This year, for the third consecutive year in a row, the Bengals double dipped from the same college in the NFL Draft. In 2017, Joe Mixon and Jordan Evans were both plucked from Oklahoma. Billy Price and Sam Hubbard then traded Ohio State colors for orange and black a year later in 2018.
In 2019, it was North Carolina State’s turn to see a duo leave for Cincinnati. Two of their senior team captains, Ryan Finley and Germaine Pratt, became Bengals after spending the previous three years as co-members of the Wolfpack.
It took Pratt until his fifth year to start for NC State’s defense, while Finley was slated to start the moment he transferred to Raleigh as a 21-year old redshirt junior in 2016. Last season, they started 11 games together before playing in the Senior Bowl together and eventually getting the call from the same number with the 513 area code in the last weekend of April.
Over six months later, they returned to the field together as starters for the first time in the NFL. It wasn’t the first time we saw Pratt play this season, but that was the case for Finley. And that’s where we’ll begin.
What to take away from Ryan Finley’s first career start
“It was his first time out there”.
“The offensive line still isn’t great. The defense is still atrocious.”
“He didn’t have A.J. Green.”
“That Ravens’ defense is finally coming together.”
Did I cover everything? Good.
He still wasn’t very good. Or just good, for that matter.
Not accounting for Monday Night Football, Finley finished with the third-worst QBR (16.8), Expected Points Added per Play (0.00) and the worst PFF grade (42.6) of any starting quarterback for Week 10. This wasn’t an okay performance made to look worse by factors out of his control; this was an abysmal display in relation to what’s going on around the league.
And that’s the important thing to consider. You cannot just look at Finley’s game, have a misplaced sense of sympathy because he’s the quarterback of the team you cheer for, and ignore what the Bengals have to compete with every week. The fact of the matter is that he played bad, and if he wants to convince the Bengals that he’s the guy for this job next year, he needs to play much better.
Because for every play that can be considered a positive play:
There was another negative play that negated it and then some:
This is the reality for quarterback play. Finley dropped back to pass 35 times and ran three times, but half of those plays are either routine for every quarterback in the NFL, or misses that you can live with. The situations where he looked good weren’t any different than those in college where he attracted the Bengals’ brass, and his areas of weakness didn’t magically change, either.
Just keep all the routes within Ryan Finley's safe zone and you'll be alright, Zac Taylor. pic.twitter.com/Rus8CT7tmd— JG (@JoeGoodberry) November 11, 2019
Now, let’s not pretend that the expectations for Finley should’ve ever been high, or even just moderate. This was a fourth-round draft pick playing against a real NFL defense for the first time. Looking at the even bigger picture, rookie seasons for quarterbacks don’t really tell us anything. Added context can brighten and diminish the accepted conclusion.
But, the conclusion in this case is that Finley did not look like the answer to the Bengals’ issues. It’s only been one game, and the next seven remain crucial for him, but his case has only worsened after Sunday.
Germaine Pratt is it just as much as he isn’t
This was a game from Pratt that matched what we’ve seen from him all year. He looks so much more natural as a run defender than anyone else the Bengals have at linebacker, but he had more plays where he he dropped back in coverage or blitzed (13) then he did defending the run (10). Coverage is where the Bengals still need him, and he’s just not able to make an impact.
These two plays stood out to me the most. Interestingly enough, Pratt was charged for allowing the first play by Pro Football Focus, but I’m not sure he was responsible for Nick Boyle’s 35-yard reception. As the MIKE, he crushes down on the hook route, as one does playing the hook/curl zone. Nick Vigil also does this and passes off Boyle to the deep Middle of Field (MoF) defender, Jessie Bates III. Boyle breaks open and runs for a near touchdown.
Of all the players to feel Boyle breaking free in space before the ball was thrown, it couldn’t have been Pratt. If anything, Vigil has to carry that route at least a little before Bates can break on it. Pratt seemed like he was doing his job.
Now, the second play is a little different. Pratt matches with the seam route for the first 10 yards until he passes it off to Bates. The middle of the field is wide open and Pratt needs to rotate towards it quicker. He and Vigil need to sense where Boyle settles in his route and close that throwing window quicker. As a result, it’s a first down.
Does the blame on either of these plays fall entirely on Pratt’s shoulders? No. But at some point, you need to see something that separates him from the known liabilities at the position. Just one example that shows he’s capable of making game-changing plays would suffice at this point.
But, like I said, he looked comparably better in limited times he had a chance to make a play in the run game. There were some slightly ugly moments for him, but let’s just stick to the positives where we can.
The Bengals are going to need more plays like this now that they’ve waived Preston Brown. Pratt figures to take Brown’s spot for the rest of the season.
Oh yeah, these guys exist too
Renell Wren and the entire defensive line was active for this game, yet Wren still ended up playing more snaps on the edge (six) than he did inside (five). Nevertheless, Wren didn’t play very much as team’s seventh defensive lineman. It was interesting to see him on the field longer than Andrew Brown (three snaps).
With no A.J. Green, Alex Erickson got the start again at wide receiver, but left the game in the third quarter with an unknown injury. In his place, Stanley Morgan finished the game and ended up out-snapping Erickson (38 to 36) but managed to haul in only one of his four targets for a nine-yard gain and was responsible for at the very least one drop. Not his best showing in his most active game.
Drew Sample played eight snaps early in the game before he had an early exit thanks to a high-ankle sprain that may end his season. Though it was just eight snaps, Sample looked pretty good as a blocker in the run game.
#Bengals TE Drew Sample suffered a high-ankle sprain during the loss to the #Ravens, tests showed. He’ll have more done to determine how much time he’ll miss, but the second-rounder is considered a candidate for Injured Reserve.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) November 12, 2019
It’s a shame that his largely disappointing season is likely already over. The Bengals needed to justify taking Sample where they did in the draft, and they got just over 100 snaps and 37 routes out him this year. Not ideal.
Sample got some help from Michael Jordan, who was also blocking from the tight end position as an eligible player. Though he was on the field for just five snaps, Jordan managed to get penalized for illegal shift. Luckily for him it was declined.