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Bengals RB Joe Mixon a top priority for Vance Joseph, Cardinals

Joe Mixon #28 of the Cincinnati Bengals carries the ball during the third quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on September 30, 2019 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona Cardinals head to Cincinnati looking for their first win of the season.

The Bengals represent a golden opportunity to find the win column, having one of the worst offensive showings in the NFL so far.

But to do that, the Cardinals need to take a page from the four other teams who have gone face-to-face with the Bengals.

One way to achieve that? Stop the run game, but most importantly second-year running back Joe Mixon.

“Our job on Sunday is to first get Mixon stopped,” Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said Thursday. “He’s a very special player in my opinion. He’s a top-five back, and when you watch the Bengals offensively, when he’s the focal point, it’s hard to stop their offense.

“Our first duty is to stop Mixon. That’s where it starts and hopefully we can make them one-dimensional and have the chance to rush, but we have to earn he right to rush the passer, and that comes with winning first and second down first.”

While there’s a lot to dissect on an 0-4 team, the Bengals’ biggest faux pa has been the running game.

Through four games, the Bengals have one of the worst rushing attacks in the NFL. Ranked dead last in yards per attempt (2.8) and yards per game (49.5), the Bengals have accumulated just 198 yards and a lone touchdown on 71 attempts.

Mixon hasn’t seen nearly the same amount of looks either, recording 149 yards and no scores on only 47 carries in 2019, representing a huge drop in production from just a year prior. Mixon has yet to top 62 yards and has been seemingly a non-factor in the passing game, making 11 catches for 52 yards and a TD.

Last season through four contests, Mixon sat at 71 carries for 336 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, while catching 13 balls for 99 yards and another score. The Bengals started the season 3-1, with their one loss being a one-score defeat, before finishing with a 5-9 record. There’s a correlation between Mixon and winning, as the RB had at least 17 touches and 83 yards in each of the victories. All told, the team was 5-2 when Mixon had at least 17 or more carries, while 5-4 when he rushes for more than 80 yards.

That’s a big problem for a team that hasn’t seen their starter carry the ball more than 15 times this season.

A lot of the downfall of the run game can be put on a struggling offensive line and having to play from behind in every game this season, leaving Mixon without the ball in his hands more times than not.

The Bengals may have issues throughout their offense, but that doesn’t mean Sunday will be a cakewalk for the Cardinals.

Arizona opened up 2019 allowing just 49 yards on 16 carries to Detroit Lions running back Kerryon Johnson, but proceeded to allow three straight 100+ rushers over the next three games to go along with two scores.

Defensively, the Cardinals have allowed the fifth-most rush yards (586) and yards per game (146.5) in the NFL.

There’s certainly a sense of urgency for the defense to find its rhythm moving forward, but with inexperienced guys filling in for injuries and poor play, there’s going to be growing pains along the way. It’s about seeing consistent growth at this stage.

“We’re in our first year of the entire program and we’re looking for improvement every week, and hopefully we can improve on Sunday,” Joseph said. “That’s what matters.”

The Bengals haven’t fully utilized Mixon in their offense and remain one of the only winless teams left in the NFL. For the Cardinals to have a shot at picking up a win of their own, stopping Mixon and the rest of the Bengals rushing attack is the first step.

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