Let's Just Have A Baker Mayfield Conversation
By JAKE BURNS https://247sports.com/nfl/cleveland-brow...33/#172375333_1
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Your Browns won. It was a great day celebrating a unique win. I enjoyed it. I podcasted with general glee. Yet, here I am. Back again writing about a win but on a negative thread inside the greater good. The defense should be the focus. They really should be. Over the last two weeks, they're putting together some of the franchise's best work in decades (I promise I will get to that this week), but the quarterback position always demands more. It always will. The nature of the beast, as they say. You truly go about as far as this position can carry you. So, when we get what we saw from Baker Mayfield on Sunday we at least need to talk about it.
The cliche "quarterbacks get too much of the credit and too much of the blame" will always hold true with me. Someone who values the nuance and process over the results frame of mind. However, this sport is not processed in a singular frame of reference. I view quarterback play differently than you do, and you do it perhaps differently than me. We all bring our personal biases and experiences to the table and then we form our opinion.
We all sat through Sunday's performance. We all left frustrated with the offense but relieved they found their way to 3-1 -- the Browns' best start since 2002. There's plenty to be happy about, but there is also fair reason to feel that concern you do deep in your stomach. The root of the issues brewing below is that Baker Mayfield has failed to be the version you started to grow comfortable with at the end of 2020. When he was one of the key reasons, from Week 7 on, that the offense found success en route to a playoff experience. We saw accuracy, anticipation, and confidence that pointed Mayfield into a potential future fit inside the league's best. This run of stellar play from Mayfield was rightfully well-documented.
Those covering the quarterback expected those same performances into the 2021 season where he would finally get the repeat he needed in the same system and with the same play-caller. However, we have seen Mayfield largely limp through four weeks. He had quality flashes that were reminiscent of the 2020 version through three quarters in Kansas City but he three in four fourth-quarter drives. The game's blame didn't belong to him, but there were throws needed that were missed. The second half in the Texans game left several big plays on the field we have documented here at The OBR, and last week we all witnessed the struggles with hitting some shot plays downfield that would have easied the offense's struggles for the larger portion of the game.
Look, he's been good enough to win ugly, but is that what Mayfield wants? Is that what the fan base is craving? Those questions sit front and center. I truly believe that Baker Mayfield is a good quarterback, but the question keeps coming back to just how good he can become. Yesterday was a step in the wrong direction, but it doesn't have to define his season.
WHAT WE CAN QUANITFY
Let’s just get it out of the way: Mayfield was terrible in Minnesota. It doesn’t define his career or even his season, but the performance is the performance. You can find whatever excuse suits you, but the metrics do not lie. The raw data will tell you his -18.3 CPOE (completion percentage over expectation) was the lowest for a Week 4 quarterback in the NFL barring a Monday Night Football clunker and his EPA was among the league’s worst as well but saved by not turning the ball over.
His film-based metrics from Pro Football Focus will end up sub-50 and it will mark one of his worst performances since 2020 in Pittsburgh and 2019 in San Francisco. He won’t want to remember it and neither will we.
These games happen, though. They just do. If you look hard enough, you can find these types of games for the league's best over the last 20 years. For context, we looked even closer to their early careers as best as possible to find a similar level of league exposure.
Aaron Rodgers: Year 4 of starting...on 12/18/11 versus the KC Chiefs. 17-35, 1 TD, and 80.1 passer rating. Chiefs were 5-8 coming into the game, while Packers were 15-0. Rodgers was a 1st team All-pro that season and led the league in passer rating (122.5) and approximate value (23) (both were the highest marks of his career).
Philip Rivers: Year 3 of starting...on 11/16/08 versus the Steelers. 15-26, with zero touchdowns, two interceptions, and a 44.4 passer rating. Lost the game 11-10. Even with that, Rivers threw the most TDs of his career in 2008 (34) and led the league in passer rating (105.5).
Drew Brees: Back in 2003, in his San Diego Charger days, he had a 7-15 performance for 49 yards and an interception with a 26.8 rating. Then also in 2005, he had a 22-44 for 215 yards, and three interceptions performance where he had a 35.7 passer rating.
Peyton Manning: In 2001 he had a 19 for 32 performance for 173 yards where he threw three interceptions and ended with a 35.0 rating in a 41-6 loss in Miami.
Again, you can dig and find these games for almost all quarterbacks not named Mahomes. Mayfield has had a select few like them but this one was different in a sense. He struggled pushing the ball downfield with accuracy, and that is rare for him since getting into the NFL. The decision-making and processing can deviate but generally he has been an accurate quarterback in the league when driving it to the deeper portions of the field. Sunday was different in that realm.
I turned to our own Cody Suek for some research and context on this one. On throws 20+ yards downfield Mayfield has been largely good. In 2018 he had 11 touchdowns and only four interceptions. In 2019 he struggled most of the year with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions, but then bounced back in 2020 with six touchdowns to just three interceptions.
He was top-3 in adjusted completion percentage on throws 20+ yards downfield in both 2018 (51.4%) and 2020 (51.8%). He was 12th in total EPA (expected points added) on those throws in 2018 (29.38) and 7th in total EPA in 2020 (28.95).
So, the game was a career worst type of dud for Mayfield in both the film and data side, but the issues are not isolated to just Week 4. This week just exasperated them.
The bigger perplexity at play here is the streaky play inside those numbers career efforts. He will have those stretches of poor play, and then those stretches of scorching play as well. The question for the Browns is how well they can stomach those stretches when they turn south for Mayfield.
The beginning of 2021 has been the perfect microcosm of Mayfield’s career. He lit the Chiefs for three quarters before the turn. He played a solid first half against the Texans before the turn and now we’re in the midst of an infamous Mayfield cold streak. A streak like we saw at the start of 2020.
In order to fully contextualize we should show evidence from yesterday’s game but some more of 2021 in whole to prove the point on the concerns inside this cold streak.
Let’s check the tape, folks.
WHAT OUR EYES TELL US
Mayfield has rarely been the guy to consistently provide those insane throws outside of structure, or those with supreme anticipation. He has made his money with Stefanski by throwing to opened schemed routes and, for the most part, that’s just fine. Kevin Stefanski is so gifted as a play-caller and scheme creator that combined with Mayfield’s arm talent and general accuracy, the two have formed a nice Ying to the Chubb/Hunt Yang.
When Stefanski is dealing as a play-caller (let me tell you he was really scheming yesterday) and Mayfield is processing the field well with a hot hand for accuracy, they’re brutal to stop. We’ve seen evidence of this in 2020 and the early portions of the game in Week 1.
But when Mayfield is missing those schemed throws you start to get concerned and the offense becomes stagnant. It was missing simple reads like the second half against the Texans here where he ignores the easy throw to Donovan Peoples-Jones for a touchdown off the fake.
Or finding the right throw, but just missing. It happened twice last week against the Bears in key third-down moments. First, missing Demetric Felton on a wheel route out of the backfield on the opening drive, and then missing a boot play-action throw to Harrison Bryant on an over route in the fourth quarter.
Sunday had a mixture of it all. From the processing issues to the inaccuracy, Mayfield clearly didn't have it in this one.
He failed to process Donovan People-Jones on the square in here for an easy completion.
Off play-action, he passes up an open curl from Odell Beckham Jr. for Harrison Bryant in the flat despite zero pressure.
He missed a holeshot to Beckham up the left sideline (bottom of your screen) on this straight drop concept.
This is the one that stands out most from a "he failed to see it" perspective. Off the roll fake, he has Demetric Felton in the flat for several seconds while lingering the eyes downfield on a 3rd and 2. He has Felton all the way up until the moment he decides to take a sack.
Then there were the misses. We can rattle these off, but I think it's fair we just list them here and let you decipher for yourself. Suffice to say, Beckham should have had a 200-yard performance.
It is a genuinely tough watch. These are not the types of throws Mayfield misses in this volume. This game has the potential to be a one-off for this degree of struggle but you can obviously get a feel for the reasons for concern to this point.
The 3-1 results are lovely for the Browns. Could easily be 4-0 with the right turnover luck, but the offense is a problem and its main crux is Baker Mayfield currently.
WHERE WE GO FROM HERE
So, for this type of game, you wad it up and throw it in the trash. There's not much else you can do. Can't go back and fix it. Can't have a redo. All Mayfield can do is learn from it and do his best to move on. To be better moving forward. We have data of him rebounding from similar times like this in his career. However, that doesn't change the issue right now, and the Browns must do all they can to fix that issue.
In 2020, the turnaround for Mayfield from Week 7 on with extensive work by offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt and Stefanski ended up paying dividends in team-based achievements and post-season recognition. They will be tasked with doing this again. If the young quarterback is truly hurt, then there needs to be a recognition of that and allow him some time to heal. If he is missing throws due to the sling on his non-throwing shoulder, again, rectify it. He isn't playing like a player whose shoulder is noticeably bothering him, but there could be something there. The potential contract extension could be a lingering distraction, the pressure to be perfect, who knows. It just has to be fixed.
We can pretend Mayfield has been playing well this year when outside of three quarters in Kansas City he has been largely average while leaving plays on the field. If that is your expectation for him, then fine. He can be that. But the hope here is the Mayfield is more than that. That he can lift them beyond their current levels.
For now, we just know Mayfield has to be better and so does Mayfield. He keeps saying as much. It is all there in front of him. His complete story for 2021 has obviously yet to be written, but the delay can't happen much longer. Not with what's coming on the schedule for the next four weeks.
The elephant in the room I really don’t want to wade too deeply into is the murky waters of whether Mayfield is better without Beckham. However you want to view it, and the data is not kind. According to Pro Football Focus, Mayfield's career passing grades with Beckham is 68.7 and without Beckham, it is 90.7.
There is no debate that things have to change soon as we peek into the future. It’s brutal to accurately quantify the issue and it ends up feeling like blaming the wrong person too often when the intentions center on football benevolence from both sides. However, the film data tells us that there’s a story to two Mayfield’s here, and the Browns have to find Mayfield's Dr. Jekyll and remove this version of Mr. Hyde with Beckham. The pair have it in them, I know they do.
The two players are immensely talented. It was excruciating to watch Mayfield trying so hard to make it work with Beckham yesterday only keep missing him on opportunity after opportunity. It’s affecting both of them to the point of body language crisis. Mayfield is wearing the stress of it on his entire being. Physically and mentally.
While the efforts yesterday are tough to watch in retrospect, like some early efforts in 2020, Mayfield still has every chance to right this ship and turn the season into something memorable. Not one thing was defined yesterday and he is still behind the controls of fixing this thing. It will take a collective effort from everyone involved in the offense, and Mayfield will have to rise up again. The final story of this season is likely written in whether that happens for Mayfield and the Browns or not.
Lots of videos in the link.