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5 players and matchups to watch in Bengals vs. Cardinals

The Cardinals’ defense presents a prime opportunity to get Tyler Eifert going again.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Arizona Cardinals Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Combining for zero wins through the first quarter of the season, the Bengals and Cardinals share similar deficiencies on both sides of the ball.

Both of their offenses have a consistent plan in terms of personnel, but produce underwhelming results due to poor quarterback play and even worse offensive line play. On defense, their pass-rushers carry a unit that is lackluster in most other spots, despite individual talent in the secondary. The result: losing football.

When these two teams clash on Sunday afternoon, it may end up being an ugly back-and-forth with each team failing to get out of their own way. There’s few advantages for each team to exploit. For the Bengals, it’s going to come down to how much their unproven young talent can perform against players dealing with similar issues.

These are the players and matchups that can change this game.

Alex Erickson

No A.J. Green was bad enough; now there’s no A.J. Green and John Ross III. Say what you want about the inconsistencies of the latter, but the verticality of this receiving corps has been completely gutted due to injuries.

Of course, opportunity never ceases to be absent through a crisis, and opportunity has found its way to Erickson, who will start for the injured Ross. Erickson started for an injured Tyler Boyd for the final three games last season, but will likely be playing on the outside in this contest, keeping Boyd in the slot where he thrives.

Primary matchup: Byron Murphy - The Cardinals’ secondary has been trying to hold itself together with Patrick Peterson serving a six-game suspension. Peterson was never the guy to play on one side of the field, and neither has Murphy thus far. Erickson and Auden Tate will likely be moving around during this game, but expect Murphy and Erickson to be facing off against one another.

Tyler Eifert

With injuries currently impacting the wide receiver position, now is the time to take Eifert off of the leash. The seventh-year tight end has averaged just under 28 snaps per game, accounting for 41% of the offense’s snaps.

The good news is when he’s on the field, Zac Taylor and Brian Callahan have been creative using him. He’s been aligned in the slot and out wide for 55% of his snaps, creating mismatches for the opposition. Now they need to actually utilize him in those situations.

Primary matchup: Jordan Hicks - When talking with former NFL tight end Ed Smith on this week’s episode of The Orange and Black Insider, he mentioned how the Cardinals’ defense is making opposing tight ends look like Pro Bowlers. Sound familiar? Well, Hicks has personally given up 158 yards on 13 targets to tight ends this year, per Pro Football Focus. Hicks and his coverage grade of 58.2 is something Eifert can exploit.

Michael Jordan

Head coach Zac Taylor and offensive line coach Jim Turner are doubling down on their commitment to Jordan starting at left guard. Are there alternative options much more promising? Not when they’re Billy Price, John Jerry and Alex Redmond.

Still, Jordan has shown he’s not ready to play with any sense of consistency, and this Sunday is another chance for him to roll with the punches and hopefully learn on the run.

Primary matchup: Corey Peters - Jordan got rocked multiple times by Cameron Heyward last week, and Peters is the man he’ll be facing mostly on Sunday. Chandler Jones and Terrell Suggs have been wreaking havoc off of the edge, and Peters has been quietly winning on the interior. Obviously, the battles on the edge could be much more detrimentally to the Bengals’ offense, but this a matchup worth watching as well.

Sam Hubbard

Hubbard’s performance in Week 1 against the Seahawks seems like ages ago. His pass rushing productivity has notably dipped since there one-point defeat in Seattle and he’s yet to get home to the quarterback since then as well. With Carl Lawson likely returning for this game, Hubbard’s pass-rushing reps may be slightly cut, but his matchup should be in his favor.

Primary matchup: Justin Murray - Remember him? Murray was with the Bengals during the 2018 preseason and jumped from the Raiders to the Cardinals since then. Murray was signed as a backup option for Arizona at right tackle and found himself starting for Jordan Mills, who disappointed in that role. Now, Mills is dealing with a knee injury, so Murray is the lone option at the position. Hubbard has mainly rushed off the left edge for the defense, so he’ll be seeing Murray very often in this game.

Nick Vigil

It’s a rare occurrence nowadays when a Bengals linebacker makes an impact play. So when Vigil forced a fumble early in last week’s game, this author was nothing short of shocked.

Vigil played better against the Steelers than he did against the 49ers and Bills, but his performance against the Seahawks in Week 1 is his best tape from this year. His role in Seattle was being a spy on quarterback Russell Wilson for a healthy portion of the game, and it would be smart for defensive coordinator to give him that role again for this week, since the quarterback for the Cardinals is...

Primary matchup: Kyler Murray - The 2019 NFL Draft’s first-overall pick is coming to Cincinnati, and he has the potential to run all over the Bengals’ defense if he wants to. The best choice to contain him might just be Vigil, as well as Carlos Dunlap and Hubbard funneling him back towards the middle of the field.