Most people wrote the Bengals off going into their matchup with the Patriots. After all, the Bengals only have one win on the season and the Patriots are the Patriots: Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and a defense that has been playing lights-out all season.
While the Patriots pass defense was extremely impressive and Stephon Gilmore showed why he is the best in the game, the Bengals were able to have a ton of success on the ground.
Running back Joe Mixon had one of his best games of the season, gaining 136 yards on 25 carries and earning high praise from Belichick and company.
Belichick on Joe Mixon: “We were ready for him. He just did a good job... This guy is as good as any back as we’ve played all year.”— Phil Perry (@PhilAPerry) December 15, 2019
The offensive line has played much better over the last few weeks and Mixon has made the most of it. After running for just 320 yards in the first half of the season, Mixon has piled up 605 rushing yards in the last six weeks. This puts him a mere 75 yards away from 1,000 yards with two games remaining.
A running back’s No. 1 job is ball security, but his No. 2 is getting back to the line of scrimmage. It sounds simple, but sometimes a defender blitzes, an offensive lineman misses their block, or a player is just not accounted for in the blocking scheme. The running back must ensure the play does not go for negative yards.
Mixon did not rush for a loss of yards once against the Patriots and the first clip we’ll look at is a great example of him taking a loss and turning it into a huge play.
On their first drive the Bengals faced second-and-eight on their own 39-yard line. They ran a toss play, which they have had a lot of success with this season.
This time it didn’t go well at first.
Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy is able to get penetration by stunting inside of tight end C.J. Uzomah. Pulling guard John Miller picks up Van Noy, which leaves safety Patrick Chung unblocked. Linebacker and Dont’a Hightower scrapes over the top and also gets into the backfield.
This impedes Mixon’s path to the edge, and to make matters worse, John Simon and Jamie Collins are pursuing him from behind.
Mixon stops and turns back, shaking off an attempted tackle by Collins and ducking under the would-be tackle of Chung. He then cuts upfield and beats safety Duron Harmon with speed, taking the ball up the sideline for a gain of 29 yards.
This was huge play! It was second-and-long. If Mixon was tackled for a loss, the Bengals likely would have ended up punting. Mixon’s play kept the drive alive and the Bengals ended up scoring a touchdown, tying the game at seven.
Mixon plowing through the defense pic.twitter.com/1Ct04Nk3hL— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) December 17, 2019
On the running backs episode of NFL 100 All-Time Team show, Belichick talked about Emmitt Smith and his uncanny ability to take two-yard runs and turn them into eight-yard gains. Earlier on their first drive, Mixon did (almost) just that.
Mixon cuts back looking for a seam on the inside zone play. Defensive lineman Lawrence Guy defeats the block and hits Mixon a yard past the line of scrimmage. Mixon stays low and keeps his legs moving, driving the 315 pound Guy six yards downfield before reinforcements are able to help bring Mixon down.
Mixon showed some shake and speed on the previous clip, but on this play he demonstrated that he is a true power back.
The best running backs are like water; they find the fastest way downhill. Like water, this sometimes means flowing through a tiny crack in the defense and that is what Mixon does on this clip.
Seeing that Michael Jordan and Trey Hopkins are getting movement on the nose tackle, Mixon looks to cut back. As Cordy Glenn works up to Hightower and Uzomah takes over the block on Deatrich Wise Jr., Mixon sees the lane he is looking for, but it is tiny.
He gets skinny and breaks through the hole, taking the ball for five yards.
This is a play that could have easily gone for no gain, but Mixon turns it into a positive.
This is a play that won’t make any highlight reels, but shows that Mixon is a very intelligent player.
Quarterback Andy Dalton gives Mixon the ball on the zone read. Seeing that his offensive line is getting a good push and driving the defense to the right, he cuts back to the left.
The problem with cutting back on zone read, is the unblocked player. Collins stayed backside and was responsible for Dalton, but now that the ball has declared he is free to pursue Mixon. Some running backs don’t realize or aren’t being taught this, so they cut back too far. Mixon doesn’t do that.
He cuts tight off of Glenn and stays low moving straight forward. He knows that Collins will get to him and is looking to maximize the number of yards he can gain on the play before that happens. Wise comes off of Glenn’s block and along with Collins brings Mixon down for a four-yard gain.
This was a very smart play by Mixon.
If there is one skill Mixon should be known for, it is his jump cuts. If you aren’t familiar with the term, it is exactly what it sounds like.
In the clip about, Mixon takes the handoff from Dalton looking to cross his face and take the ball into the A-gap between the center and right guard. Hightower quickly fills that gap and Mixon jumps back three gaps to take the ball outside of the left tackle’s block.
Mixon has ridiculous athletic ability and it earns him 13 yards on this run which should have gone for little or nothing.
Mixon is an incredible player who proved in this game that he can get it done against the league’s top defenders. He will be a huge part of the offense that Zac Taylor and Brian Callahan are building in Cincinnati.