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Bengals Weekly Lineman: Joe Mixon and the pass rush spark a comeback

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After a sluggish start, the Bengals engineered a miraculous comeback against the Dolphins thanks to a reinvigorated running game and pass rush.

Is it better to be good or lucky? When it comes to winning football games, it seems like it takes a little bit of both. One is more sustainable than the other, but both can put you on top in the end. This was the case for the Bengals 27-17 come-from-behind win over the Dolphins this past weekend.

On paper, the Bengals rushing game and pass rush each had a solid performance against on Sunday. Running back Joe Mixon rushed for 93 yards on 22 carries. The defensive line ended up with three sacks and eight hits on Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill. With context, neither units were successful for most of the game, but they did finish as strong as they could’ve. Let’s start with Mixon.

Mixon had the sixth-most rushing yards in Week 5, but of the 28 running backs with at least 10 carries in Week 5 (not including Monday Night’s game featuring the Redskins and Saints) Mixon was 17th in success rate. If you decrease the sample size to just the fourth quarter and look at running backs with at least five carries in that period, Mixon ranked second out of 14.

The Bengals fourth quarter comeback was mad in part by Mixon and the Bengals offensive line finally getting going thanks to spreading the Dolphins defense out and with Mixon’s excellent vision and patience.

You really can help out your running game by spreading out your formation and utilizing delayed runs. It’s like the inverse of using condensed and bunched formations and running play action in the passing game. Here, the Bengals take advantage of the Dolphins going all out to defend a likely passing play call on second-and-10. The offensive line seals everyone out upfield and tight end C.J. Uzomah does just enough to give Mixon enough space to reach the first down marker.

It only makes sense that the Bengals went against all that logic on their next play and get lucky. With three tight ends inline with the formation, the Dolphins have a 9-8 box advantage and inexcusably give up a 31-yard run by Mixon. This is all thanks to Mixon feeling the blocks in his first read inside, recognizing the leverage his backside blockers have against the Dolphins crashing hard to their right, and taking advantage of an edge that’s just too soft.

More of Mixon’s patience on display. The way he leverages blocks while they’re developing seems to have improved even from the level he was at last year. We see left guard Clint Boling work against the nose tackle and Mixon bait him towards his first read, and use the massive vacancy in the c-gap to work on another block. Mixon cuts back upfield and probably would’ve scored had center Trey Hopkins done better against the linebacker in the second level.

Of course if Mixon scores here and the Bengals don’t kick a field goal two plays later, a certain play wouldn’t have had as much significance as it did. Before that play, and the three above occurred, there was the play that tied the score at 17 all.

The Dolphins losing starting left tackle Laremy Tunsil late in the game was a major blow for their offense. Backup left tackle Sam Young gets owned off the snap as defensive end Michael Johnson slants his rush to the inside with nose tackle Andrew Billings stunting with under tackle Geno Atkins. Johnson gets the easy penetration on Tannehill and Billings cleans it up.

Tannehill avoids the sack by getting rid of the ball, but throwing it to his own teammate’s helmet probably wasn’t the best idea. The ball deflects back to Johnson, and the veteran scores his first career touchdown.

The impact of Vontaze Burfict was felt in one of the most pivotal moments of the game, thanks to the help of his apprentice Nick Vigil. Burfict gets in position thanks to Vigil and his delayed blitz causes right tackle Ja’Wuan James to false step and makes defensive end Carlos Dunlap’s speed rush all the more successful. Tannehill steps up in the makeshift pocket but Dunlap finishes the play, leading to Hubbard actually finishing the play.

The Bengals fell behind in this game because of their ineffectiveness to run the ball with Mixon in the first half. And as well as the defense played, the pass rush outside of Atkins was very lackluster against a subpar Dolphins offensive line for three quarters. But in the end, both units kicked it up a notch and made plays when they needed to.

This Sunday against the Steelers, they can’t afford to be so hot and cold. The Bengals look like the better team on paper, but they’re still playing a team they simply can’t beat at home. If they fall behind early again, it’s hard to expect a similar comeback to happen two weeks in a row. They also can’t take their feet off the gas like they did last December when they were the ones who blew a 17-point lead.

Somewhere in the middle is the recipe for success, and they’ll be relying on Mixon, the run blocking and the pass rush to be major factors in it.