GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP)Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals haven’t looked much like an elite team through four weeks.
There’s time for that to change. But it needs to happen soon.
The Bengals (1-3) travel to face the Arizona Cardinals (1-3) on Sunday in a game that Burrow has already declared a nearly must-win matchup.
Cincinnati has enjoyed deep playoff runs the past two seasons, including a trip to the Super Bowl during the 2021 season.
“I’m still very confident in what we have,” Burrow said. “We’ve got to get better. We’ve scored three touchdowns. That’s not near good enough. We’ve got a ways to go, but we have the guys in that room to do it, we’ve got the coaches to do it.”
Burrow – who before the season became the highest-paid player in the NFL – has been slowed by a calf injury that’s limited his mobility. The quarterback said he felt good at practice on Wednesday and hasn’t had any setbacks with the calf since aggravating the injury late in a loss to Baltimore on Sept. 17.
“I try not to be frustrated,” Burrow said. “That’s not going to get anybody anywhere. You just adapt to what you’re dealing with, adapt to how you need to play. And you take that week to week, day to day.”
The Cardinals might have the same record as the Bengals, but are in a much better mood about their situation.
Arizona was widely considered to be one of the worst teams in the league coming into the season, but the Cardinals have been surprisingly competitive, and even knocked off the Dallas Cowboys at home a few weeks ago.
Quarterback Joshua Dobbs has been a solid fill-in for the injured Kyler Murray, a two-time Pro Bowl selection still working his way back from a knee injury suffered last season. Dobbs has completed 71% of his passes for 682 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 106.1 passer rating over his past three games.
Cardinals linebacker Zaven Collins said he’s aware that the Bengals have been struggling, but noted that their roster is full of the same guys who helped the team advance to the Super Bowl two seasons ago.
“You’ve got to give credit where it’s due, every team is an NFL team and they’ve all got dudes on the roster,” Collins said. “They all do. We’ll treat those guys with the same respect if they’re 0-4 or 4-0.”
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The Cardinals defense is led by linebacker Dennis Gardeck, who has four sacks this season, which ranks sixth in the NFL. Gardeck has slowly risen the ranks from undrafted free agent to a vital part of Arizona’s defense. Gardeck has 12 sacks in his career, which is tied for the most in franchise history for an undrafted free agent.
The Bengals could be without one of their top receivers on Sunday. Tee Higgins left last week’s loss to the Titans with a rib injury and hasn’t practiced. He’s considered day to day. Higgins has caught just 12 of 32 targets in four games for 129 yards, but has two of Cincinnati’s total three touchdowns this season. Ja’Marr Chase doesn’t have any touchdown catches – more the fault of a limited Burrow and the offensive line – but is starting to get some traction, getting 141 and 73 passing yards in the past two games.
The Cardinals look as if they might have found a steal in the third round of this year’s draft. Receiver Michael Wilson – who played in college at Stanford – has emerged as one of the team’s big playmakers and had the first two TD catches of his career against the 49ers last week. He’s currently second on the team with 237 yards receiving, just behind Marquise Brown’s 239.
“He’s so locked into the game plan,” Dobbs said. “One, he executes at a high level and his effort is tremendous. Just being a rookie receiver, a lot of times just to get on the field sometimes you have to do dirty work. You’ve got to play ‘Z’ where you’re a little more involved in the run game. You’re on the front side of runs and you have to do kind of the dirty stuff that some receivers don’t like to do, and he seems to like to do it.”
BENGALS TE COULD RETURN
Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor said tight end Irv Smith Jr. is working his way back. He was listed as having limited participation in practice on Wednesday after missing the past two games with a hamstring injury. The former Viking was signed as a free agent in the offseason to replace Hayden Hurst, who had 414 receiving yards and two TDs last season and then signed with Carolina.
“We’ll be smart how we utilize him,” Taylor said.
PARIS VS. CINCINNATI
Cardinals rookie right tackle Paris Johnson Jr. will be facing his hometown team. This year’s sixth overall pick played his high school ball in Cincinnati before going to Ohio State. Johnson has immediately moved into a starting role for the Cardinals, anchoring the right side of the offensive line all season.
“I think that everything that we’ve asked him to do on and off the field, he has done that and probably more,” Cardinals coach Jonathan Gannon said. “I guess if I say it like that, he has exceeded some expectations, but he was taken where he was taken for a reason.
“He plays a premium position and he’s played well.”
AP Sports Writer Mitch Stacy in Cincinnati contributed to this report.
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