Cincinnati Bengals Can Ride Joe Mixon to the AFC Playoffs

Cincinnati Bengals Can Ride Joe Mixon to the AFC Playoffs

Willie Lutz
3 years ago
3 min read
Cincinnati Bengals Can Ride Joe Mixon to the AFC Playoffs

During the Cincinnati Bengals trashing of the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, two things became abundantly clear; the “bullies of the AFC North” are on the way out and Joe Mixon was a smoldering wrecking ball against the “Steel Curtain”.

Mixon’s two touchdown and career-high 165-yard performance against the Steelers had to give many AFC teams some heartburn.

Heading into the season, the Bengals passing game was supposed to be the reason their offense could soar. Instead, they’re letting Mixon break opponents' will and Joe Burrow’s passing game unplug their life support.

In their two games since their Week Eleven bye, the Bengals have outscored the Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers by a 73-23 margin; Joe Burrow threw for under 200 yards in each game.

Joe Mixon, on the other hand, has taken 58 carries for 288 yards (5 yards per carry) and four touchdowns, earning back-to-back FedEx Ground Player of the Week Honors. Further, Mixon was Week Twelve’s AFC Offensive Player of the Week.

While it could seem like Mixon is getting some “luck of the draw” in the ground game, it’s not like the Bengals offensive line is a bunch of world-beaters. Their Pro Football Focus run blocking grade is 70.3, which ranks 16th, or the dead middle of the NFL.

Instead, Mixon is using his power and deception as a runner to shake defenders, which helps him create better lanes.

Similar to peers like Derrick Henry and Steelers-era Le’Veon Bell, Mixon is just hard to tackle; he currently ranks third in the NFL with 694 yards after contact. He also ranks fifth in the NFL with 220 breakaway yards, showing he’s got the breakaway impact to shake opposing defenses.

Recently, teams have shown the ability to ride a strong rushing attack deep into the playoffs, even the Super Bowl in some cases.

The 2018 San Francisco 49ers used a multi-back approach. Then, it was the 2019 Los Angeles Rams riding and MVP season from Todd Gurley all the way to the Super Bowl. Plus, we saw the 2019 Tennessee Titans nearly knock-off the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship on the back of Derrick Henry.

What’s the point of saying all that? The Bengals decision to lean on Mixon isn’t all that unprecedented... and none of the teams above had/have a quarterback like Burrow.

Making the Most of a Running Back’s Second Contract

In the NFL, it’s become mildly passé to hand running backs a contract extension... but it’s not without reason.

Just look around the league at some of the top veteran running backs; Derrick Henry is knocked out for the regular season, Dalvin Cook has missed time, Alvin Kamara hasn’t played since Week Nine, Ezekiel Elliott is the second-best running back on his team, and Christian McCaffrey just can’t stay on the field.

Then, there’s Joe Mixon, who missed the last 11 games of the 2021 season after suffering a confusing foot injury. However, a lot of the players on the list above brought injury baggage spanning more than one season, whereas Mixon missed just four games in his first three seasons.

Playing all 11 games so far for the 7-4 Cincinnati Bengals, Mixon looks like one of the better contracts among backs and better runners left on the playing field.

Additionally, Mixon is sitting at third in the NFL in rushing attempts with 208, showing the Bengals are more than willing to get the contract value out of the $48 million dollar man.

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