Even though he rushed for the most yards by a Bengal in a decade and gave the club its first AFC rushing championship ever, that wasn’t Joe Mixon’s favorite stat from 2018.
That would be fumbles.
As in none. Zero. 0.0. Or as the late, great Cincinnati Enquirer sports writer Tom Groeschen would say, “Oh point oh.”
“My favorite stat,” he said Monday, still wondering how a web site gave him what he saw as a 91 percent grade for that category despite oh point oh fumbles on 280 touches. (The Giants’ Saquon Barkley also had none on his 352 touches that included 261 carries.)
So here’s our favorite Mixon stat from a season he powered his way to 4.9 yards on the most carries (238) and yards (1,168) for the Bengals since Cedric Benson went for 301 and 1,251 yards for the improbable ’09 AFC North champs. In the last four games, Mixon lined up without wide receiver A.J. Green and quarterback Andy Dalton (and in those last 10 quarters he didn’t have 1,000-yard receiver Tyler Boyd, either) and still averaged five yards per carry and had three of his four 100-yard games in a passing attack that didn’t net six yards per pass attempt.
If you think Mixon is wondering what he can do with everyone intact, you’re right.
“It’s not a one-man show,” Mixon said. “I’m excited. Everybody should be excited.”
Mixon can’t have any extensive talks yet with new head coach Zac Taylor and offensive coordinator Brian Callahan before the Bengals report for off-season workouts April 9 because it’s a violation of the collective bargaining agreement. He stuck his head into an office briefly, but they were about to meet so he paid his respects and left. New offensive line coach Jim Turner and Mixon had time to meet and look each other over. If they were drawing up specs for a running back in a new version of the West Coast offense, they’re looking at the floor model.
The 6-1 Mixon, looking to keep his playing weight right at about 222 pounds, doesn’t need a long discussion to expect a steady diet of work. He’s watched tape of Taylor’s Rams and what 6-1, 227-pound running back Todd Gurley’s 256 rushes set up.
“Play-action,” Mixon said. “That’s what the Rams lived on. They give the ball a lot to Todd, but they feed off their play-action. A lot of their big plays come off it. I feel like with our offense that will be great for us. You get everybody coming up (to play the run), we’d have no problem doing that.”
In 2018, Bengals running back Joe Mixon led the AFC in rushing yards. Take a look at some of the best images from his record-setting season.
Mixon is splitting his offseason between Cincinnati and his native California making sure that he’s in enough shape to carry the ball 25 times a game. That’s 25 rushes, not touches. That computes to 400 carries over 16 games, not done since the Chiefs’ Larry Johnson set the NFL record with 416 carries in 2006 and done only twice this century when Eddie George crashed into the millennium with 403 for the 2000 Tennessee Titans.
“I’m trying to be in the best shape to be able to handle that load because it’s not easy. I know I could do it,” said Mixon of the magical 400. “You always have to expect it. Even if it doesn’t happen, you have to always expect it. And I always try to do whatever I can to maximize my ability. I feel like with what I can do, I should be able to do that easily.”
Forget 400. In the last decade 300 carries has become a rarity. Seven backs ran it at least 300 times in 2010, when Cedric Benson’s 321 carries for the Bengals were only the fifth most in the league. Since then it’s been done just 16 times (none by a Bengal) and done twice by just four backs: Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, LeSean McCoy, Zeke Elliott. Peterson, who also hit 300 in 2008 and 2009, hasn’t done it since 2015. Elliott and Le’Veon Bell (321 carries in 2017) are the only backs to do it in the last three years.
But Mixon is ready for 400, just in case. And, like he says, it’s not a one-man deal. Taylor’s opening game is shaping up to be the first time since Dec. 12, 2010 that the Bengals have a 4,000-yard passer (Dalton), and two 1,000-yard receivers (Green and Boyd) teamed with a 1,000-yard rusher in Mixon. (The trivia question from that game in 2010 is despite the presence of Benson, Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens, the only Bengals TD in that 23-7 loss in Pittsburgh was from left tackle Andrew Whitworth.)
“Everybody is going to have plenty of opportunity to contribute to the offense and make great plays,” Mixon said.
Like his 2017 draftmate, John Ross. Ross, the first-round wide receiver, had a semi break-out year last season when seven of his 21 catches went for touchdowns.
“I strongly believe in that,” Mixon said, “because off the play-action, get those safeties coming up and with his speed and play-making ability, he’s shown he can definitely get over the top. I feel like he’ll be able to stretch the field a lot for us. I think that will be a great thing for him and Andy.”
Mixon can see the pieces. Now, he says, they have to move them.
“It’s definitely shaping up for us,” Mixon said. “We just have to go out there and make it happen. I’m sure we will.”