With a renovated offensive line leading the way, Joe Mixon seemed like he could be in for a big year in 2022. However, the Cincinnati Bengals’ run game has not contributed much in early stages of the season.
That changed last week. Mixon ran 22 times for 153 yards and four touchdowns. Samaje Perine added 51 yards on only 6 carries. All in all, the Bengals had 241 yards on the ground in their defeat of the Carolina Panthers.
This was not just a matter of a team being afraid of the pass game. In fact, all four of Mixon’s rushing touchdowns came against stacked boxes. Regardless of the scheme they were running or how the defense aligned, the offensive line was able to open huge holes. Let’s take a look at some of the key runs.
We’ll start with a familiar play, the toss.
Two of the key blockers on this play are actually wide receivers. It starts with the motion. Stanley Morgan Jr. (17) motions to the right, then comes back to the left to lead the way, blocking the secondary contain player.
Even more critical was Tyler Boyd’s (83) crack block on the edge defender. This is what created the lane for Mixon to run through and opened up a path for the two pullers, Mitchell Wilcox (84) and Jonah Williams (73). Wilcox worked up to the safety, while Williams took out the flowing playside linebacker.
Guards Cordell Volson (67) and Alex Cappa (65) contributed excellent reach blocks, while center Ted Karras (64) climbed up to the second level to block the backside linebacker.
The edge defender was able to get around Boyd at the last second, but Mixon was able to stay on his feet for a big run.
They have run a lot of toss this season and this week it was really clicking.
The Bengals love to sit in 11 personnel with one running back, one tight end, and three receivers on the field, but this week they used more heavy formations. In this example, they have created more gaps and added more blockers at the point of attack with a double wing formation.
This featured tight ends Wilcox and Devin Asiasi lined up off the line of scrimmage to the right, and backup tackle Hakeem Adeniji lined up just inside them as the tight end. There is only one receiver, who is lined up off the screen to the left side of the formation.
They run a down-lead play with Asiasi (86), Wilcox (84), and Adeniji (77) all blocking down (away where the ball is going) and La’ell Collins (71) pulling around to kick out the edge defender. Cappa (65) follows and leads up the hole. He doesn’t actually get to his block, but his presence in the gap allows Mixon to cut outside for a big gain.
This was a nice wrinkle that the Bengals should make a bigger part of their run game this season. The down scheme fits with the strength of the offensive line. This was also a great use of their personnel and of a formation that they don’t run much.
From three tight ends, to no tight ends (at least by alignment). Here the Bengals lined up in the shotgun and ran a G-T counter. That means that the backside guard (Volson) and tackle (Williams) were pulling, with Volson kicking out the edge defender and Williams leading up on the playside linebacker.
This was a huge run for Mixon, but with only five blockers and a six-man box, how did they do it? Collins and Cappa double-teamed the playside defensive tackle, working back to the backside linebacker. The center, Karras, blocked the backside defensive tackle. That leaves one more player, the backside defensive end. He was Burrow’s responsibility. He has to honor the quarterback as a runner, whether Burrow was actually reading the play or not.
This was a great run, despite the offense being outnumbered in the box.
The Bengals have had a lot of success with the duo play. We didn’t see a lot of it last week, but it was the play call for arguably Mixon’s best run of the day.
Duo is sometimes confused for zone because the blocking assignments are often the same, but the technique is very different. On zone runs, the ball carrier and the blockers step in the same direction. Double-team blocks are not true double-teams, they are combo blocks. A double-team block is about moving the first level defender (defensive lineman). A combo block is about getting to the second level (linebacker).
This is the same heavy, double-wing formation that we saw earlier. We see a nice block solo block from Asiasi (86) on the edge and good doubles from Wilcox (84) and Adeniji (77) and Williams (73) and Volson (67), respectively.
Mixon sells it up the middle before cutting outside and out-running the secondary player (unaccounted for in the blocking scheme) for a huge gain.
This was a fantastic play. Duo should be this team’s bread-and-butter run play, and continuing to utilize this type of formation will lead to more big runs like this.
The run game is truly undervalued in today’s NFL. Running the ball effectively prevents the defense from simply teeing off on the quarterback every down. This creates opportunities in the pass game, and not just the play-action pass game. It is particularly effective when you can rip off some explosive runs, like Mixon and Perine did in this game. If the Bengals are going to make a run in the second half of the season, they will need to be able to consistently run the ball well.