Game Preview: Can Murray finally find his feet in Cincy?

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If you asked any Arizona fan whether we would be coming into Week 5 of this season without a victory, you probably would’ve received a rather negative reaction. But here we are – heading east to Cincinnati 0-3-1 and about to face a team who are yet to taste even a tie, let alone a victory. The gears of this NFL season are fully in motion and we are starting to get a bigger picture of where teams lie this season. So, without a further ado – let’s look at what has been described as the first ‘Toilet Bowl’ of the season, as our winless Arizona Cardinals jet off to face an equally winless Cincinnati Bengals at the Paul Brown stadium on Sunday night.

We’ll start off with how our opponents have faired this season. Not to remind our counterparts of their record, but the Bengals have gone 0-4 this season, having just come off a tough ride on MNF against bitter foes the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Our last encounter against Cincy was in 2015 – 34-31 at the then-named University of Phoenix stadium in that season that took us oh-so-close to the Super Bowl. However, the last time we flew out to the Nati was a different story: a 16-23 defeat which leads me perfectly onto an ironic stat. The home side in this encounter has won 10 out of last 11 times they’ve faced off against each other. But records are made to be broken, right?

Either two respective Head Coaches of the Bengals and Cardinals – Zac Taylor and Kliff Kingsbury – will enjoy the fruits of a first win as an NFL coach this weekend, barring an unwanted tie (not to jinx anything of course).

Credit: Todd Olszewski/Getty Images

Another man looking for his first win is Cards quarterback Kyler Murray. I’ve spoke about his weekly progression during the opening weeks of life as a QB and the signs are telling us wholesome truths. The technique and accuracy with the arm is exquisite although the pressure he is facing is immense at times, with our offensive line simultaneously crumpling the pocket. A couple of weeks of that was enough for Murray to unleash his ability to rush out of danger to buy the time or to make the first down himself.

And he’s got heart, as shown with his willingness to fight back from the many setbacks he’s faced. Murray’s ability to rush could be a key factor in this match-up. The Bengals have been poor against the rush, sitting in the bottom two of the league overall for rushes allowed and third-lowest for points allowed.

The Cardinals’ injury report was an ugly sight come Wednesday – a list that was almost as long as my arm and littered with names that would make any Card shudder, especially on the eve of week five. Neither Christian Kirk and Daniere Byrd practiced, which means David Johnson may be taking fewer snaps in the backfield and more catches as a wideout, with the Cardinals’ receiving core dwindling.

Credit: Ross D. Franklin/AP

Johnson has more receiving yards than rushing this season, 182 to 173 to be exact, which makes him the Cardinals’ most adaptable and biggest threat on offense. Johnson’s absence behind Murray means that Chase Edmonds will likely take more snaps out of the backfield and if we are looking at stats, it could be a busy day in the Queen City for the second-year running back from Fordham. From the six snaps he took against the Seahawks last week, he rushed for 37 yards. Doesn’t sound like much, but with an average of 6.2 yards per play, it could be the critical yardage needed for the Cardinals to improve their record on first downs this year.

One frightening stat that the Cardinals lead on (post-MNF) is tackles. Jordan Hicks has been a star on defense since moving from the Philadelphia Eagles having made 48 tackles, the most in the NFL. That may seem like a fantastic stat, but it only proves just how much defense has been played this year.

The countdown for Patrick Peterson’s return is nearing though, which will be welcomed with open arms for the secondary. Rookie Byron Murphy has found it tough assuming that role, and fellow corner Tramaine Brock is questionable for this Sunday’s game, meaning an inexperienced Chris Jones could feature. Arizona have acquired experience, trading for safety Chris Banjo from the New Orleans Saints in the hope to bolster the Cardinals’ takeaways. The Cards only have three takeaways this year, all of them coming from forced fumbles, with the secondary coming close but ultimately not close enough on picks. DJ Swearinger’s return to AZ was a short one, with the safety being cut after four games to protect the interests of the franchise.

Finally, we remember and honour our owner, Bill Bidwill. Mr Bidwill passed away peacefully on Wednesday, surrounded by his family. Mr Bidwill at least co-owned the Cardinals for 57 years, dating back to 1962, and, at the time of his death, was the longest serving owner in the NFL. Thank you for everything, Mr B.

Now, to Sunday. I’m sticking my neck out here and saying that I think this game will go beyond 60 minutes. But, as was shown against the Ravens and facing a team like the Bengals, I’m hoping to see Murray ball out and exploit a team that has fared poorly against the rush this year.   

Prediction: Cardinals 24, Bengals 20

Feature Picture – Credit: Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports

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