Myth No. 2: Baker Mayfield can’t handle the blitz
Pro Football Focus stats show that Baker Mayfield is less effective under pressure than other quarterbacks in the NFL. Others conclude that all defenses have to do is use the blitz and they will have success in containing Mayfield.
It certainly seemed that way in the first matchups with Pittsburgh and Baltimore last season. But wait just a minute.
The key to understanding the stat is to realize that the blitz does not, not, not, guarantee successful pressure. If it did, Rex Ryan would be NFL Coach of the Year every year. But the quarterback beats the blitz more often than not.
Sometimes the defense gets pressure because the quarterback holds the ball too long. That earns the quarterback a bad grade also and is more likely in a non-blitz situation.
Keeping it within the AFC North for simplicity’s sake, Lamar Jackson has the best grades under pressure, better than Mayfield, Ben Roethlisberger or Joe Burrow (all three of those qbs have poor grades under pressure by the way). That makes sense. If you succeed in getting pressure on Jackson, he has a decent chance of getting out of it and making a pass play because he is the most elusive quarterback in the NFL. The other three…well, not so much.
However Jackson does not have great grades against the blitz, and in fact it is the opposite. If you play a seven man front against him, he will extend the play by scrambling until someone gets open or he will break off a long run. What defensive coordinator plays Lamar Jackson short-handed up front? Whoever that guy is, he’s unemployed.
However, Mayfield and Roethlisberger both have better grades versus the blitz than when not blitzed. They usually beat the blitz. Are we clear on that? Low grades when pressured does not necessarily translate to low grades when blitzed, because the good quarterbacks beat the blitz more often than the blitz beats then.
One more point. Analysts may be confusing cause and effect. The Browns have an excellent offensive line. Any defense that succeeds in pressuring Mayfield (via the blitz or not) must be pretty good. Those situations would have come against teams like Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Non-pressure situations occurred more frequently versus Cincinnati.
If you are wondering about Joe Burrow, his grades are a little worse against the blitz than un-blitzed, but that will probably change as he gets more comfortable with his offense. Having a few offensive linemen who can block will help him also.
This is the exact opposite of Twitter wisdom. Twitter wisdom says to blitz Baker. This is wrong. He will destroy the defense most of the time when they blitz. Play the eight-man front against Jackson, not Mayfield.