Going into Sunday’s Bengals game, many wondered if rookie running back Joe Mixon would see an increased workload in his third game and first under new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor.
The answer was yes.
After playing 22 snaps (36%) in Week 1 and 16 snaps (25%) in Week 2, Mixon played 34 snaps (56%) in Week 3 and had 18 rushing attempts for 62 yards as well as three catches (on three targets) for 39 yards in the Bengals' loss to the Packers.
“I think it's a real general statement for me to say get the ball to your best players, so I don't mean to be insulting, but that's part of it,” Lazor said via Bengals.com following his first game as the Bengals’ OC. “I think the guys who have proven before they can be successful and help you win games, you've got to rely on them to do it. A guy like Joe (Mixon), we all expected he would start to rise to that.”
The Bengals drafted Mixon in the second round of this year’s draft with the intent that he would play early and often as he evolved into a star for the team. You simply do not take a player with Mixon’s baggage if you don’t intend to play him. And with Lazor at the helm, it seems Mixon is in for a featured role.
“I actually loved it,” Mixon said of his Week 3 workload. “I feel like with the weapons we have we can be whatever we want when we want to. We came up short … We just have to keep going and finishing. That’s all it is.”
Elsewhere, A.J. Green uncharacteristically complained about needing to get the ball more following the team’s Week 2 loss to the Texans. That game forced former offensive coordinator Ken Zampese out the door. Green was targeted 10 times in Week 1 (five catches for 74 yards) and eight times in Week 2 (5 catches for 67 yards). Comparatively, on Sunday in Green Bay, Green was targeted 13 times, (10 catches for 111 yards) and scored the Bengals' first touchdown of the season. When Lazor refers to getting the ball into the hands of guys who can help you win games, Green is at the top of that list and we can expect him to be getting the ball with high frequency in all future games.
As for how Lazor is working with quarterback Andy Dalton, that seems to be a work in progress as the two figure out how much Dalton should change plays and how Dalton gets the offense prepared to execute at the line of scrimmage.
“With Andy, he had to now say, 'When Bill calls this, this is what he's looking for.' Sometimes it might be a little different than a different guy wanted,” Lazor said. “Just the thought process, how you get him to be decisive. So I think that was a challenge for both of us. Just like with the whole offense, I had to decide with Andy how much do you change? If you have a list of three things or eight things or however much that maybe you want to change, how much does it really make sense in one week. It was a challenge, and it still will be.”
During the Bengals’ 12-4 season in 2015, Dalton was often praised for his ability to change calls at the line of scrimmage and execute those changes to perfection. That skillset hasn’t been as paramount since his thumb injury, but maybe Lazor can help Dalton get back to where he was when Hue Jackson was leading the offense.
Another interesting thing seen on offense in Green Bay was the rotation of linemen. Andre Smith spent time at both left tackle and right tackle during the game, which the team has attributed to the heat.
“We went going into the game knowing about the heat and I said after the game that we (had planned to) rotate those guys,” Lewis said. “We will evaluate that as we move forward.”
I don’t buy the heat being the cause of Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher being benched and alternating with Smith. As Lazor said, he’s looking to get the most successful guys on the field and it seems the Bengals were looking to see if Smith can be more successful than Ogbuehi and/or Fisher. We’ll see if the trend of rotating linemen continues when it’s less hot in the coming weeks. But as for how Lazor feels about Smith’s abilities, he seems to be happy with what he’s seen from the Bengals’ 2009 first round draft pick.
“I thought even in the practice week he looked pretty natural doing it,” Lazor said of Smith playing at left tackle “I asked him, and I don't think he has too much of a preference. Some guys struggle to go back and forth. He looked pretty natural to me.”
Smith seemed to be happy with his performance, too. The game in Green Bay was his first time getting on the field this season and his return to regular-season play with the Bengals after spending a year away from the team while with the Vikings in 2016.
“I did some good stuff. On the road with 80,000 people yelling. It was pretty good,” Smith said of his performance against the Packers. “There’s room for improvement. (The transition) wasn’t that hard. I tried to just stay true to my technique and just make sure I didn’t do anything off the wall or crazy. I played right tackle for nine years. I know how to do that. I saw Whitworth do it the right way for seven years. I know what it’s supposed to look like.”
Lazor’s first game as offensive coordinator for the Bengals is in the books. Will what we saw in Green Bay become trends or are more changes in store? We’ll soon find out as the Bengals next head to Cleveland to take on Jackson’s 0-3 Browns.