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The positive narrative of Joe Mixon

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Cincinnati’s season will be coming to a close soon. Of all the injuries and difficult storylines the Bengals have endured in 2018, Joe Mixon is one of the few bright spots.

Oakland Raiders v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

This is one of those postings that may only interest me — AKA, I’m thinking about something and I answer it via a Chop Block post. There’s very little insight, story structure, or analysis here; just answering random musings from the couch during a stormy Cincinnati afternoon. There might not even be a conclusion; I’ll just stop when I’m finished.

No, Bengals running back Joe Mixon didn’t make the Pro Bowl this season — but that’s hardly a reliable indicator of player’s worth in the NFL. Regardless of some poorly designed award that favors popularity over production, Mixon is one of the more effective running backs in the NFL despite the lack of talent surrounding him, and one of a few narratives featured positively in Cincinnati this season.

“It definitely was disappointing (not being named to the Pro Bowl), but at the same time there’s only two things you can do about it,” Mixon said via the Cincinnati Enquirer. “You can go cry about it, which a lot of people probably will, or you can go (tough it out) and get ready for next year. I know next year I’m going to be a way better me, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Love the attitude, kid.

Not only is he quietly piecing together a career-defining campaign, he’s doing it with an offense missing their starting quarterback, superstar wide receiver, a match-up nightmare of a tight end, and documented production problems on the offensive line.

The coaching staff (finally) began to rely more heavily on Mixon to carry the load. “We said two or three weeks ago, ‘We’ve got to continue riding on Joe’s shoulders.’ Joe, Gio (HB Giovani Bernard) and Tyler (WR Tyler Boyd) — those guys are making plays for us, and we’ve got to keep riding on their shoulders,” head coach Marvin Lewis said this week.

The more Cincinnati features Mixon, the more it pays off.

Over the last two weeks, the second-year running back was called for a career-high 26 attempts against the Chargers and 27 last week against Oakland. Cincinnati nearly pulled off an upset against Los Angeles and handled the Raiders with relative ease. Prior to Los Angeles, Mixon’s career-high was 23 carries against Cleveland last year. Of his 26 career games in the NFL, he’s rushed 20 times or more on seven occasions — the Bengals are 6-1 during those games. Mixon now leads the AFC with 207 carries (NOTE: The Bengals are 10-2 when Mixon rushes 15 times or more).

Miami Dolphins v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images

Let’s further review his production for a moment:

  • Ranked first in the AFC with 995 yards rushing and fourth in the NFL, despite missing two games. When he hits 1,000 yards rushing for the season on Sunday (only needs five), he’ll become Cincinnati’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Jeremy Hill in 2014 — and in the unlikely event that he averages 232 yards rushing over the next two weeks, Mixon will become the team’s single-season franchise leader for most yards rushing.
  • Only three players in the NFL have generated more 20-plus yard runs than Mixon this season; six players have more 40-yard runs.
  • Mixon is only the third Bengals running back to reach eight rushing touchdowns in a season since 2003 (Rudi Johnson, Jeremy Hill).
  • Over the last two games, Mixon posted 240 yards rushing, including 129 last week during Cincinnati’s win over the Raiders.
  • Over the last four games, Mixon has 411 yards rushing and an impressive 5.2 yard/rush average.

Not only has his production impressive, his attitude has been amazing.

“What impresses me about Joe has nothing to do with his production,” head coach Marvin Lewis said earlier this week. “Joe is going to continue to produce in the NFL the more he settled he becomes. But his attitude, youthfulness, character of hard work, jubilation and his care for his teammates — that’s what’s impressive about Joe, and that never wains.

“I hope throughout his career it never changes. You want to continually remind him, ‘Don’t ever change and go to a different guy than you are right now, because this is what makes you who you are and people will rally around you that way. Never to lose that part because you’re a young, talented player. Keep ascending with those great qualities you have internally.’”

Mixon’s attitude, growth, and impact actually generates optimism for the Bengals in 2019. Could he threaten Rudi Johnson’s career marks, even becoming a more prolific scorer? Sure. Hopefully A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert (if he re-signs) return and stay healthy (Lol). Perhaps the offensive line will be addressed this offseason with a bit more seriousness. Regardless, Mixon has proven himself to be vastly productive and reliable, despite the injuries that’s devastated the offense. I’m not making a direct comparison, but the last time a player was extremely productive in spite of the players around him was Corey Dillon.

Mixon was limited Wednesday and Thursday with wrist and thigh injuries, Mixon was a full participant on Friday and absent on the team’s status report. Expectations are that he’ll play Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.