There were plenty who criticized the Cincinnati Bengals’ decision to give running back Joe Mixon a $48 million extension. Before Sunday, the 24-year-old stumbled out the gate, accounting for 164 yards in the first three games. Luckily for Cincinnati, the Jaguars defensive front has also been a liability.
While Joe Burrow picked up his first NFL win, the story was Mixon’s rebound in the team’s 35-25 win. Leading the charge with 151 yards on the ground and three touchdowns (one through the air), it’s clear Zac Taylor has found an identity on offense that can capitalize on weaker defenses. Now, Cincinnati will need to hold their own on the defensive side.
Top takeaways from Bengals first victory
Mixon’s dual-threat skills aid the offense
Mixon’s ability to make defenders miss in the open field played a vital role. Averaging six yards per carry, the Bengals’ runner found his footing when the team needed him most. After connecting with Burrow in the second quarter to tie the game at 10, the passing game struggled to establish a rhythm.
The third quarter finally led to an explosion from Cincinnati’s offense. On the team’s opening drive of the second half, Mixon tallied 52 of the 75 yards, including a 34-yard run to give the Bengals a 17-13 lead. Seven plays later, he’d find the end zone once more, this time from 23 yards out.
Of Cincinnati’s 505 yards, Mixon tallied 181. He also set a career-best with three scores on the day. While running backs are a dime-a-dozen in today’s league, the difference Sunday belonged in 28’s hands, adding on to his legs.
Offensive missed opportunities kept Jacksonville close
Burrow finished with 300 yards and a touchdown, but the stat line won’t tell the whole story. Despite the lone score, two touchdowns were negated due to poor execution from the offense.
In the second quarter, Burrow connected with Tyler Boyd for a 16-yard touchdown. That was short-lived after a holding penalty called on Trey Hopkins took it off the board. The next play, Alex Erickson couldn’t reach the goal line, setting up a chip shot from Randy Bullock.
The ensuing drive started strong as Burrow led a 12-play drive back to Jacksonville’s red zone. Heavily targeting Drew Sample, the rookie quarterback headed back to his tight end on the goal line. Instead, it bounced off Sample and into the arms of Myles Jack for an interception.
Burrow can hold his head high as the first rookie quarterback to pass for 300-plus yards in three straight games. Cincinnati might have found the end zone three times, and they scored on seven consecutive possessions to end the game. However, the problem remains the inconsistencies with Burrow’s arsenal. Outside of Tyler Boyd, there are problems somewhere each week.
A changing of the guard, literally
The right guard position has been the eyesore of Cincinnati’s offense since Week 1. After two straight nightmare outings with Fred Johnson, Alex Redmond earned the chance to start. Sixty minutes of play later, and it’s clear who should be lining up each Sunday next to Bobby Hart.
Remond allowed only two pressures, but also played a vital role in Joe Mixon’s breakout day. On the 34-yard run, Redmond set up the main running lane that led to the eventual score.
There was also more consistency to the offensive line as a whole this week. Cincinnati allowed a league-high 14 sacks through three weeks of play. Sunday, they allowed a season-low in pressures, and only one quarterback takedown late in the fourth quarter. Although the Jaguars have only tallied three sacks on the year, call that a win for Burrow’s body avoiding the ice bath.
Unsurprising troubles at cornerback
Gardner Minshew will still need to fight to show Jacksonville he’s the franchise quarterback. Plays with D.J. Chark against Cincinnati’s cornerbacks are always a positive for his development in his sophomore season.
In the first quarter, Chark won against zone coverage from William Jackson III for an 11-yard touchdown. Minshew and the Jaguars would also fight back late, targeting the third-year receiver twice in the fourth quarter for 24 yards. Against LeShaun Sims, Chark won on a quick slant for a two-yard touchdown to put Jacksonville down by eight.
Minshew and Chark tallied 98 yards and two scores but weren’t the only pair finding success against the Bengals’ secondary. Four receivers finished with at least three catches and 40 plus yards on the afternoon. And despite throwing an early interception, Minshew bounced back to close his day with 351 passing yards.
The Bengals were without slot cornerback Mackensie Alexander, but his cover skills would have made little difference. With Jackson in a contract year, the Bengals should be ready once more to turn to the draft for another defensive back. Entering Sunday, Cincinnati’s pass defense ranked sixth in yards per game with a 210 average. Minshew and the 21st ranked passing offense nearly doubled that through the air.