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Week 11 Bengals vs Cardinals: Behind Enemy Lines

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This week we sat down with Jess Root, the managing editor at SB Nation's, Revenge of the Birds, to talk Arizona Cardinals and of course, Carson Palmer.

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After a disappointing loss on Monday night, the Bengals unfortunately won't be travelling to Arizona looking to stay undefeated, but they will be looking to get back on a winning streak and show the national audience that they are a legitimate Super Bowl contender. When they get to the stadium, they will see plenty of familiar faces. Jess Root tells us what to expect from the Cardinals and the Bengals' former signal caller.

Q: In 2005, Carson Palmer had an MVP caliber season for the Bengals (32 touchdowns, 12 interceptions) before tearing his ACL on the first offensive snap of the 2005 AFC Wild Card matchup. Their opponent that year, the Steelers, went on to win Super Bowl XL, and many in Cincinnati believe the Bengals would have won the Super Bowl that season had Palmer not been injured. After a good comeback season in 2006, Palmer's play dropped dramatically and most Bengals fans remember the quarterback from 2007-2010 who went 21-31 (.404) as a starter and threw 57 interceptions (76 touchdowns) and requested a trade. In the three seasons prior to joining Bruce Arians and the Cardinals, Palmer had compiled a 12-28 record (.300) and thrown just 61 touchdowns to 50 interceptions (1.25 interceptions/game). Since hooking up with Arians, Palmer has gone 23-8 (.742) and thrown 58 touchdowns and 32 interceptions (1.03/game), including a 13-2 record and 34 touchdowns to 10 interceptions over his last 15 starts. What has Arians done to revive Palmer's career and why do these two work so well together?

A: Well, for one, he is more mature and he is smarter. He is not making nearly as many "bad Carson" throws as he had the reputation of doing. We saw a lot of that in the first half of 2013, when he wasn't real comfortable with the offense. He loves the offensive scheme, he has a great relationship with his head coach and he has a lot of weapons. The locker room is great and full of players who are committed to winning. He told me the other day Arizona's group of receivers is "diva-less." He doesn't feel he has to feed any particular player during a game. He can trust his reads.

Q: Speaking of former Bengals in Arizona, Jermaine Gresham spent his first five seasons in Cincinnati and despite some decent seasons, he wore out his welcome with coaches, fans and media alike due to issues with maturity and his tendency for drops, fumbles and penalties (particularly pre-snap penalties). How has Gresham performed thus far on the field, and how has he been in the locker room?

A: He was actually the player they needed in the tight end room. Before signing him, the group had a combined 17 NFL games experience. Gresham has been a nice addition. He has been very much like the guy who he was in Cincy -- clearly talented, but making a few mistakes. I cannot recall very many penalties, but he has had some big drops and he has made some big catches. But he is blocking well and he is a leader in the room at his position    .

Q: Despite the Carolina Panthers sitting at 9-0, in my opinion, the Cardinals are the best team in the NFC. Do you see the Cardinals as the favorite to reach the Super Bowl in the NFC? And what do you see as their biggest obstacle for reaching the Super Bowl.

A: Yes and no. I don't believe there is a team that can really stop the Cardinals. They tend to stop themselves. That said, I don't think Arizona will be able to catch Carolina. I do feel confident that the Cardinals could and should be able to go into Carolina and beat them.

Cardinals are extremely balanced as a team. They are one of the league's best offenses -- perhaps the best. They have one of the best defensive units. If they play with the focus they have right now the rest of the way, the only thing that will keep them from the Super Bowl will be health. Nobody has kept them from moving the ball. This is the most excited I have ever been for a Cardinals  team ever.

Q: The Cardinals have put up 39+ points in four of their nine games and only the Patriots (33.7) are averaging more points per game than the Cardinals (33.6). In fact, the Steelers  are the only team that has held the Cardinals under 20 points. How were the Steelers able to slow this potent offense?

A: The Cardinals made stupid mistakes in the red zone. They had a touchdown called back. Palmer made an inexcusable throw. They had drops. Pittsburgh didn't stop them from moving the ball. They played well enough in the red zone and the Cardinals made a lot of dumb mistakes.

Q: If you were the Bengals coordinators, how would you attack this Cardinals team on offense and defense?

A: As a defensive coordinator, it is tough. They are so balanced and have threats everywhere. But I would go after Palmer. I would use inside pressure -- A gap blitzes -- to try and rattle him. He can get rattled and start to throw offline. I try to limit the amount of zone coverage on Larry Fitzgerald. He will kill zones, but really doesn't beat players one-on-one.

To attack the Cardinals defense, I use screen passes and stay committed to the run game. The Cardinals run defense is good, but is not good if a team can stay with it all game. Their biggest strength is when opposing teams stop running the ball. I go after Jerraud Powers because Patrick Peterson has basically erased everyone, but I would test Pat a few times.

Q: What is your prediction for Sunday night?

A:   First of all, I hope everyone is healthy. If that is the case, I really like Arizona right now. It is not meant as a slight on the Bengals, but the Cards are focused and nobody has really stopped their offense except themselves. I'll take Arizona 29-23 over the Bengals. Arizona gets an early lead, the Bengals rally and Arizona makes plays late to hold them off. But if the Cardinals are missing both John Brown and Michael Floyd, then I worry. As long as one of them is in the lineup, I like Arizona's chances.