Bengals RB Joe Mixon sets eyes on 400 carries

With the addition of former Los Angeles Rams QB coach Zac Taylor, the Cincinnati Bengals are hoping their new head coach brings the same level of production that propelled the Rams' No. 2 offense to the Super Bowl in 2018.

Bengals running back Joe Mixon told the team's website he's optimistic that Cincy will be able to fool defenses with the threat of their run game as L.A. did in 2018.

"Play-action. That's what the Rams lived on," Mixon said Monday. "They give the ball a lot to Todd [Gurley], but they feed off their play-action. A lot of their big plays come off it. I feel like with our offense that will be great for us. You get everybody coming up [to play the run], we'd have no problem doing that."

The Rams ran play-action on 36 percent of their pass plays during the 2018 regular season, according to Football Outsiders, the highest frequency in the league. L.A. averaged 9.4 yards per such play, second in the league. Under Marvin Lewis and Bill Lazor, Cincy meanwhile was not as committed to play-action, running it on a quarter of pass plays and averaging 7.2 yards per attempt, good for 24th in the league.

Before injuries hampered him down the stretch, Gurley was one of the league's most efficient backs, leading the league with 17 rushing TDs and finishing third with 1,251 rushing yards. But Mixon wasn't too far behind. Like Gurley, Mixon averaged around 4,9 yards per carry and broke off as many big runs (20-plus yards) as Gurley (11). The Bengals back finished fourth in the league in rushing (1,168).

Mixon's 237 carries were good for eighth in the league last year, but he told the team's website that he's making sure he's in shape to hit 400 next year, or 25 totes per game, a feat accomplished by only five running backs in NFL history. The Chiefs' Larry Johnson was the last to do it in 2006.

"I'm trying to be in the best shape to be able to handle that load because it's not easy. I know I could do it," Mixon said. "You always have to expect it. Even if it doesn't happen, you have to always expect it. And I always try to do whatever I can to maximize my ability. I feel like with what I can do, I should be able to do that easily."

Mixon thinks leaning on the run so heavily to set up the pass will benefit everyone on the offense, including his fellow draftmate, John Ross, who has struggled through injuries and inconsistent play in his first two seasons.

"Everybody is going to have plenty of opportunity to contribute to the offense and make great plays," Mixon continued. "I strongly believe in that because off the play-action, get those safeties coming up and with [Ross's] speed and play-making ability, he's shown he can definitely get over the top. I feel like he'll be able to stretch the field a lot for us. I think that will be a great thing for him and Andy [Dalton]."

The dividends of a strong play-action game might be realized by another receiver, however. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Tuesday that the Bengals are shopping their former first-round wideout, a development that he's told would be welcome by both parties.

Either way, while many expect Cincy to experience growing pains in its first season under Taylor, Mixon is clearly optimistic that the Bengals can succeed out of the gate and improve on their lukewarm 2018 output.

"It's definitely shaping up for us," Mixon said. "We just have to go out there and make it happen. I'm sure we will."

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