Mixon: Bengals remain ‘hottest thing smoking’ in NFL

Running back ranked third in NFL in yards last season

Joe Mixon enjoyed his most productive season while helping the Cincinnati Bengals reach the Super Bowl last year, but he still expects more in 2022.

The sixth-year running back recently spoke to Charlie Walter of Bay Area CBS affiliate KPIX at a youth camp Mixon was running at his alma mater Freedom High School in Oakley, Calif. During the four-minute interview, Mixon shared his thoughts on the Bengals’ run to Super Bowl LVI last year for the first time since before the big game.

“It was definitely a blessing and definitely quite the experience, and there was nothing like it, but there is always motivation to go back and win it, obviously,” Mixon told Walters. “But it’s so hard to really go back and repeat. I just felt like it was a year early. We weren’t even supposed to be there. Everybody didn’t even expect us to go to the playoffs. But we obviously went there and we actually put on a helluva show.

“To be honest, I feel like we might be the hottest thing smoking in the NFL on Sundays. So I feel like we are bound to have a helluva season. The best thing about it is we’ve been there before and we know how to get there, so we’ve just got to stick to the basics, one week at a time, and that’s what’s gonna happen.”

The Bengals will continue to count on Mixon opening things up in the passing game with his production on the ground, but what’s the next level for Mixon?

Mixon rushed for a career-high 1,205 yards and was one of the best at his position with the third-highest rushing total in the NFL last season. Including his production in the passing game, Mixon finished the year with 1,519 yards from scrimmage and 16 total touchdowns, putting him fourth among all NFL running backs in each category.

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Mixon’s total yardage put him ahead of Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd in terms of overall production. Chase and Higgins both topped 1,000 yards receiving, and Boyd wasn’t far off.

Mixon also earned his first Pro Bowl selection and even threw a touchdown pass in the Bengals’ first Super Bowl appearance in 33 years, but while the Bengals challenged Mixon to do more in the aerial attack last year, the third-down duties went to Samaje Perine and coach Zac Taylor isn’t necessarily looking for ways to get Mixon more involved in 2022.

“To say more, it’s taking away from somewhere,” Taylor said last month when asked if he would like to see Mixon more involved in the passing game. “We’re getting a lot of production from a lot of different guys. We’ve got a ton of production from our starting three receivers. We’ve got a ton of production from the tight end position. Got a ton of production from the running backs as a whole. To make a statement that we can get more out of Joe in the passing game, that’s got to pull from somewhere, and then we’ll be talking about why there wasn’t as much production from Ja’Marr or Tee. You know what I mean? So it all works together. We’re just looking to be an efficient offense and maximize the usage of all the guys the best we can to stress the defense. And then whoever gets the ball, gets the ball, and we expect them to make plays.”

The Bengals had five third-and-one or fourth-and-one situations in Super Bowl LVI, and they didn’t use Mixon on any of them. They converted just one of those, a fourth-and-1 scramble for Burrow.

Last season, Mixon was on the field for 64 percent of Cincinnati’s total team snaps, which was the fourth-highest among all running backs, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. But most of those came on first or second down. Mixon was on the field for 75 percent of the team’s first and second downs.

Perine received 64 percent of the snaps on third down, while Mixon shared just 17 percent of those. While Taylor leaves room for Mixon to get more opportunities in those situations, it’s clear his value remains in what he can do in the running game to put Joe Burrow and the offense in better third-down situations.

“It can always shift by a couple targets by position,” Taylor said. “But there are things we certainly utilize Joe on, where we try to get the ball in his hands in the pass game. And he’s done a good job executing that type of stuff.”

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