since they were not dealt?

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