Joe Mixon is one of the top running backs in the NFL, and the Cincinnati Bengals need him now more than ever. Mixon is tied with RB Aaron Jones for the sixth-largest contract among running backs in the NFL. Mixon signed a four-year extension with the Bengals worth $48 million before last season. This is the season he needs to prove his worth.
There are mixed emotions on how crucial running backs are nowadays. Although, having one of the top backs can be a young quarterbacks best friend. Last season, he battled a foot injury throughout, and only appeared in six games. Even when healthy, Mixon struggled mightily to find a rhythm. But it is near impossible to have a successful run game behind a bad offensive line.
New Year, New Mixon
The Bengals hired Frank Pollack to be the offensive line coach/run game coordinator. Mixon will benefit greatly from having Pollack back. Pollack was the OL coach in Cincinnati in 2018, when Mixon had the best season of his career. In only 14 games that season, Mixon rushed for 1,168 yards on 4.9 yards per carry, punching it in the end zone eight times.
Mixon clearly loves the idea of bringing Pollack back. Pollack will provide the necessary adjustments to bring out the best of a struggling OL.
The Bengals fired Jim Turner as the OL coach back in January. Pollack is a much better OL coach than Turner, which leads to the OL being considerably better from that aspect alone. Adding OT Riley Reiff will be a huge addition to the line, while he can hopefully mentor some of the younger OL as the elder statesman of the group.
Cincinnati may draft the OT from Oregon, Penei Sewell, which would be another huge addition to the group. If they elect to go a different route with the fifth pick, they will add OL throughout the draft, because it is no secret it needs improved.
Utilizing Mixon in the Passing Game
Mixon has shown flashes throughout his career of being an excellent receiver out of the backfield. The Bengals have not let him loose in that area, but this year it needs to happen. His best year catching passes only led to 43 catches and 296 yards. Almost all of the backs with bigger contracts than Mixon are heavily used as receivers. Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffery, Dalvin Cook and Aaron Jones receive plenty of attention as receivers.
Joe Burrow has shown he knows how to effectively involve backs in the passing game, dating back to his LSU days. Clyde Edwards-Helaire hauled in 55 catches for 453 yards when the Tigers won the National Championship led by Burrow in 2019.
The OL will improve and if Mixon can stay healthy, his needs to dominate every Sunday. That is one of the biggest aspects of keeping Burrow healthy as well. If Mixon can keep the defense honest, the field will be wide open for Burrow to slice them up.
How Would Giovani Bernard Trade Impact Mixon?
There is no guarantee that RB Giovani Bernard will be traded, but the team is fielding calls on him. He has been a security blanket for Mixon for the last four years. He is a phenomenal backup and receiving back, losing him puts more of a burden on Mixon.
Health permitted, Mixon would receive a huge workload if Bernard were to get moved. Not just on the field, but from a leadership standpoint. Bernard has been a staple of this franchise since he was drafted in Cincinnati and is one of the most highly respected Bengals in the locker room.
Mixon would clearly have the loudest voice among backs, if Bernard was moved. This is the time for Mixon to show he was worth every penny that the franchise gave him. He seems to be healthy and on track for a heavy dose of touches on Week 1.