Joe Mixon: busier first six games than Corey Dillon and Frank Gore but still looking to bust out.
Everyone from Frank Gore to Jeremy Hill is advising Bengals rookie running back Joe Mixon to be patient. Before the Bengals play the Colts Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12), Gore may even tell Mixon in person since he remains one of the Colts' biggest threats with the seventh most rushing yards in NFL history at age 34.
Gore was playing for the 49ers when Mixon remembers him attending one of his games at Freedom High School on the outskirts of Oakland in Oakley.
"Yeah, it was a big deal. Especially since he was playing in San Francisco and I could watch him," Mixon said after Thursday's practice. "Somehow I met him and we've kept in touch occasionally. He checks in now and then to see how I'm doing. We talked a few days ago."
That was before Mixon had his first semi-controversy as a pro last Sunday in Pittsburgh. After getting no carries for the final 38 minutes of a game he was off to the best start of his career with 48 yards on seven carries that included the two longest runs of his career, Mixon publicly wondered how that could happen. On Monday, head coach Marvin Lewis just as publicly upbraided Mixon for what he considered a lack of maturity.
On Thursday Mixon was determined to come up with a performance to put it all in the past. With the Colts ranked seventh worst in the league in rush defense and next-to-last in pass defense, the Bengals better improve the fifth worst rushing game. Also the Colts won't have the services of top ten 15 draft pick Malik Hooker at safety and maybe not estimable outside linebacker John Simon.
As frustrated as he is and anybody else connected with the Bengals running game, Mixon can keep this in mind. With 235 yards on 74 carries, he's got more yards and carries in his first six NFL games than Gore (34-198), Hill (40-170), and Bengals' all-time leading rusher Corey Dillon (29-180). But with Dillon and Gore chewing up about six yards per and Hill off on a 4.3 clip, Hill's 3.2 yard-per-carry make him still hemmed in.
"Eventually something will happen," said Mixon of himself and his fellow backs Hill and Giovani Bernard. "Me, Jeremy, Gio we keep coming in every day working hard, keep practicing hard, just trying to help the team out."
Which is pretty much what Gore told him before the Pittsburgh game. Gore has been busy himself. On his fourth carry Sunday he'll pass Barry Sanders with 3,063 carries for the sixth most ever. He's 276 yards shy of passing Jerome Bettis into sixth on the all-time list. But he also probably remembers those first six games. He didn't get 18 carries in a game like Mixon did in Week 3 until the 12th game of his rookie year.
"He just told me to stay confident," Mixon said. "Keep practicing hard. When you're number's called, be ready to deliver."
Hill, who had 1,000 yards in his rookie season three years ago, didn't get 18 attempts until the eighth game, when he went over the 100-yard mark for the first time on 24 carries against Jacksonville for his first of four 100-yard games as a rookie. Never mind the Bengals are in Jacksonville next week for the eighth game.
Hill is an interesting case. Mixon has supplanted him as the No. 1 running back in an odd rotation where Hill plays only the first series of the first and second halves. But Hill has never said anything in his four seasons when it comes to his role. Just go back to those first six games.
"That's always the way I've been as a player. I don't get caught up in that kind of stuff. It's about the team and winning games," Hill said. "I've had the high of the highs in this league and the low of the lows. Whether I get three or four carries or 20 carries I just do my job. Nothing changes. When you start getting distracted with all those things they kind of wear on you a little bit."
Hill says he and Mixon talk about frustration all the time. Mixon says Hill dispensed some advice Monday.
'When you have 50 plays it's hard to sustain drives and get those carries, especially in the second half," Hill said. "That's the thing you have to understand as a player. As coaches they want to run the ball and keep their offense off the field. They're not purposefully trying not to run the ball. It's flow of the game. The more and more he plays, he'll understand it and help us win games."
Mixon isn't talking carries he's talking patience heading into this one. It even took all-time greats like Gore and Dillon (he didn't get 18 carries until his ninth NFL game) longer to make an impact.
"Eventually something will happen," is how Mixon sees this work flow.
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