Another primetime test is approaching but this time it's against a first place team. Right now, the Cardinals are one of the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl according to oddsmakers. The Bengals have the opportunity to erase their Monday performance from the minds of the NFL audience with a strong win on another big stage. How can they accomplish this feat?
Establish the run
In the two losses the Cardinals suffered this season, opposing running backs had big days in the game. St. Louis running back, Todd Gurley rushed 19 times for 146 yards in the Rams' win and Le'Veon Bell had 88 yards on 24 carriers in the Steelers' Landry Jones-led win over the Cardinals. As the Steelers were without starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the run game was very important for them.
By running the football the Bengals can also control the pace of the game and not allow the Arizona offense to get into a rhythm. If they also wear out a solid Cardinals defense, it could open things up later in the game.
The Cardinals' receivers are big bodied and physical players. The corners for the Bengals are going to have to bump at the line of scrimmage and hold their own down the field. On Monday we saw a strong showing from many of the Bengals corners. Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick played outstanding football while Darqueze Dennard filled in well when his number was called.
There are currently injury questions around the Cardinals receiving options. If some of the starters are limited or not playing, the Bengals could take advantage. Last week the corners had a really good game. However, they will be facing an entirely different beast this week with the receivers in Arizona. Knocking Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd off their routes would allow the Cincinnati pass rush to pressure Palmer. This leads me to my next key...
Last week against the Seahawks, Carson Palmer was sacked multiple times and fumbled on two of those sacks. Palmer was also hit 13 times in the game. This kind of disruption can be devastating to a quarterback, especially Palmer. This will cause him to force throws as no one is really worried about his scrambling ability. Arizona's line also looks beat up as both guards and their center have not fully practiced this week. If there is a less than healthy line and a healthy defensive rotation of Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson constantly bringing pressure, the Arizona offense could struggle mightily.
Involve A.J. Green
Not only is it generally a good practice to involve one of your best weapons in the offense often, but this plan could be two fold. One, if Green is able to find positive plays against the Cardinals' cornerback Patrick Peterson, he will command more attention than he already gets. This should be the Bengals' key in every game as this extra attention creates huge mismatches in other areas of the game. Tyler Eifert needs to forget about his Monday night dropsies and Marvin Jones needs to stretch the field. If these things happen, it could spell disaster for a Cardinals team currently riding high.
It has not received much mention, but Kevin Huber was a pretty big contributing factor to the Bengals' loss on Monday. At no point did the Bengals outstanding punter switch the field for the team. He had a poor outing and left the Bengals in many undesirable field position battles. The Cardinals really do boast a strong offense and leaving them in short fields put far too much pressure on this defense.
Let us know your thoughts on this week's five keys to the Bengals beating the Cardinals. As always we will revisit next week when we are celebrating the victory.