Ever since the Browns came back into the NFL in 1999, the Bengals have owned the trenches. Whether it's been on the riverfront or lakefront, the Bengals have always run the ball against the Browns and Cincinnati has a worthy successor in the tradition when running back Joe Mixon rides into his seventh Battle of Ohio Thursday night (8:20 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12 and NFL Network) on The Lake.
No matter the head coach, the quarterback, the back, the weather or the stadium (Bengals running back Corey Dillon closed Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium with 192 yards against the Browns in '99), the Bengals have run the ball and it has not been a two-way street.
According to profootballreference.com, the Bengals have five of the top 11 rushers against the new Browns of the past 21 seasons. Dillon (1,111 yards in 11 games) and Rudi Johnson (1,008 in 10 games) are Nos. 2 and 3 behind former Ravens running back Jamal Lewis' 1,524 yards in a dozen games against Cleveland that included breaking Dillon's all-time record of 278 with 295 in a 2003 game.
Bengals' Cedric Benson (688 yards in seven games) and Jeremy Hill (648 in seven games) are Nos. 9 and 10 on the list, respectively, with Mixon already right behind them at No. 11. After just three seasons and six games against the Browns, Mixon has 608 and includes a career-high 162 yards in last season's finale.
"Coach (Zac) Taylor put in a great game plan. Players executed, made great blocks and from there I handled the rest," Mixon said. "They have a pretty deep group right now, I know they got guys shuffling around to see where they fit best. I'm sure there are going to be different defenses they line up. Something to stop or slow down whatever we are trying to do. I'm sure they are going to be ready and we have to be ready also. "
But how ready? The Browns have a new defensive coordinator and a new scheme that is reeling from Sunday's 38-6 loss to the Ravens. With word Tuesday that linebacker Jacob Phillips didn't practice and looks to be out, that means the Browns have five key defensive players not available. That's a list that starts with their best linebacker in Mack Wilson, one of their top safeties in rookie Grant Delpit and two of their three top cornerbacks in Greedy Williams and Kevin Johnson.
Yet, Mixon has his own demons this week. He says he can still taste Sunday and it's bitter. Plus, he's got a debt to pay.
"I owe the team. I owe it to them. Thursday is up," Mixon said in a Zoom Tuesday.
Mixon figures he's watched last Sunday's fumble about 50 times. With CBS Voice Kevin Harlan screaming, "He never fumbles, he never fumbles," Mixon watched old friend Nick Vigil scoop up his first bobble in more than 500 rushes on the Bengals 24 in the fourth quarter and the Chargers used it to kick the winning field goal.
That will happen when you go from the 2018 opener to the 2020 opener without a fumble. Only teammate Giovani Bernard has a longer streak in the NFL.
"I played it back even when my coach showed me. I don't like looking at it. But … 'Run that back one more time. Run it one more time.' Different angle," Mixon said of Jemal Singleton, his meticulous position coach. "It sucks, but at the same time, no matter how bad it is, you have to learn from it. You have to just to see how you could have attacked it differently. How you could have held the ball and made a move off of it and these are things I'm accessing in my head."
Chargers linebacker Denzel Perryman came bursting through the middle and then stunned Mixon in a mid-pirouette.
"What could I have done in that situation? Of course, you always say, 'Just put the ball away.' The ball was in great position. It got a little low, but it was still in great position," Mixon said. "The guy made a hell of a play, but it was never supposed to happen. At the end of the day I learned from it and come Thursday I'm going to be ready."
About all the Bengals have time for on a short week is walkthroughs. But there was Mixon making sure he held the ball right.
"I'm holding the ball and making a move," Mixon said. "Just have it high and tight. Covering it at any point of contact. I'm definitely going to build on it. I'll keep on working at it. "
Even though the Browns and Bengals play twice a year, Cleveland has nowhere near the rushing numbers the Bengals have against the Browns. You can guess who has done the damage against the Bengals.
Jamal Lewis (and you forget how really good he was for six years) still has the most yards against them in the past 21 seasons with a ridiculous 1,744 yards in 16 games. Then, of course, it's all Steelers. Jerome Bettis is next with 1,055 yards in 13 games, followed by Fast Willie Parker with 819 in ten games. After the Ravens' Ray Rice and the Titans' Eddie George it is another Steeler, Le'Veon Bell, with 642 yards in eight games.
A Cleveland Brown doesn't show up until Isaiah Crowell at No. 10 with 449 yards in eight games against the Bengals.
But on Thursday night, Mixon seems to have only one thing on his mind. And it's not repeating history.
It's fixing it.
"It definitely hurt. Definitely disappointed. It's definitely inexcusable," said Mixon, who pledges to move on but not before he cleanses it all. "It's something I will never get used to doing. From there just got to learn from it. Learn from the mistake and bounce back, hopefully look back to go ahead and go on another streak … it's definitely going to add fuel to the fire."