Slow starts are nothing new to Joe Mixon.
The Cincinnati Bengals’ star running back got off to a miserable start in 2019. After the first eight games of the season, Mixon managed just 320 yards on 101 carries for an average of only 3.17 yards-per-carry.
But just like the little engine that could, Mixon kept attacking that mountain and, in the second half of the season, became one of the most productive runners in football, earning accolades from New England’s Bill Belichick as “probably . . . the best back in the league.”
This year’s start was a similar one. Mixon, running behind an offensive line that, because of injury and just-plain poor play, never really gained any consistency, injured his foot in the first half of the week 6 loss to the Colts and never returned.
Through five-and-a-half games, Mixon had 428 yards on 119 carries, an average of 3.6 yards per carry. He also had 21 receptions for 138 yards and was on pace for a season-high in catches and yards.
In fact, at the time he was injured, Mixon was on his way to 1245 yards rushing and projected out to 61 receptions for 401 yards, all of which would have been career highs.
New offensive line coach Frank Pollack, who coached the offensive line in 2018 when Mixon ran for a career-high 1,168 yards, recognizes exactly what the former Oklahoma star brings to the table.
“He brings a lot juice and energy,” Pollack told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com recently. “That was a lot of fun to be around a couple of years ago and I’m looking forward to coaching him again.”
The feeling is mutual. Mixon was one of the first to welcome Pollack back, and likes what his return means to the Bengals’ running game.
“He’s an interesting man,” Mixon told Hobson. “I like his style. He gets after it. The thing about Frank is that no matter who is out there on the field, we’re going to run that little ball. He’s committed to the run.”
Commitment to the running game has always been a good thing for Mixon, who begins his fifth season with Cincinnati in 2021. In 2017, in his first year in the league, Mixon carried only 178 times for 626 yards and an average of just 3.5 yards per carry.
In 2018, his carries shot up to 237 and his yards-per-carry average ballooned to 4.9. In 2019, Mixon was one of the busiest ball carriers in the NFL as he rolled up 1,137 yards on 278 carries for an average of 4.1 yards per carry.
Expect Mixon to be perfectly healthy in 2021, and hungry to live up to Belichick’s label as one of the best in the game. And, with Pollack once again in control of the offensive line, it’s a good bet Mixon will do just that.