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Joe Mixon is preparing to run for all the carries

The Bengals’ third-year playmaker is excited about enjoying the spoils of a Rams-like offense.

Cincinnati Bengals v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Entering year three, Joe Mixon has 415 professional carries to his name — each one going for a little over four yards on average.

In 2019, the former second-round pick wants to make sure he’ll be ready to double his career total in one season.

“I’m trying to be in the best shape to be able to handle that load because it’s not easy. I know I could do it,” Mixon told Geoff Hobson of regarding carrying the ball an egregious 400 times. “You always have to expect it. Even if it doesn’t happen, you have to always expect it. And I always try to do whatever I can to maximize my ability. I feel like with what I can do, I should be able to do that easily.”

Even if it doesn’t happen? More like when it doesn’t happen. Mixon’s 237 carries from 2018 ranked eighth in the NFL, 67 behind Ezekiel Elliott’s league-leading 304 mark. From 2000-2009 there were 87 instances of a running back carrying the ball at least 300 times. From 2010-2018, just 22. Larry Johnson’s 416 carries in 2006 remains the record for carries in a single season and the last time a running back reached the 400 mark — likely for as long as the passing game continues to grow on a yearly basis.

But who’s to blame the still 22-year old multi-dimensional ballcarrier for wanting the ball more? As a matter of fact, Mixon seems more excited at the prospect of the offense fake giving him the pigskin.

“Play-action,” Mixon said. “That’s what the Rams lived on. They give the ball a lot to Todd (Gurley), but they feed off their play-action. A lot of their big plays come off it. I feel like with our offense that will be great for us. You get everybody coming up (to play the run), we’d have no problem doing that.”

New head coach Zac Taylor alluded to his offense in Cincinnati being based off the offense he came from in Los Angeles. <90% 11 personnel, about 33% play action, all of it based around outside/wide zone runs. The Rams’ offense wasn’t so hard to figure out from a bird’s eye view, but the constant usage of the same personnel, jet motions and yes, play action, made it tough to keep with on a snap-per-snap basis.

It sounds pretty good in theory. But Mixon is all-in, especially when talking about his teammate John Ross, who at this moment in time is still a Bengal.

“I strongly believe in that,” Mixon said, “because off the play-action, get those safeties coming up and with (Ross’) speed and play-making ability, he’s shown he can definitely get over the top. I feel like he’ll be able to stretch the field a lot for us. I think that will be a great thing for him and Andy (Dalton).”

Setting up the passing game via the threat of the run in the form of play action is a concept football fans of all levels are aware of. The constant preaching from coaches, players and commentators doesn’t make it accurate though, but it’s a nice trope to make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Ben Baldwin’s piece on this relationship is a must-read on this subject.

Running the ball early and using play action later on isn’t more effective than just using play action at a high rate. The Rams proved this early on last year when they ran play action over 90% of the time when passing with quarterback Jared Goff snapped the ball under center.

Play action just... works. No matter how much effort you put into setting it up. And that still bodes well for the Bengals.

Goff lead the league in play action drop-backs per game at with 13.31, while Andy Dalton finished at just 9.18. That’s about 64 more instances of safeties taking a few steps upfield. 64 more added times linebackers straying a few yards from their zones over the middle.

64 more times to find pay dirt down the field.

Mixon probably won’t eclipse 300 carries in 2019, and he definitely won’t hit 400. The Bengals don’t need him carrying the ball a certain number of times per game, not if all the other pieces are in place.

It never hurts to prepare though.