Joe Mixon went four straight weeks averaging just over a dozen carries per game, and although mostly productive in those limited touches, game situations prevented the Cincinnati Bengals from using the second-year running back more.
Finally on Sunday, the Bengals were able to unleash Mixon, and the result was his second 100-yard rushing performance this season. He gave Cincinnati a chance in a 26-21 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers and continues to be one of the few visibly passionate players on the field despite the Bengals’ struggles during a five-game losing streak.
Mixon still hopes to finish the season strong, as the Bengals (5-8) close their home slate with a game against the Oakland Raiders (3-10) on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium before finishing at Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
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The Bengals’ second-round draft pick last year out of Oklahoma, Mixon is averaging 4.8 yards per carry but has taken more than 20 handoffs in a game just four times. He has 866 yards and six touchdowns on 180 carries a year after rushing for 660 yards and four touchdowns on 178 carries as a rookie for an average of 3.52 yards per carry.
Mixon became the team’s starter in Week 8 last season to replace injured Jeremy Hill, who then left in free agency.
“It’s straight,” Mixon said when asked about his yards per carry average. “It’s cool, but I don’t really care for the individual stuff. I just want to win. If my rushing average was at 2.0, I wouldn’t give a (darn), honestly. I just want to win. If we’re putting a ‘W’ up on the scoreboard, that’s all that matters to me, but at the end of the day, I know I’m going to get my job done and I’m counting on them to get their job done just like they are counting on me. The individual accolades are cool, but if we’re not winning, I don’t care.”
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Falling behind in the first half of games and struggling with penalties, the Bengals have found themselves in too many passing situations to keep Mixon involved throughout the season.
“Our run is as good as it’s been,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. “You look at the numbers at the end of the game and you say you’ve got to get it to him more. We have to keep ourselves in positions where we can keep doing that.”
Although Mixon cares more about winning – he did a lot of that at Oklahoma – he does think about how many more yards he could have this season if given more opportunity.
“I think about it sometimes after the game,” Mixon said. “You look at the stat, what you had, your average, yards, sometimes us as competitive players, we do that. At the same time I can’t let that focus wander off. At the end of the day, I won’t be as hungry. Even though I am getting 12 carries a game or whatever it is look at the average, look what I’m doing with it. You can only imagine what I can do with those amount of carries. … I’m definitely more than ready when the time comes. I just have to stay patient. My time will be coming.”
The Bengals intended for Mixon to be a bigger part of the offense this season when Lazor ripped up the running scheme and came up with his new playbook heading into his first full year as the offensive coordinator.
The difference, Mixon said, is the team isn’t “scared to run the football,” but the Bengals just haven’t been able to show that as much as they would like.
Mixon still feels like he has progressed in his second season.
“I just feel like since the year started and we got our new line coach, just taking the extra time to be with him, explaining how the blocking schemes are going and I’ve been paying attention more to details, rather than just trying to make something happen out of nothing,” he said. “I feel like last year I was doing that all last year instead of just trusting and hoping something was going to work, but this year, we call it ‘mastering the mundane’ so you do that with your eyes on tracks, being patient in your reads and then exploding through the holes when you have to, that’s when everything else takes care of itself. My getting to the second level, that’s on me.”