Cleveland Browns tale of two Baker Mayfields

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 04: Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns reacts after being removed from the game during the third quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 4, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 04: Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns reacts after being removed from the game during the third quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 4, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield played like a star for Gregg Williams and coordinator Freddie Kitchens last season but suffered under Hue Jackson.

Second-year Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield reminds some people of Drew Brees, but others have compared him to draft busts like Brandon Weeden, or even called him “undraftable.”

Both have a certain amount of validity, because although Mayfield played like a star for head coach Gregg Williams and offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens the second half of the season, he put up poor numbers under coach Hue Jackson and OC Todd Haley the first half of the season.

To this observer, the Browns were not an average team as their 7-8-1 record might suggest. Rather, they were a playoff team the second half of the season, but in the first half of the season, they were a bad team getting worse.

The Browns offense was horrible.  Tyrod Taylor was sacked 13 times in two-and-a-half games, until he was knocked out of Game 3 last year.  Mayfield entered the game at that point and played inspired ball the second half, leading the Browns to an exciting come-from-behind victory, and breaking their horrific nineteen game winless streak.

Mayfield got his first and only win as a starter for Jackson versus Baltimore, a 12-9 overtime thriller which was not exactly an offensive showcase.

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Jackson’s tenure was not a good one for the young quarterback. Like Taylor, he was forced to run for his life, getting sacked 15 times over a three game stretch. Cleveland fans, we are so lucky that John Dorsey convinced the Haslamsp to make a change, because otherwise our guy was going to get killed.

In fact, as crazy as this sounds, the numbers show a similarity between Mayfield’s performance under Jackson and Johnny Manziel’s second year with Mike Pettine. Of course, you could claim that Mayfield should have been credited with a second win, the relief win over the Jets. However, it doesn’t change the point that the passing game was not nearly as strong under Jackson/Haley compared to under Williams/Kitchens.

Something happened at mid-season that transformed a very bad offense into a very good one. Suddenly the Browns started to win and Mayfield was enormously more effective.

In fact, Mayfield’s second half numbers compare favorably to top NFL quarterbacks. If his second half passer rating of 106.2 were sustained over the entire season he would have been fifth in the NFL, behind Drew Brees, Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan.

Perhaps the best comparison could be made with Carson Wentz, who played an abbreviated season.  The football world was touting Wentz as an MVP candidate the year before, rightly so. Mayfield’s second half numbers are actually a shade better than the numbers for Wentz. In terms of quarterback rating, Mayfield’s 106.2 would have been fifth in the NFL last year, ahead of familiar names like Brady, Rodgers and Roethlisberger.


This is not to say that Mayfield is “better” than Wentz, Brady or Rodgers. The quarterback stats are always a reflection of the entire team including the coaching staff, not just the individual quarterback.  Moreover, several things changed in addition to the firing of Jackson and Haley.

Two games earlier, Dorsey had traded away Carlos Hyde, forcing the coaches to play Nick Chubb.  Greg Robinson replaced ineffective Desmond Howard at left tackle for Week 9, and Breshad Perriman started to emerge as a quality receiver the second half of the year. Joel Cade of DPD has pointed out that the Browns changed their protection scheme to emphasize more shall drops (“dish” protection versus “cup” protection), with excellent results.  This is attributed to Freddie Kitchens.

So while a number of factors could be cited in causing the Browns improvement, the stats say there was huge improvement in the team in the second half of the season, as well as in the quarterback’s performance. Another takeaway is that the wrong coaching staff can in fact ruin a young quarterback.

To be fair, Jackson and Haley have had success in different capacities in the NFL, so there is coaching talent there. But can we agree that they should absolutely not have been in charge of the Cleveland Browns offense?

It can be also argued that the data sample is small when comparing two half seasons. That is true to an extent, but the overall trend is so huge that it cannot be ignored.

The Browns are fortunate that they made the coaching change when they did, so that they were able to discover the true talent of Baker Mayfield.  A full season of Jackson and Haley might have resulted in about three or four wins, and a quarterback ranked in the bottom five of the NFL.

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What football fans in general have not appreciated is the transformational nature of the Browns 2018 season.  Has there ever been another team that went from bottom five to top five in the same season?  There is no comparison between the Mayfield of the second half of the season versus the Mayfield of the first half.