Cleveland Browns’ Tyrod Taylor: Not quite washed up?

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 09: Tyrod Taylor #5 of the Cleveland Browns is dragged down by Cameron Heyward #97 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium on September 9, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 09: Tyrod Taylor #5 of the Cleveland Browns is dragged down by Cameron Heyward #97 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium on September 9, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

Tyrod Taylor struggled as the Cleveland Browns starting quarterback, but could the coaching change change the narrative for Taylor?

You remember Tyrod Taylor, don’t you? Baker Mayfield has been the most sensational rookie quarterback in the NFL in a strong rookie class, but it was only three months ago that Taylor was the starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns.

In a small data sample, Taylor underachieved for the Browns, seeming to lack both the bazooka arm and elusiveness in evading the rush that he displayed in Buffalo. Taylor put up lousy numbers, completing only 49.4 percent of his passes and compiling a miserable rating of 64.5. Is he washed up?

Hopefully, the Browns will never need to find out, and Mayfield will stay healthy all year. But just as Mayfield was able to step up his game when Hue Jackson and Todd Haley were sent packing, perhaps Taylor will play better if he can find his way back to the playing field.

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Isn’t it obvious that Browns quarterbacking was set back by the dysfunctional relationship between ex-head coach Hue Jackson and former offensive coordinator Todd Haley?

Even Mayfield, despite the excitement he generated, was not having a great year for the Browns under Hue and Haley. When coaches move from one team to another, they often get into the rut of trying to recapture the same way as they did for their old team. Perhaps that happened to Haley.

Haley was brilliantly successful with Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh. Ben used to love to take hits from defenders while using his pump fake to ward off defenders. Haley was able to get Ben to stay in the pocket and get the ball airborne sooner, and as a result his completion percentage, yardage and passer rating all went up under Haley. In recent years, Ben has gotten very good at throwing high-arcing, timing passes over the heads of defenders to the likes of Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster.  You don’t have to be 6’7” to throw those high-arc passes, but it helps.

For the first eight games, Browns fans were treated to Taylor, and then Mayfield, dropping back and throwing Roethlisberger-style passes.  They were also getting killed by the pass rush. Taylor was sacked 13 times and received a concussion in two and a half games. That’s a sack rate of 5.2 times per game, which is totally insane. In Mayfield’s five and a half games under Hue, he was sacked 20 times (3.6 sacks per game), including a three game stretch with 15 sacks. This is a very high rate of sacks, and it is probably not survivable.  Mayfield was simply not on a successful trajectory under Hue and Haley despite his great talent. His career could have been ended by the Browns dysfunctional offense.

In fact, the sack percentage was reminiscent of the 2016 team, which gave up 66 sacks. In that year, you may recall that Robert Griffin III suffered a broken collarbone, Josh McCown had a fractured shoulder blade, Cody Kessler had a concussion and later suffered bruised ribs, Kevin Hogan also missed time with bruised ribs, and Charlie “Clipboard Jesus” Whitehurst had a knee injury that ended his Browns career.  That was not playing quarterback, that was succumbing to a biblical plague!

Since Gregg Williams and Freddie Kitchens took over, Mayfield has been sacked only three times in five games. (0.6 sacks/game).  Let that soak in for a moment. Mayfield was taking at least 3 additional sacks per game under Hue. Maybe that’s why Mayfield was not interested in giving his former coach a hug after the Browns’ victory of the Bengals!  Hey, sacks hurt!

Under Hue/Haley, Mayfield’s production was like this:

Completion pct   Yds/att TDs INTs  SACKs       Rating

           58.3%                          6.6      8       6       20                 78.9

Under Williams/Kitchens:

Completion pct   Yds/att TDs INTs  SACKs      Rating

           73.2%                        9.2      11       4         3              114.5

What part of this is hard to understand?  Hue/Haley were toxic coaches and Mayfield is way better off due to the coaching change.  He’s no longer asked to be the dropback pocket passer as in the Pittsburgh offense. He will move the pocket right or left, and throw on the run if necessary.

So if we’re not going to blame Mayfield for under-performing under Hue/Haley, we ought not blame Taylor either.  If you look at the film of Taylor in Buffalo, he was a much different quarterback than the two and a half poor games we saw with the Browns.  Rather than being a Roethlisberger style drop-back passer, Taylor was very elusive in the pocket, and could buy time by scrambling. Sometimes he held the ball too long, but when he unloaded, he threw bullets and he threw accurately.

Granted, Taylor’s method may not be the most efficient way to find a target, but Taylor has thrown very few interceptions in his career. Would you believe that, prior to coming to the Browns, Taylor had been in the NFL seven years (three years plus as a starter) and had thrown only 18 interceptions? By comparison, the Browns’ DeShone Kizer thew 22 picks in 2017 alone. So Taylor was a little unorthodox, but he was good enough to go to the Pro Bowl, and in 2017 he led the Buffalo Bills into the playoffs. That’s not easy to do.

It’s not like Buffalo has been an offensive juggernaut. The Bills front office is delusional, believing that they are just as good as New England – except for the quarterback.  Well, they succeeded in getting rid of Taylor in favor of the immortal Nathan Peterman, whose interception percentage of 9.2 percent is SIX TIMES higher than Taylor’s 1.3percent while with the Bills.  Like wow, man. The next man up for the Bills is Josh Allen, a mega-talented but raw kid (see Kizer, DeShone). They should have kept Taylor as the bridge quarterback.

Taylor’s passer rating in Buffalo was a decent 92.5. With the Browns, in a limited data sample, his rating was a poor 64.5 in two and a half games.  But he played well enough to manage a tie with Pittsburgh, and he was the starter in the game with the Jets that Mayfield ultimately won. Browns fans, we are just not going to throw Taylor under the bus based on three games with Hue and Haley at the controls.

Doesn’t it seem logical that if Mayfield improved greatly and took fewer sacks under Williams and Kitchens, the other quarterbacks might also improve? Although Taylor does not have Mayfield’s ability to make quick reads, the two quarterbacks are similar in that they are mobile and a bit undersized. All you need to look at is the sack totals to realize that Haley’s “Roethlisbergerization” process was not suited for Taylor any more than Mayfield.

Browns fans have a complex about quarterbacks, and even more of a complex about second string quarterbacks.  We have been taught that it is appropriate to hate the second string quarterback, and to send him away as quickly as possible, or better yet, throw him into an active volcano and watch him burn to death.  Maybe it started with Brady Quinn – management could not wait to get rid of Derek Anderson, despite the fact that the guy made the Pro Bowl. But it has been like that ever since. Once a new quarterback becomes the starter, the front office immediately gets rid of the previous guy. Fans, that is not normal! Teams need a backup quarterback (see Foles, Nick and Warner, Kurt).

Tyrod is still a warrior. He’s been a consummate pro about yielding the starting job to Mayfield. He has not complained or whined.  Hopefully Baker plays every snap for the rest of the year, but if called upon, Tyrod can be counted on to put up decent numbers for Williams and Kitchens.

Next. Will the real Jamie Collins please stand up. dark

2018 might be his one and only year with the Browns, as his current contract is up at the end of the year.  After that, he may have to decide whether he wants to be a backup quarterback or not. In 2019, he will be 30-years-old, and it’s not clear that some team will want him to be a starter. He might decide to sit out and wait to see if a starter’s job opens up due to injury.  However, backing up Mayfield in 2019 might really be the best job for him. The Browns can use a few veterans with playoff experience. In Cleveland, he knows the playbook, and his style of play is similar to Mayfield’s. Here’s hoping that it works out.