Ryan Finley is back to taking first-team reps for the Cincinnati Bengals’ offense this week in practice while Brandon Allen recovers from what he referred to as a bone bruise in his right knee.
Bengals coach Zac Taylor indicated Thursday that Allen remains “day-to-day” but is moving around better and still could be an option Monday against the Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2). Cincinnati (2-10-1) hosts Pittsburgh on Monday Night Football, and Finley would be the team’s third quarterback to start a game this season if Allen can’t go.
The Bengals still had Joe Burrow healthy the last meeting against the Steelers, but Allen has been starting in his absence since Week 12 and was starting to get in a rhythm before his knee forced him to miss the final two drives Sunday against Dallas. Finley replaced him and took sacks on two of his first three snaps before throwing a fourth-down incompletion, and the Bengals handed the ball off three times to end the game the next drive.
“It’s a difficult situation for him, coming (in) down two scores,” Taylor said. “It’s happened to him really the last two times he’s played. That’s a tough situation to be in, especially when you’re going up against some good pass rushers, which Dallas had, and Miami had. So again, just continue to learn from those experiences. He will always have to go in with the mentality that you’re gonna play every snap. You never know what can happen to the starting quarterback. So, Ryan will go in with that. If Ryan were to have to play, he’ll be ready with the entire game plan. He’ll put himself in position to succeed.”
Finley came off the bench to replace Burrow in the third quarter of a loss at Washington in Week 11 but the offense gained just 17 yards on 18 plays to finish the game and Allen was given the starting job moving forward while Burrow went on injured reserve. Finley also finished the game at Miami two weeks ago when Allen had the wind knocked out of him on his fifth sack of the day, and the performance was much like the others.
The 2019 fourth-round draft pick made three appearances as a rookie, all starts, and has completed 51 of 106 passes (48.1 percent) for 549 yards and two touchdowns with four interceptions in seven appearances overall. Neither Finley nor Allen were made available on Zoom news conferences this week.
“It just seems like he’s ready to go, like this is his year to prove himself, so I believe he’s going to do well,” wide receiver Tyler Boyd on Friday when asked about how Finley looks in practice.
Allen sat out of practice Thursday and didn’t have a helmet with him Friday during the portion of practice open to media, according to ESPN.com’s Ben Baby. The Bengals have one more practice Saturday before the game status report is determined.
Finley has been running the scout-team offense as the backup all season, so these are his first consistent first-team reps this season.
“Ryan’s obviously been around, he knows the offense and he feels comfortable in it, so he didn’t really miss a beat,” tight end Drew Sample said. “He came out and like I said, we’ve had a really good week of practice, and so we’re just excited to continue to get better and dial into the game plan for this week and go out there and show what we can do.”
Wide receiver Tee Higgins said it seemed like Allen was getting more comfortable with the receivers the last two weeks but noted how difficult it is adjusting to so many new quarterbacks as a rookie.
Finley faced the Steelers once last year and learned how difficult their pass rush can be. It’s even better in 2020, and the Bengals offensive line has struggled to keep its quarterbacks up right all year. Taylor said Fred Johnson will get another shot at left tackle this week after replacing rookie Hakeem Adeniji on the third series Sunday in place of injured Jonah Williams, but Finley especially is at a disadvantage with how long he tends to hold onto the ball.
In his lone previous outing against Pittsburgh last year in a 16-10 loss, Finley completed 12 of 26 passes for 192 yards and one touchdown and was sacked four times. The game was closer than expected in part because Pittsburgh was without Roethlisberger, running back James Conner and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.
When asked if practice squad quarterback Kevin Hogan would be considered this week, Taylor said the focus is on preparing Finley until Allen is back. Allen leaped Finley from that position to become the starter, essentially coming out of a quarantine-like role as the emergency COVID quarterback.
“We kind of invest in one guy right now,” Taylor said. “Kevin will still get some reps in some other ways. He is at practice. So, quarantine, I understand that part of things. But he does all the Zoom meetings and he does come to practice and participate, so in that way he’s still part of the team.”
Steelers at Bengals, 8:15 p.m., ESPN, NFL, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7