Cleveland Browns: Why Baker Mayfield had a sophomore slump
The Cleveland Browns and Baker Mayfield had a bad year in 2019 after having an explosive offense at the end of 2018. So who deserves credit for 2018?
Everyone knows that the Cleveland Browns, and Baker Mayfield in particular, had a bad year offensively in 2019 after having an explosive offensive resurgence in the last eight games of 2018. Well, okay, but if Freddie Kitchens was not the cause, who was?
When Hue Jackson was fired, the Browns were a bad team getting worse, but somehow the team righted the ship and went 5-3 as soon as he was gone. Mayfield was lights out and the offensive line was almost magically transformed from one of the league’s worst to one of the league’s best, at least statistically: 33 sacks in the first eight games, only five in the final eight games. That is insane. That was arguably the greatest statistical turnaround in the same season in NFL history, although not many people noticed because the Browns did not make the playoffs.
Mayfield’s numbers were terrible under Jackson. If you don’t believe it, compare with Johnny Manziel‘s numbers for Mike Pettine in 2015. The numbers are remarkably similar, but they are also similar for Mayfield under Kitchens.
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In the summary numbers below, the last number is the traditional NFL passer rating. Mayfield’s rating is actually a tad lower than Manziel’s, for BOTH stretches with Jackson and Kitchens as head coaches. If people remember Mayfield playing great for Jackson, it was true mainly in the game against the New York Jets. Overall, he was getting killed in a pile of sacks
J. Manziel 2015 (Pettine) 6 starts, 2/4 W/L, 1500 yards, 57.8% pct, 7/5 TD/INT, 79.4
B. Mayfield 2018 (Jackson) 6 starts, 1/4 W/L, 1471 yards, 58.3% pct, 6/6 TD/INT, 78.9
B. Mayfield 2019 (Kitchens) 16 starts, 6/10 W/L, 3827 yards, 59.4% pct, 22/21 TD/INT, 78.8
B. Mayfield 2018 (Williams) 8 starts, 5/3 W/L, 2254 yards,68.4% pct, 19/8 TD/INT, 106.2 rate
However, under Gregg Williams, Mayfield was absolutely lights out and put up numbers like Drew Brees. He was like a point guard, spreading the ball to all receivers. Jarvis Landry was the big dawg, but Rashard Higgins stepped up, as did Breshad Perriman and Antonio Callaway. Tight end David Njoku also put up solid receiving numbers with 639 yards, good for second on the team.
In 2019, the receiving corps was shut down and Mayfield limited his distribution, making sure that only Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. were making receptions. In 2018, the Browns third leading wide receiver was Higgins with 39 catches and 572 yards. But in 2019, Damion Ratley was the third leading receiver with only 12 catches for 200 yards. That is crazy! Higgins had only four catches for 55 yards. You could say that in 2019 the Browns did not have a No. 3 receiver, only Landry and Beckham.
Most observers, including this one, credited Kitchens with the huge turnaround of the 2018 offense, but it simply did not continue in 2019. If Kitchens was not the primary cause of the 2018 turnaround, who was?
Much of the staff was turned over after the 2018 season. There may have been a few coaches who were underappreciated in 2018, and whose loss was keenly felt in 2019. We can start with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who assumed the duties of head coach upon Hue Jackson’s dismissal.