Browns fans and NFL fans alike seem to think every time Cleveland losses a game it solely is due to the performance of Mayfield. That is a knee-jerk reaction at its finest.
Baker Mayfield is strangely one of the most polarizing players in the NFL at the moment. It seems that after losses to both Kansas City in Week 1 and now the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 5 that Mayfield was the only player guilty in both losses.
Last week, Mayfield led the Browns offense to go toe to toe with the potent Chargers offense. Many thought the Bills and Chiefs would be the offensive battle instead that title belonged to the Baker and Justin Herbert Battle. Chargers head coach Brandon Staley referred to the game as a “track meet.” Seems fitting as the game quickly went 27-21 at the end of the third into 41 points between the two sides in the fourth quarter alone.
Usually, when a team scores 42 points in a loss the blame never goes towards the quarterback. So why do people make these types of accusations when it comes to Baker Mayfield? There are many question marks about the Browns I have after the whistle blew and not many of them related to Mayfield’s performance.
The obvious question is what is the Browns defense this season? One week they shut down opponents and others get steamrolled. When you look a little closer at the strength of offenses Cleveland played in their first five weeks you start to notice a pattern. The three wins that the Browns have come against offenses that are struggling at this point in the season. The Texans (29th), Bears (30th) and Vikings (20th) all rank in the bottom half of the NFL in points per game and that is when faith in the defense grew after each win thus far. Not to mention, when you remember the context of each game it makes more sense as to why the defense looked better.
The Texans were putting up consistent drives on the Browns defense until QB Tyrod Taylor pulled his hamstring around halftime thrusting rookie WB Davis Mills into the fold. Once Mills stepped into the game the offense of Houston was halted solely due to rookie mistakes alone. Similar to that the Browns defense should its first glimpses of the dominance promised against the Bears. Matt Nagy was forced against his will to not play QB Andy Dalton who was injured. Instead, in came QB Justin Fields. Fields, another rookie who the Browns defense ate alive. DE Myles Garrett and company gave Fields hell all day. Furthermore, Nagy conjured up one of the worst game plans I have ever seen for a rookie in recent memory. Finally, the Vikings game was a classic slugfest after Dalvin Cook reaggregated his ankle. Like the Browns, the Vikings like to operate as a run-first offense and when the running back is banged up that hampers the offensive scheme.
When this Browns defense faces an elite offense such as the Chiefs or the Chargers they seem to crumble when the pressure is at its highest. The Chiefs and Chargers were able to overcome 10+ point deficits in the third quarter to beat the Browns. It’s like the defense almost shows signs of being complacent during entire quarters. There were times against the Chargers where there were lapses in coverage such as the WR Mike Williams deep shot in the fourth quarter. All three of the Chargers scoring drives in the fourth quarter averaged two minutes and five seconds to score with an average of 70 yards per drive. In the fourth quarter of the Chiefs game, they gave up a one-play 75-yard bomb to WR Tyreek Hill to bring them within two. The defense simply does not step up to the opponent in front of them when the stakes are at their highest.
Another question I have is simply the conservative play-calling HC Kevin Stefanski has shown when the Browns are holding onto these leads. Against the Chargers last week, the Browns offense looked to be going punch for punch with the Chargers. However, when you look closer you see that the offense seems to stay pretty run-heavy. While it is smart to run to drain the clock, it also is very predictable and allows the defense to stack the gaps. The worst offender of the game by far was the 3rd and 9 with 2:55 left in the fourth. Being up one and seeing as the Chargers have scored 20 points in the fourth alone to that point one would think to be a little aggressive to try to seal the deal. Instead of being like the Chargers and aggressive on third and fourth down, the Browns decided to run the ball with Hunt for three yards and then punt.
In today’s NFL, the name of the game is to be aggressive on third and fourth down. Unfortunately, the Browns didn’t seem to get the memo. We all know what transpired after the punt and one could point to Mayfield to blame for not showing up on that two-minute drill. When you look over that drive, however, did you see anything that Mayfield missed? The play calling in general when needing to be aggressive was instead passive. If you let Mayfield cut it loose a little instead of forcing him to become at times a check-down machine I think it would allow this Browns offense to reach new heights.
Mayfield has put the Browns in a position to win in both games against two powerhouses in the AFC. However, it seems that the Browns in general are incapable of maintaining those leads. Whether it is the defense crumbling when it faces elite offenses, or when the play calling gets too passive to drain the clock and maintain leads; it is fair to say that it is not solely on Mayfield. So next time you get ready to crush Baker on Twitter, think about what else is going on in the game that leads to the next loss (probably not many more).