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Week 11 Bengals vs Cardinals: 5 keys Bengals to watch in Arizona

In Week 11 the Bengals head west to face the best team they've played all year. We detail five players whose performances will be key to deciding whether the Bengals get back on track or succumb to a two-game losing streak.

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Many may not actually admit it, but Bengals fans are at DEFCON 4 right now. Contrary to popular belief, DEFCON 5 is the lowest state of readiness, making DEFCON 1 the time when the proverbial fecal matter hits the fan.

Our eyebrows are slightly raised right now. You could say that as fans, we are "above normal readiness." The Bengals' offense took an additional bye week against Houston last week. Since it was on Monday night, the primetime questions are back. While they aren't as panic-inducing as they have been in years past due to the Bengals' 8-1 record, the questions are floating around nonetheless. Luckily (or unluckily, depending on your view of things), the Bengals have the ultimate shot at redemption on Sunday. Not only are they in primetime once again, but they are playing one of the best teams in the NFL.

This Cardinals team is equal to the Bengals in completeness. The other top-tier teams in the NFL, Carolina and New England, rely on stellar quarterback play to cover other deficiencies on their rosters. The Cardinals do not follow that top-heavy design. While they do have a quarterback performing at a top-5 level currently, they have a group of talented receivers that bolster the fourth ranked passing offense in the NFL. They are far from one-dimensional as their rushing attack is ranked eighth. The other side of the ball is just as, if not more talented. While they give up a somewhat pedestrian 20.6 points per game, they only allow 316 yards per game, good for third in the league. When you break it down, they allow 93 yards rushing per game and 223 yards passing per game. It doesn't end there though, as the team leads the league in interceptions with 14. The only weakness seems to be the pass rush, which has generated only 15 sacks, good for 26th in the NFL.

1) Andy Dalton

Most of the time, the Red Rifle is ineligible for this list. Against a complete team like the Cardinals, the Bengals will go as Andy does. I'm going to sound like Marvin Lewis here, but the Bengals absolutely have to beat or at least equal the Cardinals in the turnover battle. That means #14 cannot turn the ball over. That task is easier said than done when facing arguably the best secondary in the NFL. Thankfully, the Cardinals' pass rush isn't too spectacular. Dalton will have to take the time afforded to him in the pocket and even extend plays when necessary. The Bengals' receiving corps will need all the help it can get breaking free from Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, and their stablemates. The more time Dalton is afforded, the harder their jobs become. One forced pass in this game could spell doom.

2) A.J. Green

Yep, I'm going with the big names this week. Green has been just as guilty as Dalton when it comes to guys who have not shown up when the lights are shining the brightest. The last time he touched the ball, he fumbled it, obliterating what looked like a legitimate comeback attempt. Green also has earned a reputation as a guy who can be shut down by premier defensive backs, and Patrick Peterson is as good as it gets. While I can envision realistic scenarios where the Bengals win without a good game from Green, a win becomes much more feasible when the guy who is supposed to be the Bengals' biggest offensive weapon has a good game.

3) Carlos Dunlap

Like the Bengals, the Cardinals have only allowed 14 sacks this season. While this week's matchup may be a tall task, Dunlap will have to bounce back from a relatively quiet outing and put pressure on Carson Palmer. As we have seen in days long past, Palmer is prone to throwing the ball to the opposing team when put under duress. Additionally, Dunlap's long arms may need to bat a couple balls to prevent passes from even reaching the secondary. Last, but certainly not least, the Cardinals employ a plethora of talented and quick running backs. While this falls on both defensive ends, the edge will need to be set and gap discipline will need to be maintained. Even though the early-season tackling woes have somewhat regressed to the mean, those woes could rear their heads if the Cardinals' running back committee is constantly in the second level on the outside of the hashes.

4) Reggie Nelson

More often than not, when the Bengals defense makes a game-changing play, it is due to Nelson. He has a knack for big plays that are unparalleled on this team. When he isn't making big-time plays, he is solid in coverage, in the run game, as well as being a skilled blitzer from the secondary. There very well could be a time on Sunday night when the defense is in need of a big play to bail them out of a bad situation, whether that situation is their own fault or do to a mistake in another phase of the game. If that time comes, I'll be looking to #20 to do the honor.

5) Kevin Huber

In a game that features teams as equally matched as the Bengals and Cardinals, field position will be of the utmost importance. With two robust defenses matching up with two very good offenses, the team that has to regularly go the least amount of distance will have the best odds at victory. This is just basic probability. While Huber wasn't particularly excellent last week, he is still one of the best in the game. If the Bengals are able to pin the Cardinals deep within their own territory a few times, that could go a long way toward deciding who emerges victorious on Sunday.