The Cincinnati Bengals’ 23-12 win in their first preseason game of the 2017 NFL season was filled with plenty of reasons for excitement on both sides of the ball. On offense, it was, perhaps, the running game that gave the Bengals the most reason for excitement. Throughout the game, the team as a whole put up 140 rushing yards on 36 attempts and one touchdown. Granted, quite a bit of that production came from third string quarterback Jeff Driskel’s surprisingly effective day. But, that still shouldn’t take away from how good guys like Joe Mixon and Tra Carson looked. Jeremy Hill didn’t look too bad either, especially if you take away Hill’s worst play, which was largely a result of poor offensive line play.
“I thought our guys did a great job up front in giving lanes to fill, and I thought our backs ran hard,” head coach Marvin Lewis said at the postgame press conference. “That’s what you want to see in the brief action that you get in these preseason games. I thought they did a great job.”
Although no single player had time to put together a truly dominating performance, the Bengals gave more carries to Carson (eight) than any other player during the game. In the process, he gained 32 yards, in addition to one catch for another 23 yards. His play Friday was a culmination of all the hard work he has been putting together this offseason and last year’s time spent on the practice squad, helping him build his bid to make the final roster.
“Tra has a done a good job for us,” quarterback Andy Dalton said. “He’s a guy who was on the practice squad last year and was brought up that last week of the season. He’s done everything the right way and does anything you ask of him. He’s the type of guy you look for as a teammate.”
Carson was injured on Monday in practice, but returned to action on Tuesday, signaling he’s ready to compete for at least another practice squad spot, if not a spot on the 53-man roster. Carson’s Friday night performance was an important showing to have, considering Cedric Peerman returned from the Non-Football Injury list on Monday. Carson was given the opportunity to shine without a response from the player who has held the job he is fighting for (Peerman), and he absolutely followed through with the opportunities he had.
Speaking of running backs who took advantage of their opportunity to prove their worth to the team, rookie running back Joe Mixon looked really impressive in his debut. He only received six carries on the night, but he gained 31 yards in the process, good for 5.2 yards per run. A minor ankle injury last week kept the Bengals from playing him more, but he still played very well with the opportunities he was given.
“Well, with just his touches overall, I thought he did a good job,” Lewis said. “We’ll make sure he’s on track. He did a nice job and he’s just one ankle (injury) from having an opportunity to do a little bit more.”
Still, despite the injury, having that on-field experience early on will go a long way toward ensuring he stays on pace to develop into a great player.
“I think for him, it’s seeing everything. I thought he did well,” Dalton said. “It’s about communication and knowing where we’re going, and who his guys are. He’s big, strong, and he can protect. For a young back like that, it’s all about just knowing where to go.”
Ultimately, for Mixon, it is all about getting out on the field and fulfilling a lifetime of work all leading up to his very first appearance in an NFL game.
“It was fun,” Mixon said. “As soon as I ran out on the field everybody was cheering. It meant a lot to me and I appreciate that. I’m just going to keep going out to be the best teammate and best person around here.”
Although Mixon and Carson’s effectiveness was the talk of the post-game, let’s not diminish how important it was to see starter Jeremy Hill looking solid early in the game. His 3.7 yards per carry on seven carries (26 yards) didn’t quite measure up to what we saw from Mixon and Carson, but it was a good way to re-establish his presence on the team. And his worst play was largely not his own fault.
“I thought he did well,” Dalton said of Hill. “He ran the ball hard, and that’s what he can do. I thought it was a great job by him putting his head down and getting as many yards as he could on some of those runs. I thought we ran the ball well.”
Overall, the Bengals saw some really encouraging things from the running game this week. If this is what the unit looks like without Giovani Bernard, imagine how impressive things will look when he returns. The Bengals are absolutely loaded with talent in the backfield, so it is really exciting to see them commit to the running game and find success in the process.