Bengals expect increased production from Mixon

Running back will get more opportunities on third down with departure of Gio Bernard

Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor said he thought Joe Mixon was on pace for a “really good year” before a foot injury sidelined him midway through the sixth game and kept him from a return to the field.

Mixon finished with 428 yards and three touchdowns on 119 carries, plus another 138 yards receiving and one touchdown on 21 catches, in the shortened final year of his rookie contract, of which he already had signed a four-year extension worth $48 million prior to the start of the season.

This year, he’s set to make more than $8 million, and the Bengals are expecting even more from him in Year 5 of his NFL career.

“He was doing a great job catching the ball out of the backfield; he was having a lot of production for us,” Taylor said of Mixon’s 2020 season. “I was excited to see him in that 16-game season, and it was cut short, obviously. Joe does all the things we ask him to do. He’s catching the ball really well. He’s getting detailed. He knows who to block in the protections and how to do it. He’s a really strong runner. He really buys in to the schemes that Frank (Pollack) employs and we’re asking him to do up front.”

Mixon was coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2018 and 2019, and the Bengals weren’t expecting him to miss the final 10 games. They were so hesitant to put a timetable on his return they held off on placing him on injured reserve with the hope he could be back within less than the three-week minimum absence that came with going on IR last year (normally it is eight games).

Week after week went by, and Mixon was still “day-to-day” but never made his return. Now, he’s back to his usual routine in Organized Team Activities and preparing for a potentially bigger workload now that Giovani Bernard is gone.

“I don’t want Joe (Mixon) to leave the field, personally, and I think he’s up to that challenge,” Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said after the NFL Draft. “He has some things he has to improve pass-protection-wise. Joe shouldn’t come off the field, he should be on the field every down. He’s aware of that.”

Mixon has not been available yet to media this year, but he’s spoken often about wanting a bigger workload.

Taylor echoed Callahan’s thoughts on keeping Mixon on the field as much as possible, while also acknowledging other players are available to help.

“It’s what we want,” Taylor said when asked about Mixon’s third-down potential. “Having Joe Mixon on the field makes us better. At the same time, you don’t need him on the field for 75 snaps a game. Sometimes you have to pick and choose where you can give those guys the break. And Samaje Perine is a really smart and detailed back as well, so it’s not that ‘OK, he’s not on the field; what’s he doing wrong?’ It’s we want him to be full go for the length of the season. So, you don’t need to give him every snap. You’ve got to delegate in a sense and make sure there’s roles for other guys where everybody is fresh and giving you the best effort. So it’s not always necessarily ‘what did he do wrong? He’s not on the field for three downs.’ We feel like we have other weapons we can utilize and can do a great job for us.”

Mixon was on pace for a career-high in receptions after catching 21 of the 26 passes thrown his way in five and a half games in 2020. His previous high was 43 catches with 55 targets in 2018.

Bernard was always known for his pass blocking and ability to make plays on third down, and Mixon has been working to improve in those areas. Quarterback Joe Burrow will be looking for as many threats, and Mixon wants to be more involved out of the backfield in whatever ways he can.

Ideally for Mixon, the team is ramping up the run game and using him more in that manner, but Taylor is hesitant to say how many touches he would ideally like to get Mixon while trying to maintain some balance in the pass and run games.

“We want the production in the run and passing game, and so I don’t just put a set number of carries and yards in there, because each game is going to be different,” Taylor said. “You make a statement like that and all of a sudden we’re throwing the ball for X number of yards and having great production, and then the next set of four games we’re doing a great job running the ball. I just think we’ve got weapons we’ve got to find ways to utilize to where the defense has really got to defend every blade of grass and they don’t know whether we’re coming or going. We feel like we’ve got some really good pieces to utilize and have a lot fun with it.”

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