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Film Room: Bengals’ running backs shine in different roles vs. Browns

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Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard looked great against Cleveland as they attempted to carry the load on offense.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals have not gotten nearly enough out of two of their most powerful offensive weapons, Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard. The running game struggled greatly early in the season, but has been better in recent weeks.

Mixon ran the ball 23 times for 146 yards against the Browns. He also caught three passes for 40 yards.

Bernard did not have nearly the workload that Mixon did, but he contributed a 13-yard run and a catch that was perhaps the most exciting (and certainly the most fun) play of the game.

Let’s take a look at what this duo was able to do in Cleveland.

The two clips above are the same play from both the wide and tite (or sideline and end zone) angles.

Earlier this season, the offensive line was terrible at working up to the second level and blocking linebackers. In fact, when the team played the Seahawks, they basically left Bobby Wagner unblocked the entire game.

Here, however, they get it done.

Left guard Michael Jordan and right guard John Miller work quickly up to the linebackers and engage on their blocks. It is Jordan’s man who eventually makes the tackle, but only after Bernard has picked up 13 yards.

Overall, this outside zone play was very well blocked.

The Browns stunt their defensive front on this play. This makes things look pretty crazy because outside of the combo block from Jordan and center Trey Hopkins, it is all man blocking.

On the backside, Miller should be blocking the 3-technique on his outside shoulder, Bobby Hart should be blocking the standup edge player and C.J. Uzomah should be inserting for the linebacker. Hart’s block is fine, but the 3-technique crosses Miller’s face, which causes two problems.

First, Uzomah is taking an angle to insert through the open A-Gap, but when that gap closes, he fails to adjust.

Second, the nose tackle also enters the A-gap and essentially picks the Miller, leaving the 3-technique unblocked. The nose tackle was shaded strong and part of the combo block between Hopkins and Jordan. The two offensive linemen get hip to hip closing off the strongside A-gap, but Hopkins has to adjust and come back to the defender in the weakside A-gap.

Cordy Glenn and Tyler Boyd are man blocking on the strong side. Glenn is responsible for the defensive end, while Boyd is responsible for the slot defender who is lined up directly over him. Both defensive players stunt to the inside. While this action jumbles up the middle, it leaves no one on the outside.

Mixon recognizes this and quickly bounces out for a big gain.

Uzomah does a much better job here. Once again, the A-gap gets closed off by the defensive stunt. Although his initial path was in that direction, Uzomah adjusts and works through the B-Gap picking up the block on linebacker Mack Wilson.

Mixon makes a ridiculous cut to follow Uzomah up the hole. He had multiple excellent cutback runs in this game.

Unfortunately, Wilson is able to keep inside leverage on Uzomah’s block and come off to make the tackle for a six-yard gain.

Toss is one of the Bengals’ most effective plays and it led to some explosive plays for them against the Browns.

This play features a toss to the running back, often to the tight side of the formation. The tight end and play-side tackle block down, while the play-side guard pulls to kick out the widest defender and the center pulls to lead up the hole.

In this clip, Mixon is very patient, allowing Hopkins to get in front of him and engage on the linebacker. An excellent run by Mixon.

It is great to finally see the Bengals looking to use running backs in the passing game as more than just check downs.

In the clip above, Mixon is lined up as the widest receiver on the left side of the formation. He gets a good outside release and has a step on the defender running vertically down the field.

The pass is a little short and a bit inside which allows Wilson to make a play on the ball.

This was an excellent play call. Andy Dalton saw that Mixon had a favorable matchup in man coverage and targeted him on the deep pass. If Dalton could have hit him in stride, it may have been a touchdown.

This was a really cool play.

The most important part of the play happened before the ball was even snapped. Uzomah went in motion and Damarious Randall followed him. This revealed that the Browns were in man coverage.

When Boyd went in jet motion, his man went right along with him. That left only Auden Tate on that side of the formation, but he released and ran a route that took him across the formation.

Browns linebacker Joe Schobert was responsible for covering Bernard in man coverage, but both he and the deep middle safety chased Boyd on the jet sweep. Bernard leaked out to the backside and ran a wheel down the sideline, unaccosted.

Boyd flipped the ball to Alex Erickson on the reverse and Erickson threw the ball to Bernard for a 26-yard gain.

This was a huge play that put them in scoring position.


It is a positive to see the Bengals coaches utilizing both Bernard and Mixon in the passing game. Scheme adjustments have created more opportunities for the pair in both the run game and pass game.

Hopefully Bernard will see an increase in touches and the staff will continue to find ways to get each of them the ball in a position where they can do something with it.