Happy Friday one and all.
1. No one expected the Cincinnati Bengals and Arizona Cardinals to have the same record at this point, are you hopeful the Bengals can turn it around and make a run this year?
Hopeful? Yes. Optimistic? Eh.
You’re right—this looked like a walk in the park for the Bengals upon the schedule release, as expectations varied greatly between the teams. Fast-forward a few months and the Cardinals are a scrappy, seemingly-tough matchup, while the Bengals are a mess all over the place.
Yes, this team did a one-eighty last year after an 0-2 start, cruising into and through the playoffs while riding a 10-game win streak. But, that took an offensive reinvention, while the defense was opportunistic and clutch.
A parallel between last year and this one was that of health at the beginning of the season. Joe Burrow was coming off of a summertime appendectomy recovery, while Tee Higgins missed a critical Week 5 contest against the Ravens and Ja’Marr Chase missing three others midseason with a hip issue.
But that’s the only parallel right now. Even with Cincinnati’s offensive stars being hobbled, there are few signs of productivity on offense. Because of that, they have routinely put the defense in precarious positions, exhausting players who have played long seasons the past two years.
The talented people they have in the locker room have the wherewithal to turn this thing around, for sure. But, there were more signs for optimism during the struggles last year over these ones.
2. Not much needs to be said about Joe Burrow, who is clearly dealing with an injury, so I want to ask… Should the franchise who just paid him the most money in NFL history save him from himself and put him on IR to fully heal?
That’s the multi-million dollar question. A large contingent of fans want to see this happen. But, it appears that Burrow has lobbied to play with the reluctant approval of both the team’s braintrust and medical staff.
Since the injury occurred and his return, I’ve contended that Burrow was always going to play if it was only about pain management/possible ineffectiveness, he was going to play. That’s the kind of guy he is in general, and with the high expectations, he wasn’t going to sit if there wasn’t a significant risk of a severe injury in the calf or elsewhere.
I’m running with the belief that the medical staff has signed off on the fact that he’s not overtly at risk of an Achilles or other associated injury. Some prominent sports medicine professionals still say he’ll have a couple more weeks of potential pain and immobility, so I think everyone’s going to let this ride for the next two games, hope they can squeeze out wins and get that extra rest in Week 7 with the bye.
3. Has the defense disappointed this year or is it more the offense isn’t giving them the same level of help?
It’s definitely more the latter. The offensive ineffectiveness and staggering amount of three-and-out drives (with some being back-to-back) has crushed the defense. It’s worn them down physically and maybe even caused them to check out emotionally when it’s a broken record scenario.
Still, there are issues on defense that haven’t been part-and-parcel of Lou Anarumo’s crew the past two seasons. Tackling has been far more shoddy (again potential fatigue can play into that), they’ve been largely ineffective against the run and we’ve seen inconsistency from some of the more solid players on the unit.
The losses of both starting safeties—Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell—in a single offseason has hurt. Now, second-year man Dax Hill has had a lot of nice plays, but those two were leaders and helped get things lined up from the back end. It’s why valued veterans openly lobbied for the team to re-sign Bates.
They’ve been pretty good at sacking the quarterback (tied for fifth-most in the NFL) and creating turnovers, though. Still, Joshua Dobbs’ mobility could bring about familiar problems we’ve seen so far this year.
4. Give me an under-the-radar offensive or defensive player to watch on Sunday.
I keep waiting for him to get more time, but they’re easing back in rotational edge rusher Joseph Ossai after he suffered a high ankle sprain in the preseason. He’s now about 5-6 weeks out from the injury and has suited up the past couple of games, so if he can get more snaps, he could bring explosiveness.
On offense, tight end/H-Back Drew Sample has been a bit of an unsung hero. He only has two receptions for six yards this year, but he’s been an insanely good blocker. He is Pro Football Focus’ top pass-blocking tight end in the NFL with an 84.4 score and 100% efficiency. He’s also been decent in run blocking with 61.5 score there, which is good for 31st of 110 qualifiers. With Burrow needing extra time from potential mobility issues and the team likely leaning on the run a little more this week, Sample quietly comes into focus.
5. DraftKings Sportsbook opened with the Bengals as 5-point favorites, the line as of Tuesday evening is down to three. Are the Bengals going to win and cover or is it just a matter of let’s see what Burrow looks like and make a call?
I’m actually going to be attending this game in-person, so it would be nice to witness a “get back on track game”. And, while it took the Bengals 4-5 weeks last season to truly kick their turnaround into high gear, I’m just not as confident in this team, based on what I’ve seen this year.
It’s weird: they’re actually taking care of the football well, from a turnover perspective, they’re getting to the opposition’s quarterback, while cutting back greatly on the hits and sacks given up on Burrow, as compared to the last two years. They’re just totally inept on offense right now, so my calling a win for them just feels far-fetched.
I honestly have no idea how to call this one. Cincinnati could have a major breakthrough and Burrow’s calf feels better, so they blow that line out of the water, cruising to a somewhat-easy win. Or, these scrappy Cardinals could show them more frustrations and start the Who Dey masses looking towards next year’s draft.