Joe Mixon is 357 yards away from becoming the first Bengals running back to go for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons since Cedric Benson went for three straight from 2009-2011. He thinks that would be quite an accomplishment given how opposing defenses treat him.
"They respect me," Mixon said before Wednesday's practice. "It's hard to run the ball when you've got nine people in the box. Just turn on the film. You see eight, nine man boxes. That's just what it is."
He says the return of fleet wide receiver John Ross Sunday in Cleveland (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) should help. And not just him. But also wide receiver Tyler Boyd, himself 242 yards from consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, as well as quarterback Andy Dalton.
"Can't play the safety six yards in the box. It helps me a lot. If you do, we'll make you pay for it," Mixon said. "It's that simple. I'm happy to have him back. I'm sure Andy is. I'm sure Tyler is. It makes my job easier when you've got a seven-man box instead of an eight, nine man box."
Mixon says a 1,000-yard season would be especially sweet, given how the season started and how the critics have maligned his offensive line.
"I don't think it will mean a lot to outside people. It's more of an individual thing at this point to get that," Mixon said. "That makes everything a lot better for me what I accomplished this year. I think it will be great a thing (for) people who claim our line is so terrible. So just imagine if we would have had a great line what we would have done. I'm just going off what everybody else says."
Mixon puts the phrase "terrible line," in quotes because that's what the critics say. He supports an improved unit that in the last month is carving out enough room for him to average 81 yards in the last four games. And he points out a curious blocking penalty last Sunday cost him a 31-yard gain and, he thinks, a 90-yard day that was, instead, a tough and well-earned 44-yard rushing day against the Jets' No. 1 ranked run defense. Mixon is emphasizing how tough his line has had it with Ross and A.J. Green sidelined as outside threats.
But despite Green not yet to play this season and Ross missing eight games, he's still driving for the magic number. He'll need some 90-yard days because he'll have to average 89 yards in the last four games to make it.
"It keeps me something to look forward to," Mixon said. "I'm just going to keep my foot on the gas and stay motivated and try to get that 1,000. That's where I am at this point. I firmly believe I can go get it. I just have to go get it."
CLOSE CALL: Ross suffered a quietly dangerous injury in Pittsburgh back on Sept. 30 when he broke the sternoclavicular, which is basically between the breast bone and the shoulder. Ross said he asked "all the worst questions possible," of his doctor and stopped after he got a yes on life-threatening. He was told that the bone bent back and came inches away from hitting an artery.
"I stopped after that. I didn't want to pass out," said Ross, who didn't find out which artery. "No matter what artery it was, I knew it was scary … I didn't want to know anything more after that. I said, as long as you fix me, we're fine."
Cornerback Darqueze Dennard had a similar injury last season, so he had someone with whom he could commiserate. And Ross said he needed someone to talk to because the first couple of days after the injury "were the worst I ever felt in my life." He said he couldn't stand straight without pain and had to remain in a slouch.
"(Dennard) told me it was going to be like that and I had to wait for the bone to scar down and let it heal on its own," Ross said.
A look at practice photos from Paul Brown Stadium as the Bengals continue preparations for the Week 14 game against the Cleveland Browns.
INJURY UPDATE: A.J. Green (ankle) isn't playing in Cleveland and that makes it more than a calendar since his last outing against Denver on Dec. 2, 2018, when he played early into the second quarter and had a catch for seven yards. So he's missed 17 straight games and 20 of the last 21. That's a stretch that began when Green missed the Nov. 11 New Orleans game, a span in which Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas has 165 catches for 1,815 yards.
But he remains a key figure in head coach Zac Taylor's off-seasons plans. In his weekly Taylor-Made Takes with Bengals.com, Taylor said, "He's a huge piece of what we want to be. He's a great player. I like having him around. Can't wait to call plays for him."
Safety Brandon Wilson, not only the NFL's kick return leader but the Bengals third safety who has been pretty solid in the past two games he's played 18 snaps each, surfaced at Wednesday's practice with a club on his hand and went limited.
But Taylor made it sound like Wilson and right end Sam Hubbard (DNP with a knee issue) could play with a bit of handling. Special teams regular and back-up tight end Cethan Carter went limited Wednesday after missing last week with a concussion. He'll probably go, but rookie tight end Drew Sample (ankle) was out and he'll probably miss his fourth straight game.
As he has done the past few weeks, defensive tackle Geno Atkins had a rest day on Wednesday. If the week holds true, he'll rest Thursday, go full Friday and play between 70 and 80 percent of the snaps on Sunday.