Bengals trying to solve running-game woes ahead of Baltimore

CINCINNATI — Zac Taylor insists the Cincinnati Bengals running game is improving, but the statistics show the opposite is true. The coaching staff is actively seeking answers to changing that trend so whatever progress Taylor believes is being made will show up in more tangible ways.

The Bengals rushing stats have been on the decline since the opener when Joe Mixon popped one explosive run to put them over the 100-yard mark. They rank 31st of 32 teams in the league with 3.1 yards per rushing attempt after producing a season-low 67 yards rushing Thursday in a win over Miami, and those numbers will be difficult to improve this week as the Bengals are set to play a traditionally strong Ravens defense on Sunday night in Baltimore.

Cincinnati had a long weekend, like a mini bye, to recover and potentially come up with a plan to get the ground game going. A more threatening running game could be the key to unlocking the offense’s potential after a clunky start to the season.

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“There’s a couple that are close to breaking out, and I know nobody wants to hear that because ultimately they’re two-yard runs, and we want them to be four-yard runs, and then we want the explosive runs that come with that,” Taylor said. “I get it all. It’s still continuing to progress. I like where our guys are at, they’re becoming in sync, they’re on the same page, it’s just sometimes we’re one block away. Sometimes it can be a guy that we can’t get to at receiver because of his location, sometimes it can be a right tackle, left tackle, it’s just kind of a different thing each play as we run right, run left, run the different schemes. We’ve got to get 11 guys to be great on every play versus those really difficult fronts. … You want to give the run game a chance to be explosive and it will. Just liked we talked about the first two weeks of the season, I’m not going to overthink it, and trust those guys that we’re coming along and that we’ve got a good chance to be really good there in the run game.”

Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said last week the inefficiency of the running game can’t be boiled down to one issue. It’s not just the offensive line, but it’s also not just on the running backs. No one seems to believe Mixon has lost a step, but Cincinnati also doesn’t seem ready to rip up run game coordinator Frank Pollack’s schemes.

Taylor said the coaches have been discussing the issue every week and trying to “formulate the best plan to rush for 300 yards.”

Specific to Thursday’s game, he gave credit to Miami’s defense as a reason for the lack of production in the run game, noting how other teams also struggled to run the ball on the Dolphins, outside of Lamar Jackson’s 80-yard touchdown run against them in Week 2.

The Bengals had some success at the end of the game against the Jets when Samaje Perine stepped in for an injured Mixon, but it wasn’t the plan to continue utilizing Perine – he only had one carry Thursday. Cincinnati saw success early against the Dolphins when Mixon capped the opening drive on a third-and-1 he ran in for a touchdown from the 6-yard line, but even the short-yardage situations became problematic again after that. Mixon was stopped in a goal-line situation later in the game.

“I thought Joe played really well (Thursday) to be honest with you,” Taylor said. “There’s one he might’ve gotten tripped on. Probably our biggest run of the day he got tripped. That was gonna be a 1-on-1 with the safety in the open field and then you’re talking about it potentially being an explosive run that didn’t happen. I thought he did a nice job hitting holes. It’s a miss communication on the goal line down there. We had an unblocked player and we shouldn’t have. ... We knew it was a challenge. We saw Buffalo go 4-and-out inside the five last week. We saw Baltimore go four-and-out on the one and so we knew it was a challenge.... (When) you have limited production, you gotta answer the questions that come with that, I get it, but I still got a lot of confidence in our guys that we’ll get that thing going.”

Mixon said he’s not letting his frustration impact his performance. He recently got together with the offensive linemen to review film together, so he could show them what he’s seeing and so they could show him what they are seeing. He’s confident the production will come, especially knowing he’s gone through dry spells before. Mixon got off to a strong start last year, rushing for 924 yards in the first 11 games before his production slowed down the stretch, but he finished with 1,205 yards in 16 regular-season appearances.

Mixon has 224 yards on a league-high 82 carries this season.

“I’m not really worried about the stats,” Mixon said. “At the end of the day, the stats are the stats and you obviously want to see growth, but at the same time as long as we’re doing what we have to do to win, that’s all that matters. ... As long as everyone is in tune and doing what we need to do and executing a win and being in the best position to win, we’re going to be OK. The other stuff is going to come.”

SUNDAY’S GAME

Bengals at Ravens, 8:20 p.m., NBC, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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