Joe Burrow’s health headlines Cardinals-Bengals storylines in Week 5

Oct 7, 2023, 3:33 PM

Joe Burrow attempts a pass...

Joe Burrow #9 of the Cincinnati Bengals against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium on October 01, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

TEMPE — The Cincinnati Bengals are currently in a tailspin staring at a 1-3 mark four games into the regular season.

And while the Arizona Cardinals are once again home underdogs, the Week 5 tilt isn’t nearly as one-sided as it originally appeared to be entering the regular season.

That’ll happen when your starting quarterback has dealt with a lingering calf issue and has looked like a shell of himself a quarter of the way into 2023.

Clearly hindered by the injury, Burrow has completed a career-low 57.6% of his passes for 728 yards and two touchdowns to two interceptions.

He’s especially seen a dip in his effectiveness on the ground, too, rushing eight times for three yards. This time last year, Burrow had already rushed for 79 yards on 20 carries.

Interestingly enough, Burrow has only been sacked eight times (middle of the road among NFL passers) in 2023 despite not having that same type of mobility to move about the pocket or extend plays.

And while the QB said this week that he’s feeling the best he’s felt following a game, Burrow is clearly off kilter — as is Cincinnati’s offense as a whole.

For a Cardinals defense that continues to show growth yet only got to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy once last game, Week 5 presents a golden opportunity for Arizona and specifically Zaven Collins to buck that trend.

Recording at least an interception or half-sack in each of the first three games played, Collins was held without either in last week’s loss to the 49ers.

Seeing Collins return to that play-making form in addition to Dennis Gardeck continuing to stack games behind his team-leading four sacks and five tackles for loss, the Cardinals could make things real difficult for Burrow come Sunday.

Burrow’s calf is far from the only storyline to keep tabs on, though.

A look at what else to watch in Week 5’s Cardinals-Bengals matchup:

Connection when it counts

There’s no denying Zach Ertz’s involvement in the offense.

Currently quarterback Joshua Dobbs’ second favorite target with 30 targets behind only No. 1 wide receiver Hollywood Brown’s mark of 32, Ertz’s usage hasn’t dipped despite coming off a torn ACL suffered last season.

But while he’s turned those looks into 20 catches (second on the team) for 136 yards (third), he’s yet to find pay dirt under the new regime.

It’s not for a lack of trying, with Ertz and Dobbs failing to connect on at least four different instances when it’s mattered most despite open looks and catchable balls.

“They’re always going to continue to work for that consistency,” offensive coordinator Drew Petzing said Tuesday. “Zach and Josh are very competitive, two great players. I think Zach just hit 700 receptions. … There’s always going to be plays that he wants back, but I do think he’s done a really nice job of trying to build that chemistry and find that rhythm.

“I think those two guys have done a really nice job of working together and getting on the same page and playing at a high level.”

Conner vs. the world

Aside from Burrow’s downturn in play, the Bengals other big weakness centers around what the Cardinals do best: Running the rock.

Cincinnati enters the matchup as one of the worst teams against the run, allowing 157 yards per game to opposing offenses.

Only the Denver Broncos (176) have a worst mark in that regard.

That kind of output should have running back James Conner licking his chops ahead of Sunday.

Having gone against tougher tests on the ground through the first four weeks of play, Conner sits tied for third among NFL rushers in yards (318) and is tied for first with four plays of 20 yards or more.

Conner could also do some damage as a pass catcher to a Bengals team that has allowed 89 yards on 13 receptions in 2023. It also watched Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry throw for a score last week.

The new boot

Gone under the radar this week has been the Cardinals’ decision to part ways with punter Nolan Cooney after a rough Week 4 showing against the 49ers.

His exit opened the door for veteran Blake Gillikin, who played in every game the past two seasons for the New Orleans Saints before entering the regular season as a free agent.

Gillikin’s body of work includes a 47-yard average with 61 punts landing inside the 20-yard line.

“Blake has punted at a high level for a pretty good amount of time,” Gannon said Wednesday. “I’m excited to get him into the fold.”

But as much as we’ll be watching how he boots the ball come Sunday, don’t forget about the equally important duty of holding for kicker Matt Prater, something the duo has been practicing since Gillikin got to town.

“They’ve been working overtime with it,” Gannon said confidently.

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