ORCHARD PARK, NY - SEPTEMBER 22: Joe Mixon #28 of the Cincinnati Bengals carries the ball for a first down during the fourth quarter against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field on September 22, 2019 in Orchard Park, New York. Buffalo defeats Cincinnati 21-17. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
Photo: Brett Carlsen
Photo: Brett Carlsen

Cincinnati Bengals: Improvement needed in stagnant running game

He said his 60-yard rushing performance wasn’t up to his “standard” and he hopes to do more Monday night when the Bengals play at Pittsburgh in an AFC North division rivalry matchup between two teams looking for their first win.

Mixon had just four carries for 18 yards in the first half against Buffalo, but as the running game found a rhythm, so did the offense and Cincinnati bounced back from a 14-0 deficit to take a lead on 17 straight points before falling on a late touchdown.

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A little more Mixon earlier in games could be just what the Bengals need to get on the right side of things.

“We got into more of a groove,” quarterback Andy Dalton said. “That’s what it came down to. We were able to run our offense how we wanted to run it. There was a lot of stuff that went wrong for us in the first half from an execution standpoint. For us, (we) get back to, ‘OK, let’s just focus on us. Let’s get to playing how we can play.’ We hit some of those runs, which were good. … Any time you can turn around and hand the ball off, it gives you confidence. It opens up your whole offense.”

Normally, the Steelers are among the top run defenses in the league, but that’s not been the case so far, and it could be another opportunity for the Bengals’ ground attack to see some improvement.

Mixon said he doesn’t necessarily need more touches earlier in games to be successful but it would help.

“Just to do whatever I can to put us in a great situation, whether I touch the ball six times or 60 times, it don’t matter,” Mixon said. “It just depends on how the game is going, but at the end of the day, by me touching the ball, it will be a little better, at least for me on my end, and I feel like the linemen want that too. At the same time, we just have to go out and play great football, play in front of the sticks and do our thing.”

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The offensive line made one change that could potentially correlate to some improvement in the run, though left guard Billy Price doesn’t try to take credit. Price replaced injured rookie Michael Jordan to earn his first start of the season after coming in for 13 snaps in the fourth quarter of a Week 2 loss to the 49ers.

Jordan was inactive last week because of a knee injury that turned out not to be as serious as originally expected.

“It’s great to see the running game rolling again,” Price said. “I know the offensive sets, motions, different things we’re doing all correlates, so I know that puts us in a great position to go out and execute and capitalize on it. I know that’s something this entire row of offensive line guys takes a lot of pride in.”

Price has been best known for his abilities run blocking, and on Sunday, he was charged with just one failed run block and two pressures, according to The Athletic’s Joe Goodberry, but the positive plays far out-weighed the negative.

Bengals coach Zac Taylor called his performance “solid” but wasn’t ready to say whether he would remain at left guard or whether Jordan would be back. Jordan returned to full participation in practice Thursday and was back to working with the first-team offense by Friday with Price back to second-team center.

Taylor said he feels comfortable with either one at left guard.

“I don’t want to make any predictions on if (Jordan) is able to come back yet,” Taylor said Thursday. “Those are good issues to have in the O-line room, when you have a guy like Billy that comes in and plays well. It’s only a good thing, so we’ll continue to talk through that this week.”

Price said whoever lines up against the Steelers on Monday should still expect the same hard-nosed defense they’ve always had, regardless of what records and stats say. The Steelers were the sixth-best defense against the run last year, while allowing just 96.1 rushing yards per game, but they enter Monday ranked 28th at 139.3 rushing yards allowed per game.

“They are historically a great defense, very run-stop heavy, and that’s what we should still be ready for,” Price said. “They have some special athletes in the secondary as well, Joe Haden, (Terrell) Edmunds, the safety. They just got Minkah Fitzpatrick from the Dolphins (via trade Sept. 17). They have some very talented guys over there. You have to make sure you are very cued on the details in the run game, and I know our receivers are going to be sharp when it comes to the passing game.”

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