The Cincinnati Bengals have Joe Mixon, who is one of the most talented backs in the NFL, but have been incapable of creating paths of success for him in 2019.
The AFC’s leading rusher from last year has been bottled up through six games this season. After the long-awaited firing of Marvin Lewis after 16 years, Zac Taylor meant the ushering in of a new era. We are quickly approaching the halfway mark of the season and the Bengals are still winless. That’s not the most alarming part of the equation, they haven’t played well consistently to be competitive week to week. Is Joe Mixon being utilized properly?
Mixon has come out of the starting blocks at a snail’s pace and has no 100 yard rushing games yet. However, it’s not solely on his shoulders. The defense ranks in the bottom half in all the major categories, leading to the team trailing in games.
The offensive line has been horrendous, especially in the run blocking department. The Bengals offensive line ranks 32nd in runs stuffed and 27th in second-level yards per footballoutsiders.com. Regardless of the offensive line play, Mixon’s usage must improve under Taylor’s play calling.
In 2018, Mixon’s rushing locations were balanced a bit more than 2019. Mixon rushed to the inside on 77% of his attempts while 23% headed outside last season. Those numbers are a bit different this year. His inside rushing percentage is currently sitting at 88.4% and his outside attempts are at 11.6%. In addition to his rushing locations differing from a season ago, his usage in the passing game has dipped. Mixon has been targeted nine fewer times through the first six games than last season and has five fewer receptions.
To put this in a better perspective, with Taylor on staff, Todd Gurley was the target of 81 passes last season and Mixon is on pace for 51 targets. Taylor must utilize his best offensive weapon in space and not solely as a between the tackles grinder. Look at the diverse ways Sean Payton has given Alvin Kamara the football in space. It is that team’s best path to success. Giovanni Bernard is a talented change of pace back, but he shouldn’t eat into Mixon’s snaps. As the mastermind behind this Bengals offense, putting the players in the best positions possible is on the shoulders of Taylor.
I will continue to watch how he disperses the snaps and how Mixon is utilized going forward. Whether he is lining up in the slot to run routes, jet sweeps, or different screen variations, Mixon needs the ball in his hands in space. Zac Taylor, we are all watching you, sir.