Jeff Driskel's first NFL start a mixed bag

CINCINNATI -- It’s hard to get a sense of how Jeff Driskel really played against the Denver Broncos last week considering the circumstances.

There were times when Driskel looked great, such as when he sensed the pass rush coming and got off a pass to Cody Core, who dodged a defender to run into the end zone for a touchdown. There were also times he looked downright awful, making a poor decision to throw off his back foot with a defender in his face, floating an interception right to another Broncos player.

But it’s not as if Driskel played under the best of conditions. He lost his best receiver in A.J. Green to injury in the second quarter. The Cincinnati Bengals were playing with their left guard at left tackle and their backup center at left guard. And they committed penalties left and right, constantly putting the offense into third-and-long situations. The offensive line had six penalties in the 24-10 defeat.

“They were painful for us, I thought,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. “They were hard to overcome.”

He added: “We didn’t put ourselves in good situations. You look at the list of third downs in that first half, it’s incredible -- 24 [yards], 25, 39, 24, whatever.”

It would be a tough situation for any quarterback, much less one making his first start. Now he has to regroup and go on the road against a solid Los Angeles Chargers defense this weekend.

“You have to put in the work early in the week,” Driskel said, when asked what he learned from the game. “Once you know what to expect, you have to flip from ‘What are we are doing schematically?’ to ‘I have to go execute now.’ That’s something I’ve done in the past in college, but everything is totally new at this level. I thought I had a good week of preparation last week, and I’m going to have the same routine this week. I’ll be ready to go this week, for sure.”

Green, now on IR with a toe injury, won’t be coming back to try to save the offense either.

“Losing A.J. is a big deal,” Driskel said.

The Bengals appeared to have somewhat of a tight leash on Driskel in the first half against the Broncos, and Lazor admitted the plan initially was to lean heavily on the run. Driskel threw a lot of short passes early, although as the Bengals fell behind, the team seemed to allow him to try some longer throws to mixed results.

Lazor said the fourth play of the game for the Bengals’ offense was a play-action call with receivers down the field, but Driskel had to check it down.

“That was an opportunity to take a shot down the field and we just didn't get it. I think it was a mix of who we were playing against up front,” Lazor said.

Green was the first read early in the second quarter on a play that turned into a second-and-15 situation thanks to a false start from right tackle Bobby Hart. Green was hurt on the play, and Driskel was sacked, turning it into third-and-25.

“One-on-one, they kept base defense on the field against three-wide so we felt like we had matchups, but that wasn't a quick [throw]," Lazor said. "That was down the field and we ended up getting sacked. I think it was just a mix.”

He added: “It was a mix of, for Jeff, just making sure early in the game he was getting the ball out of his hand with the exception of probably a couple of play actions and just knowing that we're playing great rushers. When you're playing those guys and you want to get a chunk play, whether it be a play-action or not, I mean, someone has to take the burden of blocking them. Most of the game it's your offensive tackles. Sometimes it's the tight ends. Sometimes it's the tight end and back helping chip. I'd say every pass you call you've got to keep in mind who's blocking these kids. You try to spread it around.”

Driskel has big steps to take in his next start, but so does the rest of the offense. Without Green, the younger receivers need to take a step forward with him. With double-digit players on IR and some of the best playmakers done for the season, a lot of young players are learning through trial and error.

“That what the NFL is. You've got Andy [Dalton], a guy that's really controlled the offense, somebody who directs the ball and directs the offense and makes those changes on the fly, compared to going to Jeff -- we're kind of learning by fire together,” rookie center Billy Price said.