Face of the franchise? Burrow hopes to share spotlight with Mixon for years to come

Rookie quarterback Joe Burrow has become the face of the Cincinnati Bengals, but he hopes to be sharing the spotlight with running back Joe Mixon for a long time.

Mixon got the running game going Sunday, and the Bengals collected their first win of the season.

The fourth-year running back was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday after posting a career-high three touchdowns and season-highs in rushing yards (151) and yards from scrimmage (181), which also both counted as the most by an AFC player so far this season. Burrow is hoping for more performances like that to ease some of the pressure off the passing game and help keep the defense off the field.

“When Joe plays like that, and the O-line plays like that, we’re not going to lose a lot of games,” Burrow said Wednesday. “Joe is going to be a great player for a long time. Hopefully we’re together for 10 years, 15 years. I love working with him, love playing with him. He’s a great guy.”

Keeping Mixon involved will be important for the offense this week as the Bengals travel to play Baltimore (3-1) as 14-point underdogs. Mixon has experienced mixed results against the Ravens the past two years in terms of his rushing stats (he had 114 yards in the second meeting last year but only 10 yards on eight carries in the first matchup), but the Bengals could use him in a myriad ways Sunday.

With the Ravens known for heavy blitzing, Burrow could be relying on some quick dump-offs to Mixon in the passing game, as well. The two connected on a swing pass that went for a 9-yard touchdown after Mixon hurdled a defender and plowed through another one right by the pylon to get into the end zone. Mixon had 40 yards receiving two weeks ago at Cleveland with four catches.

“We kind of got on the same track last game,” Burrow said. “I knew exactly where he was gonna be every single snap, and he got more passes. We got more involved in the pass game. So we’re starting to get a little chemistry there of just always understanding where he’s gonna be. If something down the field isn’t open, Joe’s going to find something for me.”

Mixon picked up a blitz as a blocker Sunday against Jacksonville and could also contribute in that way. Burrow said he expects even more blitzing than usual from Baltimore because he’s a rookie quarterback they will want to pressure into mistakes.

Clemson tried blitzing a lot against LSU in the national championship, but that didn’t stop Burrow from another big game to lead his Tigers to a title. Burrow is looking forward to the challenge of one of the best blitzing defenses in the NFL, especially with former LSU teammate and inside linebacker Patrick Queen coming at him.

“The Ravens present a lot of challenges,” Burrow said. “They play their zero pressure and if guys get blocked, they pop out and create issues in throwing lanes. They’re a really good defense that I’m personally very excited to play against and test my skills and our team skills to see really where we are right now.”

Baltimore’s defense is one test. Trying to keep pace with Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is another.

Ironically, both Burrow and Jackson were cut from the regional stage of their respective Elite 11 camps in 2014 and obviously have gone to even greater things since then. Burrow said that was a big motivator for him early in his playing career, and the fact that he and Jackson didn’t advance to the final stages of the nation’s premier quarterback competition as high school seniors just shows that hard work pays off more than the number of stars a recruit has on his profile.

There’s plenty of buzz around both players going into Sunday.

“He’s obviously one of the best players in the league right now, going back the last two, three years,” Burrow said. “He’s unbelievable. He’s fun to watch. When you watch teams that play him, I catch myself watching Lamar instead of watching the defense that I’m studying and I have to go back and re-watch the game because I’m like, ‘Shoot I just watched Lamar the whole time. I didn’t get any anything from that hour of tape.’ So, he’s an unbelievable player, and I’m excited to compete against him.”

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said on a conference call with local media Wednesday that Burrow adds some new challenges for Baltimore’s defense this year. The Ravens have been familiar with weapons like A.J. Green and Mixon, but Cincinnati has done well building the offense around Burrow.

“They’ve created a very smart offense around him and I’m very impressed,” Harbaugh said. “I think they built around his skill sets. As coaches, you can kind of see the resemblance to what they’ve done in the past, what they did last year, but also how it ties into what he did so well at LSU and I assume what he’s been proficient at in practice and stuff. He executes it well and it’s very effective.”

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