Jaguars vs. Bengals: Defense determined to avoid a repeat of Joe Mixon's steamrolling
Don’t let a defensive football player ever kid you.
Losing by any means isn’t fun. But losing when a team lines up and runs right over you?
That’s a challenge to their manhood. And it’s what the Cincinnati Bengals did to the Jaguars the last time they played, in 2020, when Joe Mixon ran for 151 of his team’s 205 yards on the ground in a 33-25 victory at Paul Brown Stadium and was the proverbial not-as-close-as-the-score-looked situation.
An NFL scheduling quirk requires the Jaguars (0-3) to return to Cincinnati (2-1) on Thursday (8:20 p.m., NFL Network) and the first task for the Jaguars defense is to avoid a duplication of last year's game in which the Bengals had 28 first downs and 505 total yards.
Mixon scored two touchdowns on the ground of 34 and 23 yards in the third quarter to erase the Jags’ 13-10 halftime lead and added another on a pass reception (he caught six passes for 30 yards).
Mixon had 121 of his yards in the second half as Cincinnati built a 30-16 lead.
Rookie quarterback Joe Burrow, his passing lanes wide open because Mixon asserted himself, completed 25 of 36 passes for 300 yards.
“When I was a young defensive lineman … and we gave up 20 yards [rushing] but 400 [passing], you felt like you did pretty good,” said Jaguars defensive coordinator Joe Cullen. “On the other hand, if you gave up 400 rushing yards [you] just felt like they got their hearts ripped out. So, it always starts with that.”
Jaguars outside linebacker Josh Allen said stopping the run is so basic that it hurts doubly when a defense can’t execute it.
“I don’t want to be down on any category but especially if they’re running the ball," Allen said. “It’s the easiest thing to do in the National Football League.”
Mixon’s was the first of six 100-yard games the Jaguars defense allowed last season, and two other backs had games in the 90s.
The performance, which earned Mixon AFC offensive player of the week, put him well on the way to a possible third 1,000-yard season in the NFL but he sprained his ankle two weeks later and missed the rest of the season.
However, he’s looking 100 percent healthy this season and gained 90 yards in last week’s 24-10 victory over the Steelers, in Pittsburgh.
Mixon opened the season with 127 yards and a touchdown in a 27-24 overtime victory over Minnesota and is second in the NFL in rushing with 286 yards, behind only Derrick Henry of the Titans.
The good news is that the Jaguars have been stronger against the run this season, thanks to coach Urban Meyer rebuilding the front with players such as Malcom Brown and Jihad Ward, in addition to inside linebacker Damien Wilson and safety Rayshawn Jenkins.
The Jags are 17th in the league in total rushing yardage allowed (347, for 115.6 yards per game) but are tied for sixth in fewest yards per carry (3.4) and have given up only one run of 20 yards or longer.
Last season, the Jags were the third-worst team in the NFL in run defense, giving up 153.25 yards per game and 4.7 yards per carry.
“Our main focus has been to stop the run this year,” Allen said. “We’ve been doing a heck of a job. So much respect for them up front but I know what we bring to the table."
Cullen said there’s no secret to taking on the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Mixon.
“He’s as good a back as there is in the league … when he’s steamrolling and going, he’s as good as they get,” he said. “We’re going to have to gang tackle him. He’s not a ‘one-cut' guy but he gets downhill, lowers his shoulder and he can run you over.”
Cullen has a phrase that sums up the game plan.
“We’re going to have to get population to the football on him,” he said.
The Jaguars also can't go to sleep on Burrow, the 2020 No. 1 overall pick who played in only 10 games as a rookie last season because of a knee injury.
He's got a better offensive line in front of him, a speedy new target in former LSU teammate Ja'Marr Chase (11 catches, but for 20.0 yards per reception and four TDs), and, as usual, Mixon to serve as one of the best security blankets for a young quarterback. Burrow has thrown for 640 yards, seven touchdowns and a .707 completion percentage.
After getting sacked 10 times in the first two games, he was not brought down against the Steelers.