It was a tough ask for Ryan Finley to keep up with the most exciting offense in the NFL in his first career start, but that’s what the Bengals needed from the 24-year old rookie quarterback. While Lamar Jackson was solidifying his MVP case, Finley gave the Bengals a few promising plays in a performance that mainly mirrored what the offense got from Andy Dalton all season long.
The numbers weren’t great. Finley finished with 167 yards on 16/30 attempts with a touchdown, interception and lost fumble. The Ravens scored on both of those turnovers. Looking at them on a per-play basis, Finley generated an Expected Points Added per Play of -0.6 and an Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt of 3.91.
A look at Bengals rookie QB Ryan Finley's passing chart after his first career start (via NFL Next Gen). pic.twitter.com/h822sfd7cc— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) November 10, 2019
The individual moments that stand out paint a picture filled with contrasts. Finley’s 16-yard scramble at the end of the first quarter got the offense in range to get their first points of the game. His movement ability in general was a bright spot. Like a young Russell Wilson, Finley was able to buy time on multiple occasions with a backwards spin and keep plays alive with his legs and keeping his eyes down the field.
In the pocket, Finley’s subtle ability to adjust off of his first hitch and create a more optimal throwing lane showed up in his longest completion of the day. And the touch on his touchdown toss to Tyler Eifert validates that strength of his coming out of college.
A look at the 24-yard, third-down throw from Ryan Finley on the Bengals' last drive. His longest completion of the day so far. (via NFL Next Gen) pic.twitter.com/0pT9jVuN4T— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) November 10, 2019
But that’s about where the praise stops. That touchdown wasn’t the first of the game involving Finley. When targeting Alex Erickson on a five-yard out from the far hash, Finley’s pass ended up in the hands of Marcus Peters, who proceeded to run 89 yards for a pick-six. Not only did the ball take an eternity to get to Erickson, Finley stared down the throw the whole way, two things that has always plagued Finley long before he got to Cincinnati.
As the game wore on, Finley’s pocket presence started to fade. He took his first sack of the game in the third quarter and fumbled on the way to the ground, allowing Tyus Bowser to scoop it up and run it back 33 yards for the Ravens’ sixth touchdown of the game. On the first play of the ensuing drive, Finley lobbed a pass down the left sideline that fell through the hands of Brandon Carr and should’ve been intercepted.
Even with Joe Mixon’s best game of the season, it wasn’t enough to help out Finley. It’s almost as if the running game has nothing to do with the passing game. *stares at the camera*
Being double-digit underdogs, nobody expected Finley to lead the Bengals to victory. But if he wants to keep the job as the Bengals’ starting quarterback beyond 2019, he’ll need to put better performances on his résume before the end of the season.
And after that LSU-Alabama game from Saturday, it may not even matter.