TEMPE, Ariz. — A quarterback who is in the MVP conversation, a two-headed monster at running back and a group of pass catchers with four players who have at least 22 receptions this season for a top-10 offense.
Yes, the Arizona Cardinals have one of the best offenses in the NFL, but that collection of talent belongs to their opponent Sunday, the Cincinnati Bengals.
In a lot of ways, it’s like the NFC West leaders are looking in a mirror.
“Very similar. They’re very long and fast. They have a solid secondary,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “Andy (Dalton) is playing really, really well. They’ve got a huge and great wide receiver. Good stable of backs. They’re a quality, quality group. Marvin (Lewis) is a heck of a football coach. They’ve got a great staff.”
In preparing for the Bengals, Cardinals defensive coordinator James Bettcher said it helps some that they resemble Arizona’s. But he also said they will be sure to watch film and try to learn what formations and plays Cincinnati hangs their hat on.
“They’re a talented offense,” Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “Guys all over the place that can make plays for them. A big challenge for us.”
Receiver A.J. Green is easily the Bengals’ most dangerous weapon.
“A Pat challenge,” Mathieu said, referring to cornerback Patrick Peterson.
Green comes into the game having tallied 55 catches for 769 yards and four touchdowns. He has 11 catches of 20 or more yards, and had nearly as many receptions as any of his other teammates have targets.
Peterson is familiar with Green, having matched up against him at times in college and in the pros. In 2011, Green was held to just 25 yards on two catches though the Bengals won the game 23-16.
“He’s a great competitor,” Peterson said. “He’s definitely going to bring the best out of me, I’m going to try to do my best to bring the best out of him. It’s going to be a challenge — probably the toughest challenge thus far up to this point in the season.
“I have to make sure that I stay focused for 60 minutes and make sure that my technique is sound at all times because I know I am going to get tested here Sunday.”
Peterson has done a good job against other elite receivers this season. Detroit’s Calvin Johnson mustered 67 yards on five catches in an Arizona win while Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown gained just 24 yards on three catches. Green has Johnson’s size along with Brown’s speed, making him one of the tougher assignments he will draw all season.
But if Peterson can limit Green’s looks, that means Dalton, who is having a career-best season with 2,423 yards, 18 touchdowns, five interceptions and a rating of 104.6, will look toward other options, including tight end Tyler Eifert.
A third-year pro out of Notre Dame, the 6-foot-6 Eifert has caught 40 passes for 460 yards and a league-best nine touchdowns, all career highs.
“As far as tight ends we’ve seen this year, he’s the best tight end we’ve seen this year,” Bettcher said. “Our guys certainly respect him and respect his game, but I don’t think our guys are going to bow down to that challenge. I think our guys are excited to play him. We’re going to have some really good matchups with him. It’s going to be an all-day affair.”
It’s the type of setting Arizona’s defense looks forward to, the bright lights of Sunday Night Football against one of the league’s most explosive groups. Cornerback Jerraud Powers rattled off a list of names to worry about, adding they’re “one of the most explosive offenses in the league.”
“They’ve been doing a tremendous job and they’ve been feeding off their defense as well; their defense has been playing some top defense-type ball,” he said. “With the weapons that they have on offense they’ve just been handling their business.
“I think it’s going to be a fun matchup with our attacking-style defense and the way we play against their exciting offense. I think it will be a great matchup for us both.”
Some stories good for pre-game reading
Craig Morgan wrote on how Arizona’s win in Seattle created possibilities as long as the Cardinals take care of the present.
John Gambadoro believes Carson Palmer’s game-winning drive in Seattle proves he’s Bruce Arians’ guy.
Once upon a time, Carson Palmer was the Bengals’ QB. However, right now he’s focused on the present, not his past.
Chris Johnson’s numbers may be down, but neither he nor the Cardinals feel like he’s wearing down.
Palmer is not the only former Bengal on Arizona’s roster, and Jermaine Gresham says he’s looking forward to facing his old team.
Mike Iupati has moved on from his “scary” injury and is slated to start Sunday.
Craig Grialou reported on how the Cards’ WR depth might be tested against the Bengals.
John Brown’s hamstrings continue to be an issue, but he plans on playing Sunday.
Kevin Minter is proving to be more than just a run-stopper.
-This will be the Cardinals’ third prime time matchup on TV, with a fourth slated for later this season. To a man, the Cardinals see it as a sign of how well they are playing.
-A win Sunday would ensure the Cardinals have a record of at least .500 for the seventh time in nine seasons since Michael Bidwill took over as team president.
-Larry Fitzgerald is 13 receiving yards away from reaching 13,000 in his career. If he reaches the mark Sunday, he would — at 32 years and 83 days old — become the third-youngest player in NFL history to reach the milestone.
-Carson Palmer needs to throw for 34 yards Sunday in order to move into 18th place on the NFL’s all-time passing yardage list, passing Dave Krieg. Krieg, incidentally, was Arizona’s QB in 1995. He threw for 3,554 yards and 16 touchdowns and 21 interceptions as the Cardinals limped to a 4-12 record.