The Bengals defense was bad last year… Really bad. 29th against the run, dead last against the pass, and dead last in total defense says it all. The good news is that unit has no direction to go but up. The bad news is with the only new faces being B.W. Webb, possibly a veteran linebacker, and maybe one or two impact rookies from the draft, first year head coach Zac Taylor and first year defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo have an uphill battle to even create a top 20 defense in their first year.
However, the Bengals can do a few things to help offset their defensive deficiencies. Better yet, one is completely in their control. The 2019 Bengals need to run Joe Mixon until his legs fall off. First off, Mixon has quietly become one of the best running backs in football. He missed two games last year and still managed to lead the AFC in rushing. It is not like he is running behind a fantastic offensive line either.
More importantly, the more Mixon runs the ball in 2019, the more the clock runs, and the more the opposing offense and the Bengals defense stays on the sidelines. A playing style like this is never flashy, but almost always effective.
In Super Bowl XXV, Bill Parcells had his Giants combat Jim Kelly and a high-powered Bills offense by running the ball and controlling the clock. New York had the ball for nearly twice as long as the Bills and won a tight game. The Bills were seven point favorites. This was the game that popularized the phrase “shorten the game.”
Super Bowl XXV is an extreme example, but this is what the Bengals need to do in the upcoming season. The biggest mistake last year’s staff made was underutilizing Mixon. Granted, there were games like the one in Kansas City where the Bengals fell behind early. Thus, Mixon was limited to just 13 carries. However, for him to have 11 carries the previous week in a close game throughout with division rival Pittsburgh is mindboggling and unacceptable.
Zac Taylor was not the one who made this mistake, but he needs to learn from it. Mixon is the best thing this team has going for it. If he averages 25 touches per game, the Bengals will be in every game they play in 2019. He hit that threshold just three times last year. The Bengals went 2-1 in those games. The loss was to a playoff team on the road by one possession.