Baker Mayfield and the Browns were slated for a successful 2019 campaign after a slew of offseason moves, including a trade that landed stud wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in Cleveland. But, through two weeks, the former Heisman Trophy winner has not looked right, even with a 1-1 record. So the question remains, what’s been bugging Baker?
The Browns were the talk of the town in the offseason, making moves in a relatively weak division that had some thinking they were set up for a playoff run. And it was believable. Improving from a 7-8-1 record and a third place finish in the AFC North seemed inevitable for the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year and his new head coach, Freddie Kitchens. But the Week 1 blowout loss to the Tennessee Titans and not-so-pretty win over the New York Jets have raised more than a few eyebrows across the league.
Mayfield’s performance in Week 1 left Browns fans with more questions than answers. The second-year signal caller threw for 285 yards, but only one touchdown compared to three interceptions. Mayfield also found himself on his back five times in Tennessee in what resulted in a 43-13 loss.
Week 2 was not much better, even with the Browns taking home the W. Mayfield completed just 19 of his 35 pass attempts (54.29 percent) while adding another interception, bringing his total to four for the year. That’s good enough for the second most in the NFL. Though he threw an 89-yard touchdown to his newest wideout, Beckham did most of the heavy lifting on a play where he was left uncovered. The Brown’s averaged 6.4 yards per play Monday night. If you take out the Beckham touchdown, that number drops to 4.9. Against a Jets team playing with their third string quarterback, the Browns converted on just 4-of-13 third downs and punted six times.
So what does this mean? The Browns offense has become more boom-or-bust than it should be. The Browns are one of the most explosive offenses in football with 11 plays of 20 yards or more through two games and are averaging just under two less yards per play than the league-leading Dallas Cowboys. This type of play calling has also led an undisciplined team, accumulating 67 more penalty yards than the next team while racking up first downs at almost the same rate as the New York Giants (who just benched their starting QB). With Mayfield’s completion percentage dropping to 60.3 percent from last year’s 68.3 clip, both he and his head coach know a change needs to happen.
“Anytime a check down is there, we encourage to throw the ball to our backs,” Kitchens said Wednesday. “He understands the dilemma. Baker does a good job of understanding the whole concept of the things. He will get better at it, just as I will get better at calling him better plays.”
“We absolutely need to play better,” Mayfield said after the win over the Jets. “I think that’s the biggest thing. Not losing sight that a win is a win, especially on the road, and we needed this one, but field goals early on? We’ll take points, but at the same time, we have to be able to finish those drives. We need to play better. It’s a little frustrating at times. I think I’ll be able to look at this film and get better from it.”
Per NFL Next Gen Stats, Baker Mayfield is averaging 3.07 seconds to throw, the 3rd highest in NFL. When he throws within 2.5 seconds: 74%, 2 TDs/1 INT; when he throws in over 2.5 seconds: 55%, 0 TDs/3 INTs.
— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) September 17, 2019
One solution? Get the ball out of Mayfield’s hands quicker. The former Oklahoma Sooner is averaging a tick over three seconds (3.07) to throw the ball (3rd highest in NFL). When he throws the ball in 2.5 seconds or less, he completes 74 percent of his throws for two scores and one pick. When he doesn’t? He completes just over half his passes and has three interceptions. He’s been sacked the third-most times (eight) in the league, a side effect of holding onto the ball for too long.
Former Cleveland Browns left tackle Joe Thomas, who has seen his fair share of bad quarterback play over his 13 years in the league, was concerned about Mayfield’s play to start the season.
“The fact the ball’s not coming out in rhythm is surprising and unsettling to me,” Thomas said. “We saw Baker patting the ball, trying to push it down the field. Even with some of the big plays being made, it didn’t seem to be happening in rhythm.”
So maybe it’s just that. Mayfield needs to get the ball out of his hands sooner rather than later, and Kitchens and his staff need to call plays that will help their young quarterback do just that. Help your quarterback develop a rhythm throughout the game with a solid mix of runs and passes so you can take advantage of the play-action and RPO play-calls as the game progresses. While OBJ is third in the league in receiving yards (232), Jarvis Landry hasn’t cracked 100 on the season. Nick Chubb has rushed for 137 yards but is averaging less than four yards a carry.
I’m not here to hate on Baker Mayfield, like the way Colin Cowherd has been prone to do. I’ve been on the Baker bandwagon since his gun-slinging days at Oklahoma and I want nothing more than to see him succeed (except for maybe a Cowboys Super Bowl win). But at the end of the day, the start to the 2019 Browns’ season is concerning. Though, we are just two weeks into the season, leaving plenty of time for Cleveland to make us believe again.
Thumbnail photo credited to The Associated Press.
Kevin Arnold is the associate sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org