The start to the 2019 NFL season hasn’t exactly been a smooth one for the quarterbacks. We’ve seen the news on Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Nick Foles and Sam Darnold come in expecting them all to miss significant time. Eli Manning has lost his spot to the rookie Daniel Jones. Gardner Minshew and Mason Rudolph are currently penciled in as week three starters. The old guard is starting to fade. Guys like Patrick Mahomes are already making their claim to be the next great NFL quarterback. It’s about due time Baker Mayfield starts that same quest.
Mayfield has been a bit of a paradox this season. In the first drive of the season, the Browns offense looked like a well-oiled machine. In the fourth quarter of that game, Mayfield quickly turned a winnable game into an absolute blow out for the Tennessee Titans. Mayfield didn’t look comfortable for large stretches in his second game against the New York Jets. He also threw for 325 yards against them in a very lopsided win for the Browns.
Mayfield himself has earned a bit of the criticism that he has received. His four interceptions are only second to Matt Ryan as the most in the NFL over the first two weeks. He has been inaccurate at times, has been fooled repeatedly by defenses that have disguised coverages and has began getting antsy in the pocket much quicker than in his rookie season. Mayfield has yet to duplicate some of his more explosive games last season and it has people concerned.
All hasn’t been doom and gloom. Mayfield is averaging over 300 yards per game. Three of his four interceptions have come in garbage time. Most importantly he has made some excellent throws. Now he has another primetime opportunity to put it all together and showcase his skills to the entire nation. I want to explore a couple of things that could help Mayfield break out this Sunday evening against the Los Angeles Rams.
Return of Hollywood – It is hard to ignore the impact of losing Rashard Higgins. His only series he played this season resulted in a touchdown. A terror against zone defenses, Higgins always seems to find a nice soft spot on the field. While Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry may certainly be more physically gifted, no receiver on the team has better chemistry with Mayfield. Higgins could make his return to the lineup on Sunday. I look for him to make instant dividends if available.
Tight at Tight End – Without Higgins, the tight ends looked to be the best option to be the safety valve on passing plays. Losing David Njoku early in the Jets game was another brutal blow. Demetrius Harris and Pharoah Brown are hardly ideal pass-catching options. With Njoku out for an extended period, the team may have to explore other options to give Baker some help from that position group. It may be another tough week for the big fellas.
Cleaning Up the Playcalling – Mayfield is at his best when he can either get the ball out quickly, or extend the play outside the pocket. He has his worst results when he is expected to drop deep in the pocket and wait for a play to develop. It seems at times that Mayfield is being expected to drive the ball down the field before ever finding his rhythm. Oddly enough at times the Browns offense has looked closer to what it looked like before Coach Kitchens took over. Hopefully, the offensive staff will start to establish a bit more balance and identity this coming up game.
Two lackluster weeks is nothing in the NFL. A big game for Mayfield will quickly change an increasingly cooling narrative about his game. He certainly hasn’t been perfect, but there are other quarterbacks still stumbling out of the gate themselves. A good solid performance against the reigning NFC Champions will be a great remedy.