CINCINNATI — Joe Mixon knows he doesn’t have to be “Superman” to help the Cincinnati Bengals offense anymore. That might not have been the case when he first arrived in 2017, but now he’s learning just to be an efficient runner. That’s when the offense is at its best.
A running game that had been stagnant for a few weeks came back to life last week in a dominant win in a divisional round playoff game at Buffalo, and Mixon said if the offense can replicate that performance, the Bengals could be “very unstoppable” – even against the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs.
Cincinnati travels to face the Chiefs on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium in an AFC Championship rematch from last year, and Kansas City boasts a top 8 run defense led by defensive tackle Chris Jones. Mixon rushed for 105 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries against Buffalo, as the Bengals put up 172 yards rushing for the game behind an offensive line with three backups starting.
Mixon missed the last meeting with the Chiefs in December because of a concussion, but his five carries in overtime of last year’s AFC title game set up Evan McPherson’s game-winning field goal. He finished that game with 88 yards on 21 carries.
Though consistency seems to be an issue at times in the running game, Mixon finished the 2021 season with 1,205 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns. This season, in two fewer regular-season games, he had 814 yards and seven touchdowns, and his three best games have come during the current 10-game winning streak.
“I mean you’ve just gotta take what’s there to get and the coaches ask to be efficient,” Mixon said. “Don’t have to be Superman, and at the end of the day there’s going to be a time where just like last week they leaned on me a little bit in terms of the run game and I felt like we were hitting on all cylinders so if the running game is hitting like that, I can only imagine what the pass game is going to do with it. So we just gonna keep on mastering the game plan like I said, and come Sunday night, we got to go out there and execute.”
Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said times like the AFC Championship last year and against the Bills last week -- when Mixon stays patient and seizes his opportunities as they come -- are signs of growth in him as a player. Cincinnati valued him enough back in September 2020 to reward him with a contract extension through 2025.
Mixon doesn’t have to produce monster numbers every game to feel his worth, Callahan noted. Before his big game last week, he hadn’t topped 65 yards since a 96-yard effort in Week 14, and he hadn’t carried the ball more than 16 times in any game since Week 9.
“He has done a really nice job of understanding his role on the team,” Callahan said. “Part of what makes us great here is that we have a lot of guys that understand what that means, why you put a little bit of yourself aside and your personal goals aside. Sure, I would love for Joe to lead the league in rushing and lead the AFC in rushing and be a Pro Bowl back and all those things that he’s been. The way our team is constructed we have a lot of guys that present a lot of problems to defenses. Each player plays a role in that, I think Joe does a great job at this stage of his career of understanding the wins are going to mean a lot more at the end of the day and getting a chance to play in these types of games with the opportunities to go play in Super Bowls and AFC Championship are ultimately going to mean a whole lot more.”
“He’s been paid and he’s been productive, so he knows that his numbers might not speak to the volume that some of these guys around the league have, but he knows he’s really effective and huge part of something that’s a lot bigger than him. I think that’s really a mature way to go about that, I think he understands how important that is to our success.”
Callahan said offensive line coach and running game coordinator Frank Pollack deserves a lot of credit for the team’s run scheme last week, but the players executed it about as well as they could have. Mixon noted the players were all “in sync” with the timing of blocks and he was on the same page hitting the holes.
“When the run is on like that, then it can’t get no better than that in terms of executing at a high level,” Mixon said. “I mean, I thought them backups came in, and even the ones that was in already, they was blocking their asses off, you know, on the perimeter and in the trenches, and tight ends were doing a great job, even the receivers on the perimeter having to dig out a guy like a nickel or safety. We’ve got to keep on building and getting better each and every week. And like I said, our best effort is going to be needed on Sunday. It’s for all the marbles.”
Bengals at Chiefs, 6:30 p.m., Ch. 7, 12; 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7
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