The Cincinnati Bengals are facing some of the worst teams against the run in 2018. One of the easiest for running backs actually.
When taking a look at the Cincinnati Bengals regular season schedule, it appears that running back Joe Mixon has one of, if not the easiest, schedules among running backs based on last year’s stats. Outside of the Indianapolis Colts in week one, Cincinnati faces all top half of the league in run defenses from last year in their first six weeks. Three of those teams including the Pittsburgh Steelers, Carolina Panthers, and Atlanta Falcons ranked among the top 10 teams against the run in 2017.
While the start of the season will be a tough challenge for running back Joe Mixon and the Bengals offensive line, following week 6 it gets much easier. They face off in weeks 7 and 8 against the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers who severely struggled against the run leading into the bye week. Cincinnati also faces the Los Angeles Chargers in week 14 who was the 31st ranked team against the run last season.
This is good news for the Bengals as they still have some big question marks in positions to block for the run game. Obviously, determining what Mixon and running back Giovani Bernard will be able to do in 2018 revolves heavily around the offensive line play but also on the playcalling. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor has had a full offseason to instill his own touch to this offense that was the worst in the league when it came to total yards per game.
Everything coming out of the Bengals camps has been talking about the difference in the offense. Whether that be calling out plays to the wide receivers or getting away from the same west coast look that has been in Cincinnati for years. Lazor looks to bring some new looks to this offense and one area that the coaches have talked about is bringing in more run-pass options (RPO’s). This would give quarterback Andy Dalton more time in the pocket as well as the defense will always have to hold back full pressure until they determine where the ball is going.
Dalton has the ability to run with the ball as well. While not the most athletic quarterback by any means, he can still take off running. This was a huge contributor to the success of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles. When Foles stepped in for injured Carson Wentz, he had a rough start to finish the regular season. During the bye week in the playoffs, head coach Doug Pederson brought more RPO’s to the offense and Foles had much better success as they went on to win the Super Bowl.
This would also mean more shotgun sets which are where Mixon will thrive. Unlike former Bengals running back Jeremy Hill, Mixon does not run better behind a fullback. The fullback position is barely used in the NFL as the league has converted more to a pass-heavy league in recent years. Cincinnati has been slow to transition that trying to run Mixon and Bernard behind fullbacks much of the 2017 season. Hopefully, we will see fewer fullback leading runs and more Mixon runs coming out of the shotgun where he has more experience doing.
Mixon rushed 178 times for 626 yards and 4 touchdowns last season only averaging 3.5 yards per carry. Once again, some of that has to do with the offensive line playing poorly and playcalling. Lazor went away from the run for most of the season as the team ranked 29th in rushing attempts. Mixon should be a bigger part of the Bengals offense moving forward as he enters his second year in the NFL. Could we see the first 1,000-yard rusher since Jeremy Hill was a rookie?