j/c:Why Rashard ‘Hollywood’ Higgins is Baker Mayfield’s missing link
If and when Rashard Higgins makes it back, take it to the bank Baker Mayfield will be humming hooray for Hollywood.
No one fully understands why Mayfield, the toast of the NFL last December, has been someone else this fall. At minimum, the absence of Higgins is a hidden factor.
Or, one might fairly observe that news Higgins practiced on a “full-go” basis Wednesday flashed like a neon sign.
Mayfield’s first two throws of his second season, against the Titans, were to Higgins. The second netted 11 yards and got the chains moving. Late in the same series, Mayfield went over the middle to Higgins for 35 yards to the 4. The Browns scored on the next play.
Higgins didn’t make it to the next game, leaving the opener with a knee issue. His has missed all four games since, including the disaster at San Francisco.
Mayfield and Higgins began bonding in the spring and summer of 2018, when Mayfield was relegated to working with backups because veteran Tyrod Taylor was the No. 1 quarterback, getting reps with starters.
Higgins, a backup, was trying to make himself more relevant after delivering less than 400 combined receiving yards in his two other seasons since arriving as the last of three wideouts the Browns drafted in 2016.
Mayfield began 2018 on the bench. Higgins carved out a role behind Jarvis Landry, Josh Gordon and Antonio Callaway. Through two full games and one half of Game 3, Higgins totaled 85 receiving yards. Starting with the second half of Game 3, when Mayfield replaced Taylor, through the next two games, Higgins racked up 158 yards and scored the Browns’ lone TD in a 12-9 overtime win over Baltimore. The team record was 2-1.
Higgins missed the next three games with a knee issue. Mayfield struggled, and the team went 0-3. Higgins returned for a 5-1 hot streak triggered by a win over the Falcons in which he made a 28-yard touchdown catch.
In the final two games, against the Bengals and Ravens, he was Mayfield’s top target, making 10 catches.
During this year’s training camp, Mayfield smiled about “the connection.”
“It goes back to last year and getting reps with him with the second team,” Mayfield said. “We built chemistry. I talked to him all the time.
“You knew exactly what you were going to get out of him on every play.”
Then came the preseason opener, in which Mayfield played just one series against Washington. What a series, and what a finish ... a 24-yard touchdown strike to Higgins.
The theory heading into the season suggested Higgins could do serious damage while defenses devoted coverage to Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. Nick Chubb understood.
Chubb, like Mayfield, spent months with the backups, including Higgins, before the 2018 season.
“I talk to ‘Higs’ all the time,” Chubb said. “I know the chemistry is there. Him and ‘Bake’ are always on the same page.
“When he was in, he always made big plays for us. He’s a big asset to our team.”
Higgins’ return could work two ways. Beckham and Landry siphon coverage away from him, but if he starts making plays, coverages must pay less attention to “the big two.”
Beckham is coming off the least productive two games of his career.
“It’s frustrating when teams take (Beckham) out of the game,” Mayfield said Wednesday, “but it’s also an opportunity for other guys to make plays.”
Higgins practiced on a limited basis last week but did play against the 49ers. The way a 31-3 loss played out made it evident they could use him when Seattle comes to Cleveland on Sunday.
The Browns have been without some players whose absence is more conspicuous than that of Higgins.
Cornerbacks Denzel Ward, the No. 4 overall pick of the 2018 draft, and Greedy Williams, the team’s top draft pick this year, both have missed the last three games with hamstring issues. Captain Christian Kirksey, a sixth-year linebacker, is on injured reserve.
Tight end David Njoku, a Round 1 pick in 2017, broke a wrist in Game 2 and is on injured reserve.
Meanwhile, the return of Higgins could wind up looking more conspicuous than one might think.https://www.ohio.com/sports/20191009/why-rashard-hollywood-higgins-is-baker-mayfields-missing-link