Former NFL rushing champion thinks Bengals’ Joe Mixon should have gotten more carries in Super Bowl loss

Super Bowl LVI epitomized the current state of the running game within NFL offenses. The Rams couldn’t run the ball, as their 43 yards on the ground were the second-fewest of any Super Bowl champion. Conversely, the Bengals had success on the ground but still decided to call 14 more pass plays against a defense that was focused on stopping quarterback Joe Burrow and Cincinnati’s talented receiving trio of Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd.  

Ricky Williams, a former NFL rushing champion and Heisman Trophy winner, is uniquely qualified to discuss what transpired on Sunday as far as the running games were concerned. The former Dolphins and Ravens running back does not understand why the Rams did not alter their approach to running the ball against Cincinnati’s defense. 

“The Bengals had a very solid game plan against the outside zone play,” Williams said on The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz. “[Logan Wilson] had a good game. He was hitting the outside zone. If I was the offensive coordinator, I just would have started running more inside zone, because those backers would have just run themselves out of the play.”

Williams also questioned the Bengals’ decision to not capitalize on Joe Mixon’s success against the Rams’ defense. The league’s third-leading rusher during the season, Mixon rushed for 72 yards on just 15 carries in Super Bowl LVI. 

“I think that Cincinnati should have probably run the ball a little bit more,” Williams said. “Mixon had the hot hand. He had the energy. You see when they got him going. … I would have probably run the ball a little bit more.” 

Mixon, whose performance included a second-quarter touchdown pass to Higgins, received just seven carries during the Bengals’ last five possessions. During that span, the Bengals’ offense — a unit that did not go five possessions without scoring all season prior to Sunday —  punted four times before turning the ball over on downs on its last possession. Cincinnati’s last running play, a handoff to Samaje Perine on third-and-1 on the Rams’ 49-yard line, went for no gain. Burrow then threw an incomplete pass on the next play after he was rushed by Aaron Donald

Nearly as alarming as Mixon’s lack of involvement in the offense was the lack of creativity in Cincinnati’s running game. All but two of Mixon’s eight second-half carries occurred on first down, as the Bengals typically threw the ball on the rest of their downs. With Mixon an afterthought, the Rams’ pass rush could tee off on Burrow without the fear of getting gashed in the running game. The result was five sacks of Burrow in the game’s final 30 minutes. 

Despite their lack of offensive balance, the Bengals were still in position to win the game. Had Burrow been given a little more time on Cincinnati’s fourth-and-1 play, he likely would have gotten the ball to Chase, who was open downfield after Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey fell down. Burrow, however, did not have enough time to find Chase, as Cincinnati’s final play symbolized their biggest weakness not only in that game but throughout their 2021 season. 

Along with improving their pass protection, running the ball more in those situations may be another thing Bengals coach Zac Taylor may take out of Sunday’s experience. It can also serve as a lesson for what can happen when successful running games aren’t fully utilized. 

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