CINCINNATI, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 15: Joe Mixon #28 of the Cincinnati Bengals runs with the ball while defended by K’Waun Williams #24 of the San Francisco 49ers at Paul Brown Stadium on September 15, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Photo: Andy Lyons
Photo: Andy Lyons

Joe Mixon on Bengals’ struggling running game: ‘It’s not the team, it’s me’

The Bengals third-year player says he has been playing like a “peon.”

During the team’s 0-2 start, Mixon has 27 yards on 17 carries and the Bengals have amassed just 59 yards rushing. Through the first two games last year, he had 179 yards and one touchdown on 38 carries and finished the season with just one game under 50 yards.

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“I take it personally on me,” Mixon said Wednesday as the Bengals began their preparations for Sunday’s game at unbeaten Buffalo. “These two performances I’ve been displaying have been terrible. You call me the peon right now. I’ve got to go home and do some re-evaluating, some looking at the man in the mirror, which is me, and got to step up, making something happen.”

Mixon wasn’t so immediate to point the finger back at himself. He criticized the fans during an interview Sunday when asked about booing, saying, “If they feel like they can do it better, then come try out.” An hour later, he took to Twitter to apologize for his performance on the field, and then Monday afternoon he announced he was thinking about putting on an adult camp to accommodate the people responding.

That was his way of showing he didn’t mean for his comments to be taken so negatively. On Wednesday, he was the one self-deprecating. When asked what the team can do to get the running game going, Mixon said it’s all on him.

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“It’s not the team, it’s me, honestly,” he said. “I’m not being accountable to my teammates and making the plays I need to make. … I ain’t done nothing that I’m supposed to be doing. I’m not putting my team in good position to win. I’ve got to step it up.”

The Bengals likely will need more from the running game Sunday to be successful against the Bills, who last year had the best passing defense in the league (179.2 yards per game). They currently rank first in yards per pass allowed (4.9).

Mixon said he just needs to be more disciplined in his reads, make the first man miss and take “the yards when they’re there.” He’s been trying too hard to pop big runs when he sometimes needs to go for chunks at a time.

The offensive line says differently. According to guard/center Billy Price, the guys up front just need to make small tweaks with their blocks to give him more room to work. Mixon managed to lead the AFC in rushing yards last year with a similar offensive line unit.

“They are in front of their men most of the time,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’ve got to be the one to make that next jump in level and get to be elite. That’s who I am, that’s what I do is be elite.”

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Head coach Zac Taylor said the blame truly is on the whole offensive unit, though. After watching film the last two games, he said it seems every play there is a different person who didn’t do their job or did something to cause a penalty. Taylor is glad to hear some accountability from the players, though, whether it’s their fault or not.

Mixon’s best run in Sunday’s 41-17 loss to San Francisco was a 12-yard gain up the middle that got called back on a Price hold, which Price, Mixon and Taylor all said shouldn’t have been penalized as such.

“It’s a great thing seeing guys pointing the finger at themselves as opposed to point it at their teammates,” Taylor said. “We know, we’ve sat in there as a unit and as a team and hammered out all the reasons for our lack of success so far. It’s very clear it’s the entire unit, and 11 guys function together in conjunction with the coaches putting them in the right positions, so there’s no need to point the finger at one guy. But, again, Joe’s been a great locker room presence for us, he’s accountable for the things he can control and that’s what we’re going to need to be successful.”

Mixon didn’t get a full work day in the opener, a 21-20 loss at Seattle, to try to get the running game going. He left in the third quarter with an ankle injury and didn’t return to practice until Friday in limited fashion.

After testing the ankle out in warmups Sunday, he felt good enough to go and said Wednesday the injury wasn’t a factor. He believes once he gets into a rhythm, the yards will just keep coming. Hopefully that happens sooner than later.

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“I feel like if I could break one good run, get in a groove where I feel I could run any run or do whatever the case may be, just get the ball in my hands and I’m going to do whatever I can to put us in the best position,” Mixon said. “That’s how I feel about it from a football standpoint, so I just have to improve my game and be in tip-top shape and be able to be ready for this pounding I’ve got to take week to week.”

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