Joe Mixon expressed frustration in his production early in the season, but as the Cincinnati Bengals’ running game has picked up in recent weeks, he’s looking at it a little differently.
The third-year player is still eyeing 1,000 yards and believes that would be quite an accomplishment given how defenses have treated him. He surprisingly is just 357 yards away from becoming the first Bengals running back to reach that milestone in back-to-back seasons since Cedric Benson did it in three straight campaigns from 2009 to 2011.
Last year’s AFC North rushing leader looks to keep the momentum going while this season’s leader is on display across the field Sunday. The Bengals play the Cleveland Browns (5-7) on Sunday with Nick Chubb having rushed for 1,175 yards this season.
“I just have to keep pushing forward,” Mixon said. “I’ve got about four games to get (357). It gives me something to look forward to. I’m just going to keep my foot on the gas and stay motivated and try to get that 1,000. That’s where I am at this point. I firmly believe I can go get it. I just have to go get it.”
Mixon has been held under 20 yards rushing in four games this season, and only topped 100 yards once, but things started to break for him four games ago when he carried the ball a career-high 30 times for 114 yards. Since then, he’s recorded his first two touchdowns and recorded 209 yards rushing over three games – and that would have been higher had a holding call not wiped out a 25-yard gain in Sunday’s 22-6 win over the Jets.
With the return of speedy receiver John Ross this week, Mixon is hoping for even more opportunities. The Browns won’t be able to stack the box with Ross stretching the field like he does, and they will have to “pick their poison” in how they defend Mixon, Ross and Tyler Boyd, as well as the tight ends that could be freed up in the middle of the field.
The Bengals have been missing Ross the last eight games, and A.J. Green’s season-long absence also has made it easier for defenses to game plan more for Mixon. He takes that as a sign of respect when a safety lines up so far into the box, so the personal goal of getting to 1,000 yards is that much more meaningful.
“I don’t think it will mean a lot to outside people,” Mixon said. “It’s more of an individual goal at this point to get that. … You get that, it makes everything a lot better for me what I accomplished this year. I think it will be great a thing (for) people who claim our line is so terrible. So just imagine if we would have had a ‘great line’ what we would have done. I’m just going off what everybody else says. At the end of the day I’m just going to keep doing my thing.”
“… It’s hard to run the ball when we’ve got eight, nine men fronts. That’s just what it is. I don’t think a single back has run for more than 1,000 (against) an eight or nine-man box each and every play. I’ve never seen it. If I get that, I’ll be happy. I’ll have a smile on my face. The year didn’t go as planned. I’ll be happy about that.”
Meanwhile, Chubb will be looking for his sixth 100-yard rushing game this season. He averaged 98.0 yards against the Bengals in two games last year as a rookie, including a 112-yard performance on 19 carries in the last meeting at home, and now he also has Kareem Hunt sharing some of the load the last four games.
“Everybody will have to tackle this week,” defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said. “That was goal No. 1 this week, swarming to the ball and tackling. No one guy has brought these guys down. It’s been gang tackling type efforts.”
The Bengals have improved against the run the last five games, allowing less than 160 rushing yards in each of those after five game where the opponent went over that mark, including four for more than 200.
Anarumo said players have been settling in, and it helps that the defensive line is healthy again and nickel corner Darqueze Dennard has returned to play a part in the last four games. Going up against Chubb and Hunt is a challenge Dennard especially looks forward to, as the Bengals seek their second straight win and first in the “Battle of Ohio” series since 2017.
“Both those guys are very talented,” Dennard said. “They are both physical runners, but yet still nifty to make moves and stiff-arm and have the speed to go long distance as well. I think they are both really talented players. We’ve got a tough task this week.”
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