Game Overview ::
By mike johnson >>
- Both of these teams have had surprising performances to start the season, with the Bengals offense failing to meet expectations and the Cardinals being impressively competitive through four weeks.
- Joe Burrow’s injured calf has crippled his mobility and made the Bengals passing offense a shell of the unit we are used to seeing.
- Arizona has a very conservative approach on both sides of the ball that has helped them overcome some personnel deficiencies.
- The Cardinals offense is one of only a couple of teams to rank top 10 in the NFL in DVOA via both the run and the pass. They also profile very similarly to the Titans offense, who just played their best game of the season against this Bengals defense.
- Cincinnati has lost their two road games this season by a combined total of 51 to 6.
How cincinatti Will Try To Win ::
The Bengals were the Cinderella darlings of the NFL two years ago and followed that magical Super Bowl run with a return to the AFC Championship game last season. Much of that success was thanks to the elite offensive performance of Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, and company. This year, however, the Bengals rank dead last in the NFL in yards per play and their passing offense ranks 28th in DVOA and 30th in yards per pass attempt. The main issue appears to be the limited mobility of Joe Burrow due to his strained calf that he suffered in training camp. The Bengals are effectively forced to play out of the shotgun formation on every snap and defenses are able to pin their ears back and bring pressure to a stationary target. The added issue for the Bengals is their running game has always been decent but never overly efficient, so it’s not like they can just turn into a “ground and pound” team overnight and expect much success. Everyone is waiting for things to turn around but that may be tough until Burrow’s calf heals (if it does this season), and Tee Higgins is also dealing with a rib injury now that has held him out of practice this week.
The Bengals offense ranks fourth in the NFL in pass rate over expectation and plays at a moderate pace. This week, against a Cardinals defense that blitzes at the fourth lowest rate in the NFL and creates pressure at the fifth lowest rate in the league, the Bengals offense may actually have a chance to get back on track. Tee Higgins has a rib injury that has left his status in doubt and seems unlikely to play. This will leave Ja’Marr Chase and Joe Mixon as the clear focal points of the offense. Two weeks ago against the Rams on Monday Night Football the Bengals started using Ja’Marr Chase more creatively and moved him around the formation. Over the last two games, Chase has 24 targets and it seems likely he will continue to be targeted at a very high rate, especially if Higgins does indeed miss this game. The Cardinals play zone coverage at the eighth highest rate in the league as their scheme is a conservative one predicated on shell coverages that prevent explosive plays and force their opponents to methodically move the ball down the field. The starting cornerbacks for Arizona rank 60th and 63rd in the league in PFF coverage grade out of 72 qualifying players, meaning that when the Cardinals do play man coverage, Chase is going to have a terrific matchup. Chase’s targets will likely be of the shorter variety against zone coverages with some calculated downfield shots on the rare times that Arizona shows man coverage. The Browns, Ravens, and Titans defenses gave the Bengals a ton of trouble thanks to all the pressure they were able to create. This matchup against Arizona provides a bit of a reprieve for Burrow and a chance for him to get back on track with Chase likely being asked to carry the offense.
On the ground, Joe Mixon should be busy against an inefficient Cardinals run defense that was just shredded by Christian McCaffrey and also gave up big games to Saquon Barkley and Tony Pollard. While Mixon’s inefficiency in the last couple of years has been notable, he has actually appeared to benefit somewhat from the Bengals going entirely to shotgun formations. In the past, the Bengals were often extremely predictable with their formations as they would run at a very high rate when Burrow was under center while passing at a very high rate when they were in shotgun formation. This forced change in approach has resulted in Cincinnati no longer “tipping their hand” like they used to and Mixon was one of the only bright spots in Week 4 as he managed 67 rushing yards on 14 carries against a stout Titans run defense. He also had relatively efficient outings against the Ravens and Browns tough fronts and it would not be surprising for Mixon to have his best game of the year in this spot against a weaker opponent where the Bengals will likely lean on him more, assuming Higgins is out or limited.
Mixon and Chase should be the clear focal points of the offense’s usage and their drives will likely be long drives that focus on moving the sticks rather than explosive, quick strikes. Arizona’s defense naturally works to prevent explosive plays and the Bengals are unlikely to force the issue with Burrow struggling physically and their receiving corps likely being short handed. This does provide the best chance for offensive success that the Bengals have had so far this season.