Arizona has a similarly weak 1-3 record, but they’ve been scrappy and have not been an easy opponent, week in, week out.
To get a grasp on a team the Bengals rarely face, we tapped the knowledge of Seth Cox over at SB Nation’s Revenge of the Birds. Here’s our conversation with him:
1.) AC: It seemed like without Kyler Murray playing for an extended period of time this year, it would be a lost season for Arizona. Yet, Joshua Dobbs, a guy with two NFL starts prior to this season, is flashing with things like a 70-plus percent completion rate and zero interceptions thrown to date. What has made him one of the larger surprises this year and is it sustainable, in your estimation?
SC: With the way Drew Petzing and the offense works, yes. Dobbs is coming off the best start of his career in the loss to the 49ers: 28/41 265 yards 2 touchdowns and 102 quarterback rating. Yet, he had 10 “bad throws” according to Pro-Football Reference, the most of the season by a wide margin.
The thing is, those bad throws were not in danger of being picked, so they’re just lost plays, not even bad plays. So it has worked out for the Cardinals and Dobbs. So, I think it is sustainable, where you see a quarterback who is going to make high percentage throws, miss a lot of low percentage throws, but not force the ball too much into bad windows.
2.) AC: James Conner has quietly had one of the more respectable careers recently. He’s a touchdown machine and is once again supporting an impressive yards-per-carry average (5.1). Is his secret to success this year that Dobbs is playing much better than expected, thus not making them one-dimensional, are they scheming up favorable things for him, or is he getting more out of carries than it appears he should?
SC: A little of both. He is running hard and when the Cardinals offense is playing with a lead or close, they can lean on him and have a decent run blocking offensive line. That allows Conner to be physical and really impose his will.
When they are behind, he can get yardage but he just doesn’t get the same opportunities. However, Petzing’s offensive scheme is really fun to watch, they like to run three tight end sets and use Michael Wilson as an extra blocker in two tight end sets. It has been really fun to see and Petzing is doing a lot of things well his first opportunity as a play caller.
3.) AC: How can the Bengals’ maligned offense effectively attack the Cardinals defense this week?
SC: I mean, you on paper have the superior talent. The Cardinals defense will hopefully get defensive lineman Jonathan Ledbetter and linebacker Josh Woods back this week, two opening day starters, but from there it is all about unheralded players making plays in the Nick Rallis and Jonathan Gannon defense.
Even in the upset over the Cowboys they were outgained and gave up five redzone trips for the Cowboys. Yet, they won. Some of that was the Cowboys being ineffective, but a lot of it is the Cardinals play with a highly volatile game plan with different blitzes, coverages and personnel groupings to overcome their talent deficiencies.
So, if the Bengals can play up to their abilities, they will eventually wear out the Cardinals. If they make mistakes and give Rallis and company the ability to get creative, then they can give the Bengals some problems.
I think Joe Mixon is the key to this game. Look at the last couple of weeks. Tony Pollard had 122 yards rushing, we all saw what Christian McCaffrey did on Sunday. It all comes down to the Bengals exploiting the Cardinals lack of talent up front, getting them to put an extra guy in the box, then beating their inexperienced or outmanned cornerbacks.
If that happens, it could be a nice get well game for the Bengals. I am interested if they can get that done.
4.) AC: The Cardinals are just 1-3, but the sense is they’re playing better than their record. Is that an accurate assessment, and, if so, is it seeming like Jonathan Gannon is the long-term answer at head coach, or too early to tell?
SC: The culture seems different, even if they are only likely going to win five or so games. They are prepared, play hard and get the most out of every player and situation.
That is night and day from the last regime, where players behaved like they were bigger than the team and there was a lack of accountability.
Now, how long can that last as losses pile up or players don’t see positive results? That is the question over everything else, but for now, the early returns are good.
5.) AC: The line has been all over the place this week, with DraftKings Sportsbook having it at Bengals -3 in the middle of the week. How do you see this one playing out?
SC: I mean, it is tough because no one is ready to buy this is who the Bengals are, myself included, and the Cardinals present a great opportunity to “get right”. Yet, we have to go by the evidence of the season so far and the Cardinals have played up to the level of the Bengals through four games.
So, right now I have it going to the Cardinals, but in no way would it be a surprise to see Joe Burrow and company get healthy in the second half and win the game.
Our thanks to Seth Cox at SB Nation’s Revenge of the Birds for the insight. Be sure to go check out the other side of our conversation with them.