The Cincinnati Bengals have been a different team over the last three weeks.
While much of that credit goes to new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, a big reason why the offense looks vastly improved is Joe Mixon. Drafted in the second round of this year’s running back-loaded NFL Draft, Mixon was who the Bengals had their eye on for much of the pre-draft process.
The expectation was Mixon could receive as many as 20 touches as early as Week 1, but that was not the case. Because the Bengals’ offense was struggling so badly, leading to the run game being largely abandoned.
That changed in Week 3, as Mixon was able to showcase his skills as a featured back in the Bengals’ offense. He finished that game 101 total yards (62 rushing, 39 receiving) at Green Bay.
The following week saw the Cleveland Browns stack the box for much of the game and ensure Mixon didn’t beat them, which allowed Andy Dalton to torch Cleveland for 286 yards and four passing scores.
But in Week 5, the Buffalo Bills played the Bengals more straight up, giving Mixon more of a chance to take the game over. He didn’t quite do so, but he did have two of the most important plays in the game.
The first was his first career NFL touchdown, a five-yard score to begin the fourth quarter and give Cincinnati the lead for good.
“The tight end made a great block. I bounced out and saw the corner was out of place and tried to set the linebackers up,” Mixon said of how the play developed. “I’m happy about the win. I don’t care about any of that.”
Mixon’s second key play came with under two minutes to go and Cincinnati facing a 2nd and 8. Mixon took a handoff, patiently let his blocks develop, then burst down the sideline for a game-clinching first down.
“We had to run the ball. I felt like the line did a great job of helping us,” said Mixon after the win. “Our backs were finishing. Giovani Bernard had a couple of clutch downs. Andy toughed it out, and we were able to hold on to the win.”
The rookie would finish the game with 15 touches, marking the third-straight game in which he’s gotten 15-plus touches, and he’s averaging 19 per game over that span. The Bengals are 2-1 during that stretch with the one loss being an overtime defeat at Green Bay.
But during the Bengals’ 0-2 start, the Bengals gave Mxon a grand total of 21 touches, a mere 10.5 touches per game. It’s clear that Lazor is focused on getting the ball into Mixon’s hands more to bring balance and a hard-nosed running game to this offense, and the rookie is answering the bell.