Cleveland Browns: Baker Mayfield held back by OC Todd Monken?

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 15: Quarterback Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns warms up before the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium on December 15, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 15: Quarterback Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns warms up before the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium on December 15, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Jameis Winston has looked much better since Todd Monken left the Bucs Could it be the Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator is holding back Baker Mayfield?

Maybe it’s not a coincidence that Jameis Winston, the NFL leader in passing yards this season, slumped in 2018 under offensive coordinator Todd Monken, much like Baker Mayfield is this year for the Cleveland browns.

Perhaps Mayfield can follow Winston’s example and rise out of the ashes of defeat back to where we believe he belongs — at or near the top of the NFL.

The comparison is especially pertinent because under Monken, Winston had his career-worst year and was regarded as vastly overrated and backsliding, which is a narrative that very much resembles Mayfield’s not-very-impressive 2019 campaign. Winston got better when Monken left. Perhaps the same will happen to Mayfield.

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Monken is a bit of a folk hero to the Browns fan base, because he represents an alternative to the perceived lame playcalling of Freddie Kitchens, the soon-to-be ex-coach of the Cleveland Browns.

The narrative goes that if only Monken were calling the plays, all would be well with the team, Freddie would keep his job, and the Browns offense would ascend to the top of the NFL. But let’s pump the brakes on that narrative for a moment and look at how things played out with Monken in Tampa Bay.

Winston is performing at a much higher level in 2019 than he did in 2018. It doesn’t necessarily mean that Monken is a poor coach; on the contrary, he is highly respected around the league.

But sometimes certain quarterbacks perform better with different systems and the numbers say that Winston performed better when Monken left the team, and it is not too of a stretch to suggest a similar difference may be observed in Mayfield’s production in 2020.

The parallels between Mayfield and Winston begin with the fact that they both won the Heisman Trophy, and both were first overall picks in the NFL draft the next year. Winston went to Tampa Bay and the Mayfield went to Cleveland three years later.

Winston made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, by virtue of throwing for over 4,000 yards for a team that did not have much talent around him (6-10 in 2015). Todd Monken became the offensive coordinator in 2016 and Winston responded by throwing for over 4,000 yards again and the team went 9-7.

light. Related Story. Mayfield's Regression is Real

In 2017 Winston backslid. Bearded journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick replaced Winston a few times due to injury and seemed to outperform him, going 2-1 for them while Winston was 3-10.

In 2018, Fitzpatrick and Winston took turns getting benched, with neither looking very good. Winston went 3-6 as the starter, while Fitzpatrick was 2-5.  Mind, although Ryan Fitzpatrick is an established NFL quarterback, he is never going to be Dan Marino.

Winston’s failure to separate himself from the journeyman Fitzpatrick caused many fans and commentators to call for the team to drop Winston. Nevertheless, the 2018 Tampa Bay Buccaneers scored 24.8 points per game, good for 12th in the NFL, which is better than average.

That’s rather good for a team without a clear first-string quarterback, right? So, the thought was that Monken must be a very good offensive coordinator, and the Browns snapped him up for the 2019 season.

In Tampa, meanwhile, the team didn’t re-sign Fitzpatrick and they re-installed Winston as the starter. He has been on a tear all year.

With two games left to be played, he leads the entire NFL in passing yards with 4,573 yards. Tampa Bay is now the third highest-scoring team in the league with 29.7 points per game. That’s almost a five points-per-game improvement that coincides with Monken leaving. Winston still throws too many interceptions (24 thus far, which also leads the NFL), but there is no doubt that he belongs as a starter.

Conversely, in 2019 it is Baker Mayfield who many observers perceive as overrated, backsliding and regressing. In 2018, he threw for 3,725 yards in 14 games. This year, after 14 starts he has thrown for 3,356, or almost 400 fewer yards.

His touchdown to interception ratio was 27-to-14 in 2018, but this year he is 17-to-17, which is terrible. It’s certainly not all Mayfield’s fault, but Monken may not be blameless either. There are no compelling numbers that show that Monken is an upgrade over Kitchens as the play-caller for the team.

So the clamoring to install Monken as the play-caller may be misdirected. This has been a weird, underperforming offense under coach Kitchens with Monken as his offensive coordinator.

The quarterback has gone from near-Pro-Bowl caliber to an underachieving overrated quarterback whose development is regressing. But just as Winston is having a big year after Monken left, and his team is scoring five more points per game, something similar might happen for Mayfield and the Browns next year.

This is not intended to slam Monken who by all accounts has been a competent coach for the Browns, but it is a stretch to suggest that Monken calling the plays would cause the Browns to snap out of their offensive funk.

Next. Freddie Kitchens has officially lost the team. dark

Mayfield may well be back next year with a vengeance.