Bengals’ Mixon eager to ‘deliver’ for teammates

Joe Mixon accepts the fact the Cincinnati Bengals want to get the most out of their franchise quarterback and that might mean limited touches -- even for a Pro Bowl running back like him -- when Joe Burrow has the hot hand.

But knowing who the Tennessee Titans could be leaning on with Derrick Henry back from injury, Mixon is hoping he can help keep his defense off the field Saturday in their AFC divisional round game.

“Nobody wants to keep tackling a bigger guy, especially in the cold,” Mixon said. “Sometimes guys get worn out making them hard tackles and sometimes they do make the hard tackles. But at the same time, it’s always that one time where you make that decision, ‘How are you going to make this play?’ and if you don’t, you see the consequences that come from that. And Derrick, he does a great job with making people pay for missing tackles. For us, we’ve just got to figure out ways to keep him on the sidelines, keep him on the bench cold and chillin’ over there. Hopefully, I have my shot to do my thing, keeping that ball on the ground and keeping that clock rolling.”

Mixon topped 1,000 yards for the third time in five seasons, hitting that milestone during a Week 14 overtime loss to the 49ers. That was a game in which Burrow threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Ja’Marr Chase to come back from a 20-6 deficit, and coach Zac Taylor seemed to shift the mentality after that, Mixon noted.

The next game was more of a defensive battle at Denver, but then Burrow passed for 971 yards and eight touchdowns combined in Week 16 and 17 to beat the Ravens and Chiefs and clinch the AFC North.

Mixon said it’s hard not to lean on the passing game with “a future Hall of Fame quarterback throwing dimes all day.” But, meanwhile, he hasn’t had more than 20 carries since a Week 12 win over Pittsburgh, his last 100-yard performance. He ran for 165 yards and four touchdowns on 28 carries that day.

“At the end of the day, any offense, you always want to establish the line of scrimmage in the run early,” Mixon said. “I felt like lately we haven’t done that as often, but ... it’s really no big deal because we’ve been having Joey B and our receivers making a whole lot of plays. We’ve got a lot of playmakers in this offense, so everybody needs to touch the ball and everybody will touch the ball, but like I say at some point, there’s gonna be a time where my number is called and I have to deliver it for my teammates.

“So until that point, I will try to do whatever I can to stay sharp and whatever I’ve got to do, whether it’s protection, whether it’s catching the ball out the backfield and trying to deliver it that way, like I said, I’m gonna do whatever I can. Stats don’t matter at this point, nothing else matters besides getting the dub, and that’s what I’m here to do.”

Mixon’s moment to deliver could come in the passing game, but with wide receivers like Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, he knows it also could come making a block downfield, picking up a blitz or catching a pass for a big play.

Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said the offense still wants to be balanced, but it also depends on how the game is going. When a game is on the line, they know Burrow gives the best chance to win.

“That’s usually how it works with great quarterbacks, and we feel really good that is one of those types of guys,” Callahan said. “When we get him an opportunity to let him win a game, we think he can win it. But that’s not to say that we’ll just abandon any form of how our offense works and functions to that. But he’s certainly, when given the opportunity, responded well and won us games. It’s all part of how the game flows and how it works together. But at the end of the day, we’ve got all the confidence in the world in Joe (Burrow) to put the ball in his hands, let us go win the game.”

The Titans won’t be easy to run against anyway. They have the league’s second-best run defense, allowing 84.6 rushing yards per game.

But to some extent, the Bengals need the run game to keep the defense honest and take pressure off the quarterback. Tennessee has a solid front seven, led by defensive tackle Jeffrey Simmons and outside linebacker Harold Landry, that could be a challenge for Mixon to run against and for the offensive line to protect Burrow.

Callahan said the key to getting the running game going will be staying patient. It’s worked with Mixon before and could Saturday, if needed.

“Any time you try to be efficient and balanced in the run game, there is patience involved,” Callahan said. “If you run it a few times and it’s not good and you decide not to do it at all, the more it can put you at a disadvantage. Particularly in the pass rush part of things and let the defense tee off a little bit.

“Every game is determined as it goes on, how you play it. The styles are different in each game. It’s not necessarily one size fits all for every game. As things unfold during a game, sometimes the runs hit early and you feel more confident. Sometimes you want to throw it more. It depends how the game starts and how the flow goes. If you want to run the ball well in the NFL, I think you do have to have some patience in doing so.”


Bengals at Titans, 4:30 p.m., CBS, Paramount+, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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