One of the bright spots in a bleak season for the Bengals has been second-year running back Joe Mixon establishing himself as one of the top players in the league. Despite his efforts on the field, Mixon was left off of the Pro Bowl roster (officially as a third alternate) and it is not hard to see the reasons why.
Lack of Proper Usage
In the modern NFL, passing the ball is king. Having a top running back does not do much for a team overall unless that player also contributes meaningfully in the pass game.
Mixon is currently leading the AFC in rushing despite missing some time, but as it’s been covered to exhaustion, he is terribly underutilized in the pass game. Mixon adds to his stats with another 287 yards receiving on 40 receptions from 52 targets. Steelers Pro Bowl running back James Connor, who has missed time recently with injury was targeted 68 times this season pulling in 52 receptions for 467 yards.
Clearly, the Steelers put a much heavier emphasis on getting the ball to the running back, but it is not just about volume in the pass game, it is about how they get the ball in the pass game.
The Chargers do a great job of using multiple running backs in both the run and pass game. Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon has 44 receptions on 60 targets. These numbers are reasonably close to Mixon’s, but Gordon has amassed 453 yards and 4 touchdowns compared to one for Mixon.
And Gordon has not simply been used as a check down, he is being targeted on deeper passes and put in positions where he can make plays.
Broncos Pro Bowl elect Phillip Lindsay’s stats in both the run and the pass game are comparable to Mixon’s so this would not be the factor that pushed him over Mixon. Maybe it was his cool hair.
Bengals Fans Didn’t Vote for Him
The Bengals reportedly did not fare well in terms of fan voting, which makes a lot of sense. Fans who have been in a perpetual state of misery since losing a heartbreaker to the Steelers were not highly motivated to get their Pro Bowl ballots in. Not pointing any fingers, but we don’t blame you.
Non-Bengals Fans Didn’t Vote for Him
You may’ve voted for Mixon, but your brother-in-law — the one who roots for the Cowboys for... reasons, he probably didn’t think twice about skipping over Mixon’s name on the ballot. There are several reasons for this, but primarily, the Bengals have been villainized because the negative perception regarding Vontaze Burfict usually dominates the news cycle when the Bengals are relevant. As a result, some people irrationally hate the Bengals. They also aren’t on national TV very much, and when they are, it never ends well. Which leaves us to the final reason....
The Bengals Stink
The team that started 4-1 was likely to have a lot of players in the Pro Bowl. The team that has gone 2-7 since is lucky that even Geno Atkins got in.
Like any other individual honor, team success is a component. Individual performance doesn’t amount to much unless it leads to team success; and despite Mixon being one of the lone bright spots on what is now a pretty bad team, his production just wasn’t enough to counteract this.
At the very least, Mixon is still just 22 years old and has even better seasons in store for us down the road. His time for recognition will come soon enough.