Where will Bengals run game rank in 2018?
The Cincinnati Bengals have worked hard to bolster the offensive line and give their talented backs room to run in 2018. Are they a top 10 rushing attack?
The Cincinnati Bengals had one of the worst rushing attacks in the league last season. Considering the group of talent in the running backs group, it was frustrating for fans to watch. Cincinnati ranked 31st in yards per game with 85.4. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor tended to go away from the run game as well ranking 29th in the NFL for rushing attempts.
There is plenty of reasons why the rushing attack struggled last season and one of those is the offensive line. Running backs rarely had a chance to have holes to run through and were often met by defenders in the backfield. Rotation of the offensive line unit helped as the season went along and the Bengals were able to have more success due to this in the last few games of the season.
With new additions to the offensive line in left tackle Cordy Glenn and rookie center Billy Price, we should see a significant upgrade in the production. Price can play both center and right guard if needed and having him next to Clint Boling to lock down the middle should open up some run lanes for the running backs. New offensive coordinator Frank Pollack will also bring some development to the offensive line and bring new schemes to help the running game as he did for Dallas.
Lazor and Pollack should bring some big changes to the offense as well this offseason. Lazor has had his first full offseason as the offensive coordinator to design his own style of the playbook and it sounds like an offense with more shotgun based plays. Spreading out the offense has been the rumor of the future for Cincinnati and these are two guys that can put one together.
Pollack put together schemes for it in Dallas and it turned out really well for Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. Lazor has experience in multiple styles of offense. Giving more run-pass options to the offense is likely to be expected which will give Andy Dalton more time in the passing game as well. Running back Joe Mixon spent time in a spread offense at Oklahoma so this would fit his strengths.
The Bengals failed to not utilize Mixon properly or enough in 2017. The first issue was that running back Jeremy Hill was taking the snaps away from Mixon. This is not out of the norm for rookies in Marvin Lewis era, something that will likely change somewhat this season. Even during the week 7 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers when Mixon was having his best game carrying the ball seven times for 48 yards and another 20 yards in the air, Cincinnati rolled out Hill at the beginning of the second half.
Lazor also had Mixon running in the same style offense as Hill. Considering they are completely different styles of running backs, this was another reason the running game failed to get going along with the offensive line. Mixon struggled running behind a fullback and needs to be allowed to run freely with speed. Running back Giovani Bernard and rookie running back Mark Walton are both backs that succeed out of the shotgun formation as well.
Utilizing the running backs to their strengths and a better offensive line in 2018 should significantly bolster the Bengals rushing attack. Mixon will be the lead back which means more carries and opportunities to break out. We also have to look at the passing attack being significantly improved in 2018 as well, hopefully.
Tight end Tyler Eifert is coming back from injury, second-year wide receiver John Ross is healthy for the first time with a huge chip on his shoulder, and A.J. Green is finally not the only weapon in the passing game. Spreading out the offense will give them more room as well and more weapons mean less double coverage and less stacking the box to stop the run. Spreading out the defense will give Mixon, Bernard, and Walton more room to do what they do best which is attack the open field.
We all have high expectations for Joe Mixon but have yet to see his real potential following his limited role in 2017. This season will be the first real glimpse at what the Bengals have in Mixon as he leads the backfield and the offense is revamped. The likelihood of the offense running more shotgun based looks and run-pass options in 2018 would fit his strengths and I expect him to have a great 2018 season.
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While I think the Bengals rushing attack will significantly improve this season, I wouldn’t put it in the top ten. I would argue for top 15, however. Cincinnati has a significant amount of talent in that backfield which will bring production in the running and passing game. Given the changes being made on offense, I think that we could see our first 1,000-yard rusher since Jeremy Hill’s rookie season.