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Bengals First Takes: Burrow Says Sunday Is A Must: 'We Need It For Everything"

QB Joe Burrow runs the ball during practice at Kettering Health Practice Fields on Thursday, September 28, 2023.
QB Joe Burrow runs the ball during practice at Kettering Health Practice Fields on Thursday, September 28, 2023.

Bengals Pro Bowl quarterback Joe Burrow left no doubt. At 1-3, Sunday's game (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's FOX 19) in Arizona is a must-win.

"Yes," said Burrow at his weekly Wednesday post-practice press conference. "A lot of different reasons. You've got to go in and get your win on the road. We haven't had a road win yet. We pride ourselves on the road on playing really good football, good defense, good scheme. We need it for morale, we need it for our ranking, we need it for everything."

_Much of Wednesday centered on Burrow's lack of mobility caused by his strained right calf and how it has impacted the NFL's 32nd-ranked offense. He senses it's going to be better this Sunday after Wednesday's workout.

"This is the best I've felt after a game, so I'm optimistic," Burrow said. "We're adding a little more each week. Today felt good. Hoping to do a little more tomorrow and a little more the next day. I'm optimistic for that part of my game."

They're also ranked 25th in third-down conversion, an area where Burrow's mobility often shows up. On last Sunday's second snap, he converted a scramble for a first down, a rare sight this season one he thinks is going to become more common.

"That one felt good. So like I said, I'm optimistic for this week," Burrow said. "The last couple of weeks we've gotten through without any serious setbacks, so it's just going to continue to get better."

_Bengals head coach Zac Taylor left some hope Wednesday for wide receiver Tee Higgins (rib) to play in Arizona. But he called Higgins day-to-day after he didn't practice Wednesday.

_Taylor is also hopeful tight end Irv Smith Jr. (hamstring) can go for the first time in two weeks and he went limited Wednesday.

In the four games, the Bengals tight ends have 15 catches for 98 yards. Last year, tight end Hayden Hurst had 14 catches for 104 yards and a touchdown in the first four games while the year before that C.J. Uzomah had nine catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns.

But Taylor says the three guys behind Smith, Tanner Hudson, Drew Sample and Mitchell Wilcox, have been available when needed and said Sample has been "great," blocking in the backfield.

"Those other guys, when their number's called, it's kind of been dispersed," Taylor said. "Drew's had a few catches. Mitch had a nice screen the other (day). Tanner stepped up big in that Rams game. He had a nice catch down the seam. He had a great first-and-10 catch on a pressure out last week. So you're calling on more guys, with Irv being out. But I think that group has really done a good job playing to their strengths and trying to utilize them as best we can ... I think they just need to make the plays that come to them, and so far they have."

_Rookie cornerback DJ Turner could be staring at his first start with Cam Taylor-Britt (concussion) out Wednesday. Also out after missing last Sunday's game was backup linebacker and key special teamer Akeem Davis-Gaither (knee).

Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. (groin) went limited.

_Before Wednesday's practice, Taylor and offensive coordinator Brian Callahan continued to hammer home situational football. After going 0-for-5 last Sunday on third down in the first half, the Bengals fell behind, 24-3, and couldn't continue to balance the run and pass.

'We had 25 base down plays in the first half. And of those 25 base down plays, we called 12 runs. And so that's roughly half of those plays in the first half," Callahan said. "Some of them were RPOs, so two or three of them got thrown, one of them was a run that we called that we had to check into a zero look that Ja'Marr (Chase) got the 17 yards.

"But really it's about where we wanted to be in the beginning of the game. We were roughly balanced as far as called runs versus passes. We threw two of those 25 plays were screens, three of them were play-actions and really eight of them were drop-back. So when you look at a game, if that's what your game looked like, you'd be relatively pleased with the mix of the screens and some of those drop-backs were quick game."

_Callahan says the common denominator of the struggle has been the lack of third-down success. Which ties into the lack of big plays. Which ties into Burrow's limited mobility.

"The really good ones, Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, that's part of their game and that's really been part of Joe's game, too," Callahan said. "And when you look at third down, you have struggles on third down. Well, a lot of times you've got (QBs) running for two or three of those a game and it certainly makes your third-down percentage look a lot better because they make a play with their legs. And so that's an element that we have missed. There's no hiding that or sugarcoating it, we all see it."