Mixon now the focus of offense
CINCINNATI (AP) — A.J. Green had surgery on his injured toe. Tight end Tyler Eifert is recovering from a broken ankle. Andy Dalton is gone, too, sidelined by a torn thumb ligament in his passing hand.
What’s left of the Bengals’ offense? Running back Joe Mixon, who’s settling into the role Cincinnati envisioned for him during last year’s draft.
Mixon carried a career-high 26 times for 111 yards and had a team-high five catches during a 26-21 loss to the Chargers on Sunday, Cincinnati’s fifth in a row.
With Jeff Driskel starting for Dalton and Green gone, Mixon is getting a chance to show the versatility that led Cincinnati to draft him in the second round despite the public pushback.
Mixon either ran the ball or was the intended receiver on 10 of the Bengals’ first 13 plays in Los Angeles in a game plan built around the running back.
“Some guys have to step up to even another level than they’re used to playing at,” Mixon said Wednesday. “I’m going to embrace it.”
The Bengals (5-8) will make him the centerpiece again Sunday in their final home game against the Oakland Raiders (3-10) , who are coming off a 24-21 win over Pittsburgh .
Mixon has been one of the few bright spots in an offense that’s unraveled as players got hurt, one of the few constants during a stretch of seven losses in the past eight games.
“He’s a high-energy guy,” Driskel said. “He’s somebody that brings it day-in and day-out. He’s definitely somebody who we can all lean on.”
The Bengals were castigated for making him the 48th overall pick last year. Mixon punched a woman in the face and was suspended for a season at Oklahoma, prompting other teams to pass on him early in the draft.
Mixon played a limited role as a rookie, when he was slotted behind Jeremy Hill. Mixon had one 100-yard rushing game as Cincinnati finished 7-9.
He ascended to the top spot this season, but missed two games because of knee surgery to remove torn cartilage. He ran for a career-high 123 yards against Tampa Bay and 111 against the Chargers.
With a historically bad defense, the Bengals have had to play catch-up, limiting Mixon’s chances to run. He’s averaging 4.8 yards per carry, which ranks fourth in the AFC among backs with at least 100 carries.
The biggest improvement in Mixon has been his discipline to follow the designed path of plays rather than improvising. He’s running behind a better offensive line, and he’s been more determined to take advantage of it.
“It’s like a domino effect,” he said.
If he stays healthy, Mixon will top 1,000 yards after running for only 625 — and a 3.5-yard average — last season. He’s had five games with 100 yards rushing and receiving combined, the most since Hill did it five times in 2014. BenJarvus Green-Ellis had six such games in 2012.
He’ll get plenty of chances. Green had surgery on his injured toe Tuesday and won’t return, leaving Mixon as their best option in December.
“We’ve got three more weeks,” Mixon said.
BURFICT STILL OUT
Linebacker Vontaze Burfict remained in concussion protocol on Wednesday after missing the Chargers game. Defensive end Michael Johnson also is sidelined with a concussion. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was held out of practice with an ankle injury that sidelined him in Los Angeles. Left tackle Cordy Glenn had a limited practice Wednesday, an improvement after missing the past three games with a back injury.
Cornerback Tony McRae was back at practice Wednesday on a limited basis. He suffered a concussion during a loss to Cleveland and was taken off the field on a back board as a precaution. He was in protocol the past two weeks.
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