For the first time in eight years the Bengals are starting a rookie quarterback Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) against the Ravens and running back Joe Mixon says he's here to help.
"Hopefully we'll be able to call the runs and dial up everything Coach always wanted to do," Mixon said after Monday's practice, insisting he and head coach/play-caller Zac Taylor are on the same page. "Sure, Coach wants to run. I know he wants to run the ball. But the situations we're in, it's tough, it's tough. We just have to get better each and every week. Honestly, playing against Baltimore is a great week to start. It's a divisional game. It's physical, the game gets faster, you've got to be on your A game. I love games like this."
Mixon spent bye Sunday watching the NFL and he saw what he knew. They keep saying it's passing a league and that the running back isn't worth what he once was. But the 10 teams that lead the league in rushing attempts per game are all in the playoff hunt. Meanwhile the Bengals, with the league's second fewest, are looking for their first victory of the season when the 6-2 Ravens and their 37.4 totes per game come to town.
"You see these teams running the ball and they're going heavy," Mixon said. "They're going two tight ends, linemen, fullback in front and they've been successful. They're into controlling the play clock. They're controlling the game and it's working. Yes, I would love and hope to see that. We haven't been able to do that."
Mixon isn't throwing Taylor under the bus. The Bengals lead the NFL in deploying the lighter formation of three receivers with one tight end and one running back. Mixon says poor down-and-distances and second-half deficits have doomed the ability to run the ball. Last season he led the AFC in rushing with 17 carries per game, a number he's hit only once this season during a year he barely has 100 total rushes.
"I would love to see a 25 to 30 carry game. But it's situational stuff that's messing us up," Mixon said. "Penalties, we're playing behind the sticks and it's things like that, it's little things. When you're in a situation like that, it's hard to run the ball. You can't play football like that. You can't play football behind the sticks. That's just what it is.
"We want to run the ball, the linemen want to run the ball but by us playing behind the sticks we can't do it. It's hard. I'm frustrated (and) the coaches are frustrated. As much as am frustrated, Coach Taylor is frustrated, too. I understand the situation, we just have to do better as a team. We have a new eight-game season coming up and I just hope to be the best rushing team in these next two months."
FINLEY-JACKSON III: Ryan Finley is already 1-1 against the starter in his first NFL start with a split against Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. Before Jackson was an NFL MVP candidate, he won the Heisman Trophy at Louisville in 2016 with the help of a 54-13 victory over Finley and North Carolina State. Jackson scored a touchdown and threw for three more in the first half and ended up throwing for 355 yards while Finley had two touchdowns and two picks and 236 yards in the air.
But he exacted revenge the next year when the Wolfpack stunned Louisville, 39-25, with Finley out-dueling Jackson, 367-354, while each threw a touchdown and the lone pick belonged to Jackson. Jackson still rushed for 73 yards on 19 carries while Finley worked for 19 yards on seven carries and got off a good line Monday when he thought somebody asked him to compare his running skills to Jackson's.
"Compared to Lamar's? Mine's not ranked," Finley said.
But he does think he can give them something on the ground.
"I think in the NFL as you watch you have to be able to do that at times," Finley said. "That's when a lot of big plays happen. Something that in my game obviously I'm going to need to do this, to get big plays down the field and just stay on the field. Something I definitely think of and something we definitely need to do if we're going to be successful."
By the way, with Finley you can't tell if this was draft day, last week or the Monday of his first NFL start. The kid's a curly-haired icicle.
"Obviously it's a lot different but I think I'm ready for it," Finley said of this week. "I'm confident in my ability to play, I'm confident in this team's ability to bounce back and get some wins. So it's fun for me, it's definitely new for me but I've got a lot of support around me."
The boys are back to work following the bye week. Check out photos from Monday's practice as the team prepares for Week 10 against the Baltimore Ravens.
INJURY UPDATE: Monday's practice had to be the healthiest workout since the season started. Only cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (knee) and right guard Alex Redmond (foot) were out. Wide receiver A.J. Green (ankle) still looks like he's shooting for Wednesday to go full go. A slew of players that missed the past few games were working: left end Carl Lawson (hamstring), cornerback Darqueze Dennard (hamstring) right guard John Miller (groin) and right tackle Andre Smith (ankle).