Joe Mixon won’t be happy until the Cincinnati Bengals get a win to go along with the recent improvement in the running game, but as long as coach Zac Taylor keeps getting him carries, he has a chance to make a difference.
With rookie quarterback Ryan Finley struggling to get the passing game going, the Bengals need Mixon and Giovani Bernard to keep racking up yards.
Cincinnati has topped 100 yards rushing just four times this season, but the Bengals (0-10) have done it now in three straight games and look for more progress Sunday when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers (5-5).
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“I honestly don’t think anything is different besides him calling it (running plays),” Mixon said. “We’re just staying true to it, and he’s dialing it up, keep calling it and helping me out with double-tight (ends). Having an extra tight end and a hat for a hat, we’ve been having success doing it. He keeps dialing it up, so we’re going to keep delivering for him.”
Mixon scored his first rushing touchdown of the season last week in a loss at Oakland, a game in which the Bengals rushed for a season-high 173 yards. The third-year running back had his best individual performance the week prior when he ran for 114 yards on 30 carries.
Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan still believes the Bengals could be doing more with the running game, but third-down struggles and late-game passing situations have limited the offense’s overall time with the ball. Ideally, Mixon would be getting 30 carries a game on a regular basis.
“Our ground game stats are going to look good, but I just think that any time you’re trying to get the ball to the backs for a bunch of carries, you’ve got to have a bunch of plays, too,” Callahan said. “You’ve got to be consistent moving the ball. … You look at that and you look at the number of plays and you’re not moving the ball nearly enough to get as many carries as you’d like to get in those situations.”
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The Bengals have been looking for ways to get Bernard more involved, Callahan said. Although his carries have been limited this season, Bernard played a season-high 52.4 percent of the offensive snaps last week and added 30 yards rushing against the Raiders. He had 31 yards in a Week 8 loss to the Rams and also has been coming in as “a decoy,” according to Callahan.
Bernard credits the offensive line for the running game’s recent success.
“They are just continuing to keep working,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest thing about any run game is there are going to be times where it’s tough to get the 100-yard rusher or big runs, but I think the main thing is coach Taylor keeps calling the runs. He doesn’t shy away even though we’re not making big gains. It’s proof to what he feels about our offense.”
Taylor said the offensive line is finally starting to develop some chemistry. Early in the year, Billy Price and Mike Jordan were switching off as the left guard, the left tackle job has been a revolving door with John Jerry and Andre Smith and right guard John Miller missed two games because of injury.
However, the last two starting lineups were consistent with Jerry starting at left tackle, Price at left guard, Trey Hopkins at center, Miller at right guard and Bobby Hart at right tackle.
“Those guys are starting to get a good feel for each other,” Taylor said. “The backs are getting a good grasp on what we’re asking them to do as well. … Over the last three weeks, we’ve been sixth in the league in rushing because those guys have started to make progress every single week. Those are the things we just need to continue to build on. We need to keep that consistency in the run game and we need to build off of it in the pass game as well.”
Now it looks like there could be another change coming – presumably for the better – with left tackle Cordy Glenn expected to make his debut after suffering a concussion in the preseason. He’s been practicing and not showing up on the injury report for a few weeks now, but a disciplinary issue also contributed to his extended absence.
Glenn resumed working with the first-team offense Wednesday, and offensive line coach Jim Turner said he’s been working to regain trust from the rest of the squad. Turner believes he would be a helpful addition for the entire offense.
“If you watch him over the years, he’s so massive and he’s athletic at that size and he can definitely cover people up in the pass game,” Turner said. “And then in the run game, obviously with that size and power, he can help us move that line of scrimmage a little bit. Pass protection is his big strength, of course. So holding down that left side, especially in this game coming up, that will be a help.”
Steelers at Bengals, 1 p.m., WHIO-TV Ch. 7, Ch. 12; 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7