The three biggest things to watch for Sunday when the Cardinals play the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati:
For Both The Cardinals And The Bengals, What's The Catch?
The Cardinals are down Christian Kirk and Damiere Byrd. The Bengals are down A.J. Green and John Ross. When it comes to the passing game, neither Kyler Murray or Andy Dalton will have all their weapons. Fortunately for the Cardinals they still have Larry Fitzgerald, and unfortunately for the Cardinals, the Bengals can still trot out a pretty talented tight end in Tyler Eifert, and the Cards defense has yet to solve their tight end coverage issues. On the other side, the Cardinals – when they do run – have been decent. The Bengals have not been able to run. So maybe the missing pass catchers hurt the Bengals a little bit more. This is a passing league, however. You can't pass, you can't win. Fitz will be there. The question is, can Pharoh Cooper, as well as he knows the offense, jump back in and make a difference? Will KeeSean Johnson be his preseason self? Will Andy Isabella actually get a chance to make a play or two? What about Trent Sherfield? When you run a lot of four-wideout stuff, what happens when the optimum four wideouts aren't there?
The Edge To Winning
Andre Smith signed with the Cardinals before the 2018 season and was the starting right tackle. That didn't go well, to the point the Cards – who were decimated by injuries last season at the position – still decided to release him in-season. Smith resurfaced back in Cincinnati, where he had his best seasons a few years back. But Smith at left tackle is probably not an ideal situation for any offense, and it is a microcosm for the issues the Bengals' offensive line has had. That would seem to be a prime area to exploit for pass rushers Chandler Jones and Terrell Suggs, the latter of which is coming off probably his best game of the season thus far. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph emphasized the Cards have to stop running back Joe Mixon to even have a chance to rush the passer, but if the Cards can force the Bengals to pass, Jones and Suggs could be set up very nicely.
A Victory Sure Would Be Nice
The Bengals are 0-4, and Monday night, did not look good in loss No. 4 against the previously winless Steelers. Of course, they will come into Sunday's game also seeing a winless opponent and, playing the game at home, are no doubt believing they can notch their first win of the season. But the Cardinals know they need to get Kliff Kingsbury that first victory. The pressure just builds until it happens, and while the Cards aren't going to be facing juggernauts the next two weeks in a home game against the Falcons and a road game against the Giants, they will likely be underdogs in those games. Again, this season was never really about the postseason as much as progress toward 2020 and having the rookie quarterback grow. But that doesn't mean a handful of wins aren't needed, and necessary.