- By Laurel Pfahler Contributing Writer
Joe Mixon isn’t worried about his inability to do much for the Cincinnati Bengals’ running game this preseason.
The Bengals’ second-year running back says he just hasn’t been able to get in a rhythm with limited carries before giving way to the guys fighting for roster spots.
Mixon, a 2017 second-round draft pick, has rushed for just 24 yards on 13 carries through three games but is confident the yards will come in bigger chunks when the regular season rolls around. He likely won’t get another opportunity until the opener, as most of the starters will sit the preseason finale Thursday against the Indianapolis Colts.
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“It’s an opportunity for everyone to be out there and get touches,” Mixon said. “I am out there only getting four or six (carries). In the game, you’ve got to get a groove, and it’s only the preseason. I’m not worried about the preseason. None of these stats count, but Week 1 I’ll be there.”
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis indicated there is more to it than just a lack of rhythm in the preseason, though. A lot of it just has to do with Mixon’s youth, he said.
Expectations were higher for Mixon entering this preseason after he replaced Jeremy Hill midway through last year when Hill underwent season-ending ankle surgery. Mixon finished his rookie campaign with 626 yards on 178 rushes in 14 games with seven starts and came back as the starter with Hill moving on in free agency.
Hill, now with New England, had 18 carries for 69 yards last preseason and currently has 107 yards on 26 carries through three games with the Patriots.
“We’re trying to get Joe on track in doing his job all the time the correct way,” Lewis said Tuesday in his weekly press conference. “He’s still a young guy who still kind of gets excited and gets ahead of himself. He missed some opportunities in this last game that we don’t to miss when it’s played for real. It’s good learning, and we need to have some of those learning experiences.
“We have a young, talented player, but we want to keep that player pointed in the right direction and when he does that, that’s really going to help us because he’s got to turn some of those four-yard plays into eight-, 10-, 12-yard plays and not have a minus play because of him trying to get too much done. Just stay in the design of where things are and we’ll be fine.”
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The Bengals basically started from scratch with a new offense in Bill Lazor’s first offseason as offensive coordinator, so there were bound to be some ups and downs, but Mixon said the running game is closer to coming together than it appears.
Cincinnati has just 88.7 rushing yards per game this preseason, ranking 23rd of 32 teams, and against Buffalo on Sunday, Mixon and Giovani Bernard combined for just 10 yards on 10 carries in the first half. The running game was expected to be a bigger part of the offense this season, and Mixon spent the offseason slimming down with hopes he would be able to move easier and get up the field quicker.
“We went over the film (from Sunday), and it’s like we’re so close,” Mixon said. “Whether it’s a backside block, frontside block, whether it’s in the running back’s track, we put up probably 11 cut-ups, and if you look at all 11 of those cut-ups, it’s like, ‘If only he did this or he did this.’ We’re real close. We’re just one guy away, whether it’s me, the lineman, a tight end or receiver. Offense is 11 guys that have to execute a play. We’re really close. For me, I have to pay more attention to the little things, whether it’s in the track or my eyes and the read. Other than that, we’re really close.
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“I feel like the direction we’re heading in, especially with the cut-ups they showed us, it’s like, ‘Man, that’s a lot of yards that are out there we just have to go get.’”
Mixon stayed after Tuesday’s walk-thru practice to work on some things, even though he is not expected to play Thursday.
Once the opener comes around Sept. 9 at Indianapolis, it will just take “one big play,” to get going, he said.
“Regular-season, Week 1, I’m sure they’ll feed it to us,” Mixon said. “I’m not worried about the preseason at all. I know what we can do. I know what we’re capable of, and I know what we’re going to do.”