I would like to preface this piece by stating that this isn’t what I want to be writing. I enjoyed watching the Cleveland Browns come together in the second half of the 2018 season. Baker Mayfield was no small part of that success. As a rookie, many times he seemed poised under pressure. When he was on there was no limit to what the Browns offense could do. Mayfield was also electric in the red zone, closing drives that the many who led the Browns offense in the past would have failed miserably at. Fast forward to present day, we are roughly a third of the way into the 2019 season and it begs the question, What the hell has happened to Baker Mayfield?
That in itself is a loaded question with many answers. I can say that the coaching on the offensive side of the ball has left a lot to be desired. We can talk about the offensive line’s struggles, that certainly hasn’t helped. However, the truth is that some point Mayfield himself needs to be held accountable for what has been a concerning 2019 campaign thus far.
Baker was less than spectacular for his first three starts. Hopes were revived after a very good showing against the Baltimore Ravens. However, the very next week Mayfield looked as bad as he ever has. Once upon a time, people raved at Mayfield’s ability to not be rattled. This season he has looked rattled about 80 percent of the time. Mayfield’s calling card a season ago was his ability to maneuver in and around the pocket to create opportunities. This season has been quite the opposite. Mayfield has seemed to lose his pocket presence altogether. He hangs in the pocket when he shouldn’t and at times will abandon a clean pocket and run himself into a pass rush. The red zone master from a year ago is barely completing 20 percent of his passes near the goal line this season. His footwork and technique have been awful. I know Browns fans don’t want to hear these things, but I have to be objective here. One good showing in five tries isn’t going to get it done in the NFL.
Digging into the numbers paints an even scarier picture. Mayfield leads the league with eight interceptions. Mayfield boasts a quarterback rating of 68.5 which puts him last among QBs that have played in all of their team’s games. Only Luke Falk of the Jets and Josh Rosen of the Dolphins are worse overall. His 55.9 completion percentage places him next to last ahead of Rosen in the NFL. With Mayfield averaging less than a touchdown per game this season the Browns have failed to score 14 points in three of their games. Perhaps most damning is that Mayfield has his worst numbers in the fourth quarter. Simply put it hasn’t been a good year for Mayfield.
While many Browns fans are happy to look at Mayfield through rose-colored glasses, he is certainly not a unanimous favorite of pundits around the nation. Cheap shots galore were rained down upon Mayfield this offseason. While opinions are subjective, the numbers don’t lie. Mayfield has done nothing but fuel those who have vocally doubted him in the past. The now infamous statement of, “overrated as hell,” certainly stands out. Some saw Mayfield as an MVP candidate, now he sits at or near the bottom in every statistical category. Unfortunately, that is the definition of being overrated. Even the criticism of being a one-read quarterback has statistical backing this season. Mayfield has struggled in just about any other situation outside of run-pass option plays, which require one read.
Unlike many of the Browns quarterbacks that have come before him, Mayfield at least has shown that he can play at a high level in the NFL. His rookie season had its rough patches, but not a prolonged slump like he is in now. Doubly frustrating is the fact he looked very much like the player that set the rookie record for touchdown passes against the Ravens just two weeks ago. To Mayfield’s credit, he has done just enough to ensure that this season is not quite lost yet. A seemingly weak AFC North has helped with that as well, but if the Browns truly hope to contend Mayfield will need to turn his season around quickly.
The first quick fix I can see that he could make is remembering to climb the pocket. Mayfield is almost always abandoning the pocket to the right. Teams have picked up on this and in many instances are simply waiting for him to run into trouble now. Last season climbing the pocket created lanes from over pursuit in many instances. It also usually allowed for Mayfield to get himself into a good position to throw the ball. Secondly, Mayfield will need to clean up his accuracy this season. Many of his incompletions this season have simply been bad throws. Mayfield is at his best with his feet set and driving into his throws, that needs to improve in a big way. Third, he needs to find the arm angles to avoid getting so many balls batted down at the line. Lastly, Mayfield needs to get back to finding the hole in the defense. What made Mayfield great a year ago was his ability to quickly find an open receiver. For whatever reason Baker seems to be much more hesitant to deliver passes this season. Many balls are coming out late allowing defenders to make up ground on his receivers.
Two very tough matchups await Mayfield and the Browns over the next two weeks. The Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots are hardly teams you hope to be facing when trying to work out issues. However, if Mayfield’s level of play continues on its current course the team will be 2-5 heading into their bye week. A far cry from where they want to be.