When Bengal players showed up to this year’s training camp, I am confident they could have never imagined starting the regular season 1-3, having a quarterback trying to gut out every game with an injury, and coaches scrambling to figure out their next step, but here we are.
Last week’s 27-3 loss to the Titans exposed many areas of concern for a team with high hopes for another playoff run. It is still a long season, so there is still time for coaches and players to figure things out, but the hourglass is closing by the minute.
The Bengals travel to Arizona to take on the 1-3 Cardinals. Both teams have had their share of disappointment this season and will be looking to turn things around to try and get to the 2-3 mark.
Will Joe Burrow be healthy enough to run the offense?
Since training camp, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow has been fighting with a strained calf muscle, which has severely hampered his mobility and accuracy. Playing in the last four games has been a struggle for Burrow, who has mainly been one-dimensional in the pocket.
The Bengal’s coaching staff has limited the playbook the last few games, so teams have been able to key in on that, sending extra defensive players on third downs. Knowing what’s at stake, the coaching staff and Burrow must figure out how to convert more third downs, allowing them to play with a lead. Burrow said this is a “Must-Win” game and was laser-focused on just this week.
Does the Bengals’ head coach, Zac Taylor, have a better game plan for the Cardinals? Cutting out the play-action while mainly playing out of the shotgun makes it extremely challenging for the offense to move the ball. Both coach and quarterback must be on the same page while possibly taking a few deep shots down the field.
The Bengal’s offense line vs the Cardinal’s defensive line
If you can imagine how difficult it has been for Burrow to move the ball, think how difficult it is for his offensive line to block for a nonmobile quarterback. On paper, this should be the best offensive line Burrow has had. It is hard for the O-line to protect when the defense knows where your quarterback will be at the end of every play. With that being said, if the Bengals want to win this game, they will need the offensive line to have a better performance.
Unlike the previous weeks, the Cardinals’ defensive line has solid players but no big names. The Stripes must account for Arizona’s Dennis Gardeck and Zaven Collins, who can make game-changing plays—keeping them out of the backfield, especially Gardeck, will be a must.
Taking advantage of a weak Cardinal secondary
The Cardinal’s secondary has not played all that well through the last four games this season. The Bengals will need to capitalize on their strong corp receiving group.
This should be the game where you see Bengal’s top receiver, Ja” Marr Chase, do what he does best and make big plays. I am confident that Gannon and defensive coordinator Nick Rallis will want to have their corners, Marco Wilson and Kei’Trel Clark, press the receivers off the line, but Chase has the strength and speed to get off the line for more deep shots downfield.
Tee Higgins was injured in last week’s game against the Titans but did participate in practice. I think this will be a game-time decision. If Higgins is unable to go, the Bengals have options. They can always move Tyler Boyd to the outside and bring in Trenton Irwin to play inside. Or having the rookie receiver Andrei Iosivas come in, giving Burrow a 6’3 target to throw to.
More Joe Mixon, please
With Burrow injured, it is odd that the Bengals have yet to establish more of a running game. Running back Joe Mixon has been relatively efficient when carrying the ball this season. Gaining 4.2 yards per carry, Mixon should be considered more in the game plan this week.
Mixon has gotten the tough yards when called on and has rushed for a minimum of 56 yards while scoring the only touchdown last week against Tennessee. According to Summer Sports, Mixon also has the 12th-best explosive rate for running backs. Arizona has had trouble stopping the run, so now may be the time to commit to it.
The Cardinals’ backup quarterback has shown he can put up numbers.
Arizona’s starting quarterback, Kyler Murray, has been on I.R. since the start of the season, forcing the Cardinals to go out and find a quarterback to fill the void in his absence. In comes Joshua Dobbs, who has played tough in his last four games. He is hard to sack, great at not turning over the ball, and a threat with his legs once he gets out of the pocket.
Dobbs can sling the ball around and has completed 71% of his passes for 814 yards with no interceptions. A Bengals pass rush is necessary if they intend to shut down Dobbs. Cincinnati has struggled against running quarterbacks, so this will again be a challenge for the Bengal’s defense.
Cincinnati’s homegrown players go head-to-head.
Arizona’s first-round pick in this year’s draft was tackle Paris Johnson, who graduated from Princeton High School. Johnson has proven he was worth the pick by having solid performances in his first four games.
Johnson will be up against Sam Hubbard, who played his high school days at Moeller High School, a huge rival of Princeton’s back in the day. Ironically, both players played their college ball at The Ohio State. Johnson and Hubbard know what is at stake for each of their teams, so I expect a battle in the trenches. This match-up will undoubtedly be worth the watch.
Containing Arizona’s passing game is high up on the list for Bengal’s defense.
Much like Burrow, Dobbs spreads the ball around to different receivers. In last week’s game against the 49ers, he hit receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown for seven receptions for 96 yards. He also connected with his tight end, Zach Ertz, for six receptions for 53 yards. His favorite target, however, is the surprising rookie out of Standford, Michael Wilson.
Wilson had quite the game last week with seven receptions for 76 yards and scored two touchdowns. The Bengals will need to keep this group from making any explosive plays.
The Bengal’s secondary has some concerns. Corner Cam Taylor-Britt left last week’s game with a concussion but returned to practice this week. Veteran corner Chidobe Awuzie did show up on the last injury report; hopefully, both players can be out on the field at game time. If not, rookie D.J. Tuner will fill in. Tuner has been a bright spot for the Stripes and has shown he can counted on to make plays.
Can the Bengals stop James Connor?
Last year, Bengal’s defense prided itself on stopping the run. This year’s team has struggled while giving up big yards to the Brown’s running back Nick Chubb and, recently, to Titans running back Derrick Henry.
The Bengal’s defensive line must contain Arizona’s James Connor if they want to win. Connor has been the strength of the Cardinal’s offense. D.J. Reader will keep the middle of the trenches together for the Stripes. Teams know how effective Reader is, so they often double-team him. Players like defensive tackle Zach Carter and B.J. Hill will need to put more effort into getting to Connor before he breaks the line of scrimmage.
Tackling, tackling, and more tackling will be vital in stopping the run. Last week, the Bengals struggled with wrapping up and bringing players to the ground. I am positive defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo prioritized tackling in his meetings with players.
Linebackers Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt will need to come up big
In last week’s game against the Titans, Bengals veteran linebackers Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt were almost nonexistent. Both will need to make their presence felt by stopping Conner and containing Dobbs from making any big runs out of the pocket.
Optimistically, this could be the game where Wilson picks up another interception, or Pratt strips the ball, helping the Bengals win the turnover battle. It should be a close game, so these two veterans should set the tone for the rest of the defense.
Not everything is Doom and Gloom.
The Bengal’s punter rookie Brad Robbins did have a better week punting, even kicking a 62-yarder against Tennessee. I still need to see more consistency from him as he gains NFL experience. With this game being played in a dome, kicker Evan McPherson should be a weapon every time the Bengals cross the 50-yard line.
The keys to the Bengals winning this game are simple. The offense will need to control the time of possession by converting third downs. Stop the mental mistakes that led to costly penalties. The defense must stop the run and tackle better while applying pressure to the quarterback. I would like to see a Bengals touchdown in the first half, allowing them to get off to a fast start while playing with a lead. Good teams find ways to win, so let’s see if the Bengals fall under that category.
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