The Bengals gave up eight sacks last game against the Steelers and have struggled to protect quarterback Andy Dalton all season. They also have Cardinals castoff Andre Smith starting at left tackle because of injuries.
But the Cardinals aren’t going to proclaim that they have a weak spot to attack when they play in Cincinnati Sunday. They have to make sure they’re even in a position to go after Dalton.
“Our job on Sunday is to first get (running back Joe) Mixon stopped,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. “We have to earn the right to rush the passer.”
Joseph likes the pass rush. Veterans like outside linebacker Chandler Jones and nose tackle Corey Peters (who quietly has had a solid season rushing the passer inside) think it’s a strong part of the defense. Veteran Terrell Suggs leads the team with 3½ sacks and Jones has three through four outings.
Yet too many times the Cardinals haven’t done their job against the run, Peters noted. The pass rush is neutered when it is third-and-2. The Steelers succeeded because they nullified the Cincinnati run game early, and then built a lead.
“It’s nice to say, ‘This team has given up a lot of sacks, this is our opportunity to rush,’ ” Peters said. “But you have to force them to be in those situations where you know they are throwing it.”
The Bengals will be hyperaware, especially after their struggles in Pittsburgh. Now missing their top two receivers in A.J. Green and John Ross, Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor would probably prefer to lean on Mixon anyway. Knowing Jones and Suggs – who didn’t practice Thursday with a back injury – loom on pass plays is another reason.
“You have to make sure you’re aware of where those two guys are at because they’ve wrecked games,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “One of them (Suggs) has wrecked games over the last, I think, 30 years. … Those guys, when you think you’re in a good flow, they can disrupt it and wreck it for you.”
The Bengals have given up 19 sacks this season, second-most in the NFL. (The Cardinals, with rookie quarterback Kyler Murray, have given up a league-most 20.)
Jones, however, insisted preparation or mindset doesn’t change, regardless of how good the opposing line might be in a given week.
“Going against the best tackle in the NFL or the worst tackle in the NFL, I will prepare the same,” Jones said. “You don’t rush (a unit), you rush the quarterback, and you try to defeat whoever is in front of you.”
SUGGS ADDED TO INJURY REPORT AS 10 DON’T PRACTICE
Suggs didn’t practice Thursday, added to the injury report with a back issue. The veteran linebacker was one of 10 Cardinals who had to sit out, including seven starters.
Cornerback Tramaine Brock (back) and right tackle Jordan Mills (knee) were both downgraded from their limited status from the day before. Wide receivers Christian Kirk (ankle) and Damiere Byrd (hamstring) and guard Justin Pugh (shoulder) were the other starters sitting, as was defensive lineman Zach Allen (neck), who is still listed as a starter and started three of the four games.
Also out were linebacker Dennis Gardeck (ankle), safety Charles Washington (shoulder) and linebacker Ezekiel Turner (hand/hamstring). Punter Andy Lee (hip) was upgraded to limited.
For the Bengals, wide receiver John Ross was placed on injured reserve with his shoulder problem, while tackle Cordy Glenn (concussion) and wide receiver A.J. Green (ankle) sat out and are not expected to play. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap (knee), and defensive end Kerry Wynn (concussion) sat out, while safety Shaun Williams (knee) was limited.
MURRAY’S LIFE WITHOUT KIRK
Murray has a chemistry with Kirk, but with Kirk unlikely to play Sunday, the rookie said he can’t worry about it.
“You’re taking a hit losing one of your key guys, but control what you can control,” Murray said. “We will fill in with another guy, and next guy has to fill in. Next man up, and that’s everyone’s mindset.”
The Cardinals will be helped with the fact Pharoh Cooper, who worked all offseason and training camp before being released a month ago, will be one of the candidates to play – “It’s like he never left,” Murray said – and the hope is that Kirk isn’t down long. He was able to do some work on the side with trainers already.
“(Christian) wants to be on the field no matter what, but just like coach (Kliff) Kingsbury said, (and) I’d tell him the same thing, we don’t need him rushing back for any reason,” Murray said.
PRACTICE SQUAD MOVE
The Cardinals re-signed defensive lineman Miles Brown to the practice squad Thursday. They had cut Brown from the 53-man roster earlier this week. To make room for Brown, the Cards cut running back Justin Davis from the practice squad.