Bengals: The young linebackers are the X-factors against the Ravens

Jessie Bates III #30 of the Cincinnati Bengals, Jordan Evans #50, and Akeem Davis-Gaither #59 (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
Jessie Bates III #30 of the Cincinnati Bengals, Jordan Evans #50, and Akeem Davis-Gaither #59 (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images) /

The Cincinnati Bengals’ young linebackers have their work cut out for them in week five as they gear up to face Lamar Jackson and the Ravens.

After years of abysmal play at the linebacker position, the Cincinnati Bengals were able to successfully reconstruct the room this offseason, packing it will young, talented players that provide hope for the future.

So far, it’s been Germaine Pratt and free-agent acquisition Josh Bynes leading the way. However, if the defense is to find success against the Ravens on Sunday, they’ll need some of the young linebackers to step up in a big way as well.

Luckily, there are plenty of options available. Logan Wilson returns after missing last week with a concussion. Prior to going down with the injury, the third-rounder enjoyed the best performance of his career, racking up five solo tackles, a deflected pass, and an interception. That was enough for an outstanding Pro Football Focus grade of 83.9 on the week.

You can’t forget about fourth-rounder Akeem Davis-Gaither either. He’s had a few rough reps in coverage, but overall, he’s shown some flashes. His athleticism will be especially key in this weekend’s AFC North clash.

The young LBs will be tasked with preventing another Lamar Jackson highlight

Some of the most notable plays that came from Lamar Jackson’s MVP campaign came against the Bengals’ defense a year ago. Since then, it seems the clip of him leaving some of Cincinnati’s most prominent defenders in the dust has been continually circulating.

It’s something Davis-Gaither noted in a press conference,

"“I’ve seen it [Jackson’s highlights] quite a bit. Tired of seeing it…We just have to try to take away something. You’re not gonna be able to take away his speed, so having great angles, trying to give him a one-way route and try to get him on the ground.”"

As Davis-Gaither mentions, the entire defense will have to be sound with the angles they take on Jackson if they are to prevent him from reaching the open field. If they are unable to do so, the former Heisman winner could produce another highlight reel against Lou Anarumo’s defense.

Preventing him from scrambling will be especially key this week as Cincinnati’s secondary continues to deal with injuries. Of course, Trae Waynes has yet to see the field this year, putting a kink in Zac Taylor’s original vision of the unit. His fellow free-agent Mackensie Alexander also isn’t expected to suit up, complicating matters further.

If Davis-Gaither and Wilson can’t bring Jackson to the ground quickly when plays break down, the absence of Waynes and Alexander could become even more noticeable than it’s slated to be.

Make no mistake about it, for the young linebackers, this will be their toughest task to date, and perhaps the most difficult assignment of the year. If they’re able to rise to the occasion, it will be one big step towards keeping this rivalry competitive.

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