February 25, 2024

Will Baker Shoulder the Load or Will he Crack Under Pressure?

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Why both sides to the Baker argument can be true

Heading into Week 8 the Browns are still trying to find their identity. In a year that finds the Cincinnati Bengals atop the toughest division in football and the Steelers at the bottom of the barrel, the Cleveland Browns have yet to play a complete game. Between the injuries, new personnel, terrible officiating, and sub-par play at times on both sides of the ball, the roller coaster ride has been nothing short of exhausting.

This week marks the 47th iteration (since the Browns returned in ‘99) of the best rivalry in all of football. The past 20+ years have been marked by tough losses as the Browns have gone 9-36-1 in that span but the past 12 months have seemingly shown that change is on the horizon. Dating back to last season the Browns have won two of the last three both of which coming in back-to-back weeks and led by franchise QB Baker Mayfield.

As we look to the Week 8 matchup the big news has been the shoulder injury Baker suffered during their week two win against the Texans. It seemed to severely affect his throwing motion in the weeks following the injury and Baker’s efficiency took a massive hit. 

The injury worsened in week 6 against the Arizona Cardinals when Mayfield was hit by DE J.J. Watt in the 3rd quarter. In addition to the already torn Labrum in his left shoulder, Baker sustained a fracture to his humerus bone.

Throughout this entire process, Cleveland Browns fans have been in a heated debate of whether Baker should or shouldn’t play. As with any fanbase you always have those who like their QB and those who don’t, those who will look for any reason to want him out, and those who will defend him to the bitter end. 

This instance seems to be one that should be approached with a bit more tact. The issue at hand is muddied up due to the fact that each side can be combined to add validity to the other.

There are a few undeniable truths in regards to this situation:

-Baker Mayfield is the best option to beat Pittsburgh.

-Baker Mayfield has been dealing with an injury that has become so severe he had to sit out of a Thursday night, prime time game.

-Baker Mayfield has been medically cleared for full football activity and Kevin Stefanski decided to go with him as the starter against Pittsburgh.

Being a Baker fan myself, I fully support that he is the franchise guy. I also believe that if healthy he can be an extremely successful QB in the NFL. Seeing how the injury has affected Baker already a handful of times this year I have to wonder if the Browns are bringing him back too quickly.

We have heard all week how great Baker feels, how good he looks on his short and intermediate throws, how he hasn’t lost any velocity. We’ve continuously heard these things from Coach Stefanski, the local media and even Baker himself so now it has to be time to put up or shut up. This week marks a pivotal moment in which direction this team goes. 

The Browns will come out of this week knowing their identity. They will know exactly what kind of team they are and the expectations can be set for the remainder of this season. So far the Browns are a great rushing team whose defense shows flashes of brilliance but are ultimately inconsistent down the stretch. They’ve beaten the teams they are favored against while losing to the teams they are expected to lose to. This week will show whether these Browns thrive in big moments or shy away.

The Browns will also have a much better idea of their future at the QB position. We all know Baker is as tough as they come. We have seen him play well in big moments but we have also seen him fall short under the bright lights. It has been a mixed bag since he emerged as the number one overall pick in 2018. He hasn’t had the best situation since he came into the league, that’s for sure, but this game will mark Bakers’ 25th start in Kevin Stefanski’s offense so it should be time for him to make the next jump.

No more injury excuses, no more “He’s still learning.” This year is big for both the Browns as an organization and Baker if he wants to be compensated as he sees fit. We saw him turn things around last year as he became one of the best QB’s in the league over that eight-game stretch and I would expect more of the same beginning this week if we can believe the reports that he isn’t limited by injury. If Baker can stay healthy, fix the inconsistent play and the hesitancy that has plagued him this season the Browns will return to form as Super Bowl contenders.

 

Thanks so much for reading. If you’re looking for more Cleveland Sports Information, check out my weekly podcast

“Cleveland: Don’t Messett Up”

You can find us anywhere you get your podcasts!

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