Matt Waldman’s RSP NFL Lens: QB Baker Mayfield #Browns (A Progress Report)

Matt Waldman examines Baker Mayfield’s Week 2 performance against the Cincinnati Bengals and sees positives for the Cleveland Browns quarterback who is at a pivotal point in his NFL development. 

Regardless of whether he’ll make them, and I doubt he ever would publicly, Baker Mayfield has excuses. If you’re a pro football fan, you’re familiar with them: offensive line struggles, three schemes in as many years in the league, three different head coaches, and front office dysfunction.

It doesn’t matter.

Not to Kevin Stefanski or Mayfield’s teammates. It’s time to win and if their third-year quarterback is a part of the solution, he’ll remain on the field. If Mayfield is consistently part of the problem, Case Keenum will be the bridge between past failures and future success.

Of course, it’s never that simple. Browns’ ownership selected Stefanski in part for his offensive scheme that has had success with getting the best from its passers while limiting the worst.

Kirk Cousins is the most recent example, but you can go back to the Shanahan roots of this scheme and give a tip of the hat to Jake Plummer’s Pro Bowl season in Denver as the executor of this scheme leans hard on the ground game and play-action aggression.

If you’re wondering why Plummer only had one strong year, former Denver GM Ted Sundquist (and several others) have told the infamous story about Daddy Shanahan disliking the idea of being stuck with Plummer after the poor performance in the AFC Championship and withholding Plummer’s most successful downfield play from use during the subsequent season to grease the rails for a mid-season benching.

Mayfield is a lot like Jake Plummer. Both are creative, undersized, lean (too) hard on improvisational flair, and need to tighten up the technical and conceptual areas of their quarterbacking.  I’ve described this pairing between Mayfield and the scheme as the equivalent of those inflatable gutter guards you can rent at a bowling alley—clear away the most obvious chances for failure so the individual with the ball can focus more on accuracy and the basics of sound decision-making.

Using the ground game to set up play-action boots where Mayfield can make 2-3 reads to one side of the field away from the distractions of the pocket, and let him use the threat of his legs is this equivalent of gutter guards. The Browns can’t do this every time they intend to throw, but they can also spread the field and force defenses to declare its intentions.

These two concepts show up frequently on 2020 Browns film and it’s helping Mayfield gain his “sea legs” in this offense and give him steps to regain his on-field confidence. There was progress against the Bengals on Thursday night.

Mayfield made a lot of sound decisions and with the exception of at least one play, and arguably two others, he displayed balanced decision making between appropriate aggression and conservative choices. Many will say Mayfield improved his accuracy last week. In the box score and the deep game, absolutely.

However, the Bengals didn’t force Mayfield to make a lot of tight-window plays across the middle and when he did, the execution was successful but not necessarily as accurate as it will need to be on a weekly basis. The Browns were also successful in avoiding situations where Mayfield had to climb the pocket or stay within its confines.

While that’s a great outcome for Mayfield last week, he won’t be able to avoid the pocket for the rest of his career, much less Week 3. The one play where he had to climb from pressure and closely simulated that climbing he’s most uncomfortable doing in the pocket, was actually Mayfield’s worst of the night.

This 20-minute session gives you a progress report with Mayfield’s rebound from a substandard debut against the Ravens:

  • Positive marks for executing the offense.
  • Small but notable improvement with throws over the middle.
  • Improvement needed as a red-zone processor of information from the pocket without bailing from it.
  • Incomplete with managing the pocket and stepping into it under pressure (or, still must prove he can).

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