The Cincinnati Bengals are in a bad way. They head into Week 5 with a 1-3 record, and they boast both an anemic offense and a struggling defense, while quarterback Joe Burrow has labeled the team’s game on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals on the road a “must win.”
The Cardinals are also 1-3, but their offense has almost doubled the points scored by the Bengals offense so far this season.
Here are a few matchups that could decide the game:
James Conner vs. DJ Reader and Bengals run defense
Conner and the Cardinals aren’t tearing up the grass running the ball like the Browns or Ravens have so far this season, but the former Steelers running back has averaged 5.1 yards per attempt, and quarterback Joshua Dobbs, backup to starting quarterback Kyler Murray who started the season on PUP, is the second leading rusher on the team, also averaging over five yards per attempt.
The Bengals run defense, surprisingly, has been bad. They’ve allowed the second-most rushing yards so far this season. The only defense that has allowed more is the Broncos. Of course, the Bengals have played against the Browns, Ravens, and Titans, three teams who love to run the ball, but they lost to all three of those teams. The Bengals are going to need Reader and the defensive front to step up and stop the run on Sunday.
Dennis Gardeck vs. Orlando Brown Jr. and Jonah Williams
Gardeck has four sacks and leads a Cardinals pass rush that has racked up 12 so far on the season. PFF has graded him with an 84.9 pass-rush score on the season. Williams and Brown Jr. have grades of 62.2 and 64.9, respectively, as pass blockers and have given up three sacks between them.
With Burrow partially hobbled and unable to move very well in the pocket, Brown Jr. and Williams will need to be on top of their games.
Zach Ertz vs. Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt
Ertz, a long-time fixture at the tight end position in the NFL, isn’t the same receiver he once was with the Eagles, but he’s still a talented player, and he’s still the Cardinals' third leading receiver with 136 yards.
The Cardinals haven’t been great at moving the ball down the field through the air, but Ertz could be Dobbs’ best friend if Trey Hendrickson and the Bengals' pass rush tees off against an offensive line that has allowed 39 pressures in four games.
DJ Turner vs. Marquise Brown
It’s currently unclear whether or not Cam Taylor-Britt, who suffered a concussion in Week 4, will be able to suit up against the Cardinals, and if that’s the case, rookie burner Turner (ha!) will be the next man up. Any offensive play caller worth his weight will look to get rookies in one-on-one situations, and Hollywood Brown is leading the Cardinals receivers in almost every category.
If Turner starts on Sunday, expect a healthy dose of Brown, Dobbs, and the Cardinals offense to throw the kitchen sink at Turner in hopes that he’s the weak link of the secondary.
The Bengals offense vs. themselves
Let’s face it: the Bengals are killing themselves. This team, especially on offense, is too talented to be ranked as one of the worst in the league. Even with Burrow’s health less than 100 percent, this team should still be able to move the ball down the field with some consistency. Everything needs to improve, and it needs to improve fast.
And when I say everything, I truly mean everything. The play calling, the offensive line, the receivers, the running back, and the quarterback all need to play better. The season already exists on the edge of a knife blade. If they stray just a little, the whole thing will fall apart (thanks, JRRT!). If they go out to Arizona and lose to what was supposed to be one of the worst teams in the league, it could be a death blow after only the first quarter of the season has played out.
Hopefully, that doesn’t happen.