Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns are at a critical juncture. How did they get here and what can Mayfield do to get back on track?
The Cleveland Browns offense took a massive step backwards in 2021. The unit, despite being comprised of the same returning cast of players and coaches, was all but unrecognizable from their 2020 campaign. But why?
While everyone, from television analysts to Joe Blow on Twitter, wants to place the blame solely on Baker Mayfield, the answer is much more complicated and nuanced. If you look at the specifics of the situation, it becomes blatantly evident that Mayfield’s struggles are an accumulation of regression, poor execution, and gross injury mismanagement.
Each shortcoming stacked on top of one another and in effect made the whole of the offensive unit immensely weaker than the sum of its parts. So, in order to truly understand why Mayfield and this offense, that looked so effective and efficient in 2020, became virtually unwatchable we will go layer by layer. Let’s pull this thing apart.
Baker Mayfield’s regression with Cleveland Browns
For better or for worse, Baker Mayfield is a lighting rod for national attention. It’s difficult to approach Mayfield’s play without ‘taking a side’ in the ongoing Baker Wars, so let’s breakdown the facts and look at his situation objectively.
Mayfield came into the 2021 season with a good deal of momentum. Over his final 10 regular season games in 2020, Baker completed 64 percent of his passes for 16 touchdowns and two interceptions. In his two playoff appearances Mayfield completed 61 percent of his attempts for 467 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. Those are solid metrics for a quarterback in the first year of a new system.
With an entire offseason of structured continuity, for the first time in his professional career, it was widely assumed that Mayfield would take the next step as a franchise quarterback.
However, after a decent start in the season opener, Mayfield would suffer a significant shoulder injury in Week 2. It was the ultimate add insult to injury-injury. It occurred from attempting to make a tackle of his own interception caused by communication issues.
From that moment, Baker’s season began its slow agonizing decent. While being able to comeback from the injury and beat a below average Texans team, Mayfield struggled just to get through the ensuing two games. Although he briefly showed life in Week 5, the following week Mayfield’s left shoulder would sustain an injury (fully torn rotator cuff, and broken humerus) that required surgery to repair.
First things first, there is no questioning Mayfield’s toughness. He’s gutted his way through eight games only missing one due to the injury. However, toughness should not be your franchise quarterback’s greatest attribute. Toughness alone will not win games in the NFL.
Mayfield opted to not undergo surgery and attempted to play through it. Even though it was his non-throwing shoulder, the injury greatly hampered Mayfield’s throwing mechanics.
Anyone who has watched Baker play quarterback knows he can whip it. But it’s just that, it is a whip. Mayfield uses his entire body to generate velocity on the ball. By wearing the shoulder harness, Mayfield was unable to open up his carriage and torque his upper body as he normally would.
Mayfield’s injuries created a domino effect that hampered every part of his game. Outside of accuracy, the biggest impact the injuries caused were to his internal clock in the pocket. He routinely reacted to pressure that was simply not there.
At times Mayfield even created the pressure himself with visible lack of pocket comfortability. The game appeared too fast at times and he was never able to remain calm in the chaos.