The day after the Bengals’ 49-13 loss to the Ravens, head coach Zac Taylor issued an all-points bulletin for his linebackers in the wake of Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson’s perfect passer rating and an option run game that for 5.9 yards per carry.
“One area where we need to step up is at linebacker. Someone needs to step up and be a leader there,” said Taylor at his Monday presser. “We’ve been waiting on that and shuffling the lineup around waiting on someone to step up and be consistent and be a leader in that room. We’re still waiting on that.
“That’s the challenge for those guys in that room right now. From the consistency, you can become a leader. It’s not one or the other. You can’t say things and then not do them. You need to be able to do them, and then guys will respect that and follow you. We just need some consistency from those guys at that position.”
The Bengals clearly made a statement that they’re going for youth at that spot Sunday. Veteran Preston Brown played a season-low 36 percent of the snaps while rookie Germaine Pratt played a career-high 49 percent. Plus, Jordan Evans played a season-high 11 snaps. Pratt had a typical rookie day. Good and bad. He was too far outside on Jackson’s dizzying 47-yard touchdown run and Nick Vigil, the team’s leading tackler and linebacker who played the most Sunday with 94 percent of the snaps, didn’t get in the right fit and missed the tackle, as did safety Jessie Bates III.
“There were a couple people with some negatives on that play,” Taylor said. “That play, in our eyes, should have been shut down immediately if we would have fit it correctly, and we didn’t. We had a lot of people miss tackles, but the play never should have happened. It should have been done very quickly, and it wasn’t. We just need to come out of the half and do our job. It should have been a one-to-three-yard gain, but instead it was a touchdown.”
WILSON BACK ON TOP: After missing for two weeks because he didn’t have enough returns to qualify, Bengals safety Brandon Wilson is back on top of the NFL kick return leaders with what would be the second best average in NFL history with 36 yards per return. This season, he’s the only guy in the 30s with four returns of at least 47 yards.
That 47-yarder came Sunday against the Ravens team he burned last month for a 92-yard touchdown. Wilson got about an extra 10 yards when he alertly rolled off linebacker Jaylon Ferguson’s leg after everyone but him thought he was down. Even Hall-of-Fame kicker Justin Tucker had to get involved when Wilson shot to his feet.
Wilson figured Tucker was trying to bomb it out of the end zone, but the 10 mile-per-hour wind may have allowed him to get three returns. He says the Bengals changed up the scheme on that last big return, where blocks from rookie running back Trayveon Williams and veteran tight end C.J. Uzomah got him going. Tight end Cethan Carter executed a pancake block, too.
The Bengals were down, 49-10, but their special teams have a good thing going this season and they showed why after Wilson’s return. They ran to greet him, the telltale sign they’re truly playing for each other.
People are starting to notice Wilson. Like Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, himself a special teams guru. During Sunday’s pre-game warmups, Harbaugh came over to say hello.
“I knew who he was,” Wilson said. “It was nice of him.”
If you knew that Wilson trailed only the 1967 average of Green Bay returner Travis Williams for the best in a season (41.1), go to the head of the class.
SCOUTING DALTON:Andy Dalton isn’t happy, but he’s manning up. He joined the captains for Sunday’s coin toss after a week the nine-year starter gladly was one of the scout team quarterbacks trying to simulate Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. They tried to get ready for Jackson’s speed with stand-ins being the practice squad wide receivers and for his savvy with Dalton.
It will be recalled that Dalton ran the zone read well enough to rush for 1,611 career yards on 413 carries (3.9 per, 5.1 his senior year) and 22 touchdowns at Texas Christian.
“He’s been fabulous,” said defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo last week. “He gives us a good, smart look. He’s done whatever we’ve asked him to do.”
Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan is finding out the same thing. Dalton disagrees with his benching, but he’s in agreement that rookie Ryan Finley needs his help.
“He’s been a pro. He’s been great. It’s a difficult personal situation for him,” Callahan said. “It’s not how he saw this going. But neither did we. But it’s kind of where we’re at and he’s embraced the role and he’s done everything we’ve asked. He’s a true professional in that regard and we all appreciate that from him. I know Ryan appreciates that from him. He’s a big resource for him. I have nothing but positive things to say about how he handles his role that now has changed pretty drastically for him. I kind of tip my hat to him. It’s been kind of impressive.”
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Rookie tight end Drew Sample was in a boot Monday and Taylor won’t know if he’ll have him the rest of the way until he gets more examinations over the next couple of days …
After getting burned last week by about five minutes, Taylor is taking no chances on A.J. Green’s status for this week. He said basically we’ll all find out together Wednesday …
The Bengals need some receivers. They’ve been going with four, but Alex Erickson got dinged up Sunday and rookie Stanley Morgan had to play a career-high 51 percent of the snaps, although they think Erickson can play in Oakland next Sunday. They’re high on Morgan, but he simply isn’t ready to play that many snaps.
“He had a small package of plays that we had for him, but guys go down and he's got to step up and play,” Callahan said. “And certainly he has to play better than he did. He dropped a ball and didn't run the right route on one of them. Not a great showing for Stanely there at the end of the game. He needs to be better than he was.”