“It’s just the Browns.”
You probably either have said it or heard someone else say it between Sunday and right now. The Cincinnati Bengals were dominant on the ground against the Cleveland Browns and the emergence of the run game was clearly the major story of the game. The Bengals were dead last in rushing yards per game coming into the game against Cleveland, and through 11 games rank 31st with 75.6 yards per game on the ground.
This most recent game was different however, with the team compiling 152 yards on the ground, with rookie Joe Mixon being responsible for the majority. When asked about his breakout performance, Mixon was quick to point to his offensive line as the reason for his success, and he’s right - partially, at least. The big guys up front were a major reason he had such a great day, but the second round pick did plenty on his own to contribute as well. Let’s head to the tape.
Blocks on blocks by Bodine
Russell Bodine is the aim of much criticism when it comes to the Bengals’ offensive line and not without cause. Bodine has struggled to become a consistently efficient member of the offensive line since his inclusion, but this past week showed why Paul Alexander likes him so much. Let’s look to Mixon’s first carry of the game as evidence.
Bodine, as a pulling blocker, does a great job in space here. In actuality, he was great in space all game. Bodine gets not one, but two blocks here. First he helps Andre Smith with a chip block before moving on to an oncoming linebacker in pursuit. It results in nine yards on the first play of the game, which did a great job of setting the tone for the rest of the game.
You really can’t ask for any more than that from your center here, and pulling from the center spot is a much tougher task than in looks on film. You can’t start with any depth, you have to make sure you have a great snap first, and you often have a tough block to make. Really good stuff from the now veteran center. I’m hoping we can see more of those kinds of plays down the stretch.
North and south, not east and west
One of the things Mixon did poorly when he first joined the Bengals was that he had almost a vendetta to try and bounce most of his runs to the outside. He would be great at reading blocks, but you knew he was always trying to get to the corner to bust out for a huge gain. That may have worked for him a lot in college, but it’s not going to happen on a regular basis in the NFL. Most defenders are too smart, too disciplined, and too athletic to let that happen. Now, with half a season under his belt, Mixon is still reading his blocks, but taking holes when he sees them.
The Bengals are running an inside zone look here, with Joe doing a great job of reading his blocks and seeing the play open to our left (his right). He makes a nice cutback move but what he does next shows how he’s learning to play in the NFL. Joe Mixon from two months ago would have kept bouncing the play outside, trying to make the secondary miss with hopes of getting to the sideline. Instead he immediately cuts upfield and gets as much yardage as possible.
It’s not just Mixon
While Joe had a breakout game, the team needs to remember that Giovani Bernard is an extremely dynamic back in his own right. Here, on a draw play, Bernard takes full advantage of his burst to get a great pickup.
Cincinnati took great advantage of an extremely aggressive Cleveland front and made them pay. Mixon needs to be the workhorse, but Gio is just too good to keep off the field and he needs to continue to get touches.
Paging Ryan Hewitt
It’s been a while since we’ve talked about Hewitt, the Bengals’ H-back extraordinaire. We really haven’t seen a ton of Hewitt utilization as a fullback this year, and nowhere close to the usage we saw in 2014, when Jeremy Hill broke out as a rookie. The fullback is a dying position in the game of football, but a team like the Bengals can get a lot of good production in the run game but taking advantage of it. Take a peek at this iso run.
Cincinnati made a lot plays out of this double tight end formation on their final scoring drive. Hewitt gets a great seal on linebacker James Burgess Jr., and Andre Smith gets a great down block on the defensive tackle opening a huge hole for Mixon. I think based on the success of this formation alone on the final drive, we’re going to see more 22 personnel going forward from the Cincinnati offense. In an era dominated by the passing attack, this is a throwback to classic AFC North football.
Again, from this same look, just a few plays later, the Bengals offensive line does a great job blocking for Mixon. Your eyes may want to follow the ball, but watch left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi here. This is a great example of his athleticism being useful in the run game.
His initial shuffle step is basically allowing him to let the linebacker pick where he wants to go. If the backer darts inside, Ogbuehi simply down blocks him and Mixon get the edge easy. The other scenario, where the linebacker pursues outside, lets Ogbuehi ride the back out toward the sideline and turn him away from the play. Mixon cuts it up inside and from there, momentum carries him into the endzone.
Overall this was great play from the Bengals’ run game. If we can see this production against Pittsburgh, the Bengals might just be able to make a late season run.