After an abysmal 0-2 start to the season, things are looking up for the Cincinnati Bengals as they are riding a four-game win streak and are currently tied with the Ravens for the division lead.
Ever since those strange first two games where Cincinnati looked nothing like the team they put together last season when they made that Super Bowl run, they have gone 6-2 and many Bengals are playing at a high level.
As said by Zac Taylor in the locker room after the Chiefs' game: They control their own destiny.
Guys like Joe Burrow, Tee Higgins, Trey Hendrickson, Germaine Pratt (or Playoff P, the nickname rightfully given to him after his interception to seal the game in the Wild Card last year against the Raiders), etc. are all playing their best football-- and it's come at an extremely important time as the Bengals make their push for the playoffs and have some of their most difficult games of the season on the horizon.
However, there is one player you might not have expected that has been playing exceptionally, arguably at Pro Bowl level: Samaje Perine.
Over the last three games, Perine has done an excellent job filling in for Mixon after he sustained a concussion against the Steelers early in the second quarter. He's rushed for 194 yards, with a 3.96 yards per attempt average, as well as a touchdown. He's also been another weapon to add to the passing game, catching 14 passes for 136 yards and 3 touchdowns (all of which came in a 37-30 victory over Pittsburgh).
Perine has been playing so well in fact that it's caused some fans to wonder-- Should he be starting at running back over Mixon?
Should Samaje Perine be RB1 even when Joe Mixon returns?
Some may say this is an overreaction, but Mixon is having a down year and the Bengals' run game has looked much more effective with Perine getting more snaps. However, while, yes, Mixon has struggled, this conversation would be more productive if we added some context.
One important thing to note is the timing. After their terrible performance against the Browns where it felt like Myles Garrett and Co. were getting in the backfield every play, the offensive line has turned it around for the better and has improved mightily the last few weeks, looking like the unit we were all hoping to see when the season began.
If you remember, Joe Mixon's five-touchdown game against Carolina was directly after that horrible loss to the Browns-- and that was the first game we really saw the O-line begin to gel together and look like an effective unit.
Don't get me wrong, Mixon deserves all the praise for that game, and Perine deserves a standing ovation for how he's been playing, but maybe we should give some of the credit for their success to how well the O-line has looked.
Of course, in the next game Mixon didn't run too well, only getting 20 yards on seven carries, but he also only played barely a quarter and a half, which is not a great sample size. And it's not like Perine did much better on the ground, his impact was felt more through the air against Pittsburgh. In fact, Perine had a lower yards per attempt average than Mixon did that game (2.73 in comparison to 2.86).
We'll get hopefully be getting a better idea of the running back situation and whether or not Joe Mixon has overcome his early season struggles this upcoming week against the Browns, as he is expected to clear concussion protocol and if he does, will most likely suit up for the Bengals' next game.
One other thing that's important to note is this situation doesn't have to be black and white. Instead of looking at it as a matter of either starting or benching Perine, we could instead look at it as if Perine will become a running back tandem with Mixon rather than outright replacing him (something akin to Tony Pollard and Ezekial Elliot down in Dallas). Perhaps the run game would benefit more from having both of these guys see a significant amount of playing time rather than one or the other.
That's my thoughts on this debate anyways, but what do you think? Do you think Perine should be starting over Mixon, or should Mixon retain the starting role for the foreseeable future?