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Five Things To Watch: Bengals At Cardinals

WR Ja'Marr Chase runs the ball during the Bengals-Titans game in Week 4 of the 2023 season on Sunday, October 1, 2023.
WR Ja'Marr Chase runs the ball during the Bengals-Titans game in Week 4 of the 2023 season on Sunday, October 1, 2023.

The Bengals travel to Arizona take on the Cardinals on Sunday. The game airs at 4:05 p.m. on FOX. Here are five things to watch:

1. Bengals face high-powered rushing attack

Cincinnati has faced three teams with perennially strong run games in Cleveland, Baltimore and Tennessee, and now prepares for a Cardinals team that is recording 143.5 rushing yards per game through four weeks — the sixth-best average in the NFL. Leading the charge for Arizona is seventh-year back James Conner, who so far has logged 318 yards on the ground (tied for third leaguewide) at a clip of 5.1 yards per carry.

Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo and company will look to cool off Conner's hot start with a strong defensive performance. Cincinnati has ranked in the top 10 in run defense each of the past two seasons, holding opponents to 106.6 rushing yards per game (seventh in NFL) in 2022.

2. Downfield passing opportunities

Cincinnati's offense is looking to create big plays in the passing game, and Sunday's matchup may offer chances to do so. Joe Burrow and his array of weapons face a Cardinals defense that is allowing 242.5 passing yards per game (ninth most in NFL) and 8.2 yards per attempt (fourth most).

Since he entered the league in 2020, Burrow has more passing touchdowns of 40-plus yards than any quarterback (17). His top receiving option, Ja'Marr Chase, is tied for the second most catches of 40 or more yards since his rookie debut in 2021 (12). The Bengals hitting downfield shots may prove to be the difference in the game.

3. Turnover battle

Both teams enter Sunday's contest having created more turnovers than they've committed. Cincinnati is plus-2 in turnover differential, with five takeaways (including four interceptions) compared to three giveaways. Arizona, meanwhile, is one of three teams in the league this season that has yet to throw an interception, and its plus-3 differential ranks in the top 10 leaguewide.

The Bengals' defense had two picks in the Week 3 win over the Rams, both by Logan Wilson to change the course of the game. Cincinnati has also benefitted from a strong start from second-year safety Dax Hill, who has grabbed two interceptions of his own while tying for the team lead in tackles (34). If one of the defensive playmakers can force a turnover against a Cardinals offense that has protected the ball remarkably well to this point, it would give the Bengals an advantage in a key area of the game.

4. Getting to Dobbs

The Bengals' pass rush has been hot to start the season, racking up 12 sacks overall with nine coming in the past two games. Leading that effort once again is Pro Bowler Trey Hendrickson (3.5 sacks over past two weeks), defensive tackle B.J. Hill (2.5) and Hendrickson's opposite defensive end Sam Hubbard (two).

The Cardinals, however, have largely kept quarterback Josh Dobbs upright, allowing just six sacks in four games (tied for fifth fewest in NFL). Three of those occurred in Arizona's season opener at Washington, so the offensive line has limited opponents to an average of just one sack per game over the past three weeks.

5. Picking up the blitz

Though Arizona's defense blitzes at the lowest rate in the league (14 percent) this season, it has still managed to record 12 sacks and could look to pressure Burrow on third down. Burrow on Wednesday was asked how he can help take heat off his offensive line when facing those blitz packages.

"You can get the ball out faster," Burrow said. "You can come up with some ways to push the ball down the field in those situations. There's a lot of different ways we can handle it."

Burrow completed a season-high 27 passes with two touchdowns in the Week 2 contest against Baltimore. He was sacked just once in that game, helping open up the offense in the second half. If the O-line is able to keep the pocket clean and Burrow can turn it loose quickly when being blitzed, Cincinnati will be able to keep its offense on the field for extended drives.

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