CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals got to see what they have in rookie Joe Mixon last Friday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Mixon caught one pass for 11 yards and rushed six times for 31 more. Here are five highlights that could indicate how the Bengals might use Mixon going forward:
2:15 -- Third-and-2, Tampa Bay 8-yard line. Andy Dalton was in the shotgun with Mixon as the lone running back and three receivers split out wide. As Dalton dropped back, Mixon veered left between the left tackle and left guard and picked up a blitzing defender. Although the play ended with an interception, Mixon’s pass blocking was exactly what the Bengals’ coaches wanted to see. It was the start of proving that they could trust him in those situations. If Mixon is able to do that repeatedly, it will greatly improve his versatility and ability to be used in both run and pass situations, much like Giovani Bernard, who is the best pass-blocking running back on the team.
“He’s obviously big, strong; if he can protect, I think for a young back like that, it’s just knowing where to go,” Dalton said after the game. “On that play, he knew where to go and picked up his man.”
12:51 -- Second-and-21, Cincinnati 23-yard line. Mixon lined up out wide in a set that featured three wide receivers, a tight end and an empty backfield. The play went to receiver Cody Core for a 17-yard gain, but the possibility of Mixon being lined up wide is intriguing. Mixon was always intended to be a candidate to catch balls out of the backfield. He had 65 receptions for 894 yards and nine touchdowns in college. But if the Bengals can move him all over the field, it could cause headaches for the opposition's game plan.
11:32 -- First-and-10, Cincinnati 48-yard line. AJ McCarron was under center with Ryan Hewitt lined up as the fullback and Mixon behind him. Hewitt went right and Mixon went left as McCarron dropped back. Mixon veered around left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi as the defender shed his block and moved toward McCarron.
“He got upfield. I just made him go back inside," Mixon said. "After that, I went on my checkdown, got the catch and got upfield.”
Mixon caught a swing pass around the 45-yard line and shook off the first defender who dove at him and got an arm around him at the 49-yard line. Mixon momentarily stumbled as he got away from the attempted tackle, weaved around a second defender and stiff-armed a third before finally getting tackled at Tampa Bay’s 41-yard line.
The play showed impressive mobility by Mixon from start to finish and the ability to gain more yards after the initial contact.
2:51 -- First-and-10, Cincinnati 25-yard line. McCarron was under center with Mixon as the lone back. Mixon took the handoff and ran up the middle, initially heading toward the hole between right guard Trey Hopkins and right tackle Jake Fisher. When another potential hole opened up between left guard Christian Westerman and tight end Tyler Kroft, Mixon slowed to almost a stop and then cut back to choose the second option. Mixon pushed two defenders a yard or two for a gain of eight yards.
The important conclusion from this play was not the yardage, but Mixon's ability to read and follow the blocks.
2:13 -- Second-and-2, Cincinnati 33-yard line. McCarron was in the shotgun with Mixon as the lone back. Mixon cut in front of McCarron to receive the handoff heading right, then turned up the middle behind Ogbuehi. As Mixon headed past Ogbuehi, Westerman sealed off one side and center Russell Bodine held off the other. A defender reached out for his ankle and Mixon lost some of his balance, but continued to run for several more yards until another defender brought him down after a gain of 13 yards.
This was Mixon's longest run of the night and the second of two runs that gained at least 10 yards.