Baker Mayfield is lost, and he’s running from the light. Many want to pin the loss Sunday night on Freddie Kitchens, and he deserves blame. But this L is Mayfield’s.
You cannot win in the NFL with poor quarterback play. The Browns have proved this for 20 years. You can hand wring and fist stomp about the coaching, receivers, offensive linemen, and defense. Success hinges on the quarterback. The good ones are in the playoffs; the great ones win Super Bowls. We’ve seen the results of bad ones.
Right now, Mayfield is bad. I think he will pull himself out of it, but his season has been hard to watch. He is the cause of the 1-2 record and the offense looking lost. Baker is the reason I felt this franchise was ready to overturn 20 years of misery, yet so far, he’s adding to it.
He’s inaccurate. Whether down field, or on check downs, his accuracy has disappeared, completing only 56.9% of his passes, 30th in the league.
He’s not comfortable in the pocket.
He’s been under pressure, but he’s running himself into it as well. Too often, Baker gets spooked at a small push by the defensive front and heads for the exit. Almost exclusively, he drops further back and to his right. This closes off the left side of the field as an option, forcing him into throwing to one side of the field.
Watch Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, and Aaron Rodgers. The devil is in the details. Their footwork in the pocket is precise. Instead of scrambling at the first sign of trouble, they adjust their bodies away from the pressure, buying themselves the half second they need to find the open receiver. It’s a small but essential detail the great quarterbacks possess.
He needs to step up in the pocket instead of running backward. When a quarterback backs up, the play is over. Unless they’re a scrambler, by reversing course they are taking themselves out of the play. Russell Wilson is one of the few in history to have success backing up in the pocket. By stepping up, Baker will improve his field vision, passing lanes, and accuracy.
I believe in Baker. He’s smart. A hard worker. He’s been an accurate passer in college and his rookie year. Many great quarterbacks slump their sophomore year. The Browns will not improve until he does, however.
The Browns are in the mist of the toughest part of the schedule. After Baltimore on Sunday, they have the 49ers, Seahawks, the bye, then the Patriots. After that, it eases.
Plenty of wins there. If they can hang in the next four weeks, they should begin stacking wins.
The defense was outstanding Sunday night. Missing their captain, Christian Kirksey, and the starting secondary, they forced three turnovers on outstanding plays by Myles Garrett, T. J. Carrie, and Joe Schobert. Mack Wilson held his own replacing Kirksey. Steve Wilks blitzed more often than in the first two games of the year. It led to an average day from Todd Gurley and Jared Goff. With a front four as dominant as the Browns’, it makes the secondary’s job much easier. While the offense is rounding into shape, the defense must continue to carry the team.
It’s a big week. Heading to Baltimore, Kitchens and Mayfield are under the microscope. Both must perform better than they’ve shown. A loss to the Ravens would put them 1-3 and two games behind in the division.
Baltimore lost to Kansas City and looked average. They were out of the game after their first drive of the day yielded a touchdown, despite the final score. Lamar Jackson heaved two prayers that got answered, keeping the score close, and Kansas City seemed to sleepwalk through the second half.
The Ravens are flawed. Their defense lost last season’s leading tackler(C.J. Mosley), sack leader, and a Pro Bowler at safety(Eric Weddle). They did add Earl Thomas, maybe the best safety in the game. The Chiefs and Cardinals moved the ball against them at will. If Baker remains patient, there will be plays on the outside to Beckham and Landry. He needs to put the hype and the pressure behind him. A good outing on Sunday will cure many of his ills.
Offensively, the Ravens are Lamar Jackson. He is a crap shoot. One minute he’ll drop a perfect lob into Marquis Brown’s hands; the next he’ll rifle the ball five feet in front of Mark Andrews. The two Hail Mary balls he heaved Sunday should have been picks. The Browns D is better than Kansas City’s. They must take advantage when Jackson makes mistakes.
Keeping Jackson in the pocket is paramount. The Chiefs shadowed him on passing plays, dropping defensive tackle Xavier Williams off the line of scrimmage at the snap to mirror Jackson on a majority of plays. While Jackson sprinkled in a few highlights, holding him to 46 yards rushing was a victory for the Chiefs. The Browns should use this strategy. Mix it up. Use Mack Wilson, Olivier Vernon, and whichever safeties may play in different situations to shadow Lamar. Confuse him into mistakes. If the Browns can keep Jackson and Mark Ingram in check, and the offense can make improvements, they have a shot at winning in Baltimore.
The Whip Around
1.Chiefs Patriots Rams Saints
These teams are the class of the NFL. Other outfits have shown flashes, but none come close to the dominance of these four. The only loss between them is the Rams victory after Drew Brees’ thumb injury. A lot of season remains, yet, barring injury, it’s tough to foresee anyone other than these guys in the conference championships.
2. Colts Texans Cowboys Eagles Packers
The next tier, if one of the above should falter, these teams would be the best bets to slide up. The Packers defense has been phenomenal to this point. If Aaron Rodgers can put full games together, instead of halves, Green Bay will be a feisty out. The Texans are a high-wire act, and DeShaun Watson may be the best quarterback in the league this side of Patrick Mahomes. I still believe in the Eagles and not the Cowboys.
3. Jacoby Brissett has been outstanding, giving the Colts hope for life after Andrew Luck. Seventh in completion percentage, fourth in touchdowns, and sixth in the league in quarterback rating, Brissett is leading a talented team as well as Luck could have. T. Y. Hilton re-aggravated a quad injury, which could hurt their offense depending on how much time he misses. For a team that was staring at doomsday prophecies a month ago, they look to be one on the better teams in the AFC.
4. The athleticism on display each Sunday is mind-boggling. It’s impossible to keep up with the draw dropping plays. In twenty minutes Sunday, Dalvin Cook, Nelson Agholor, and Demarcus Robinson scored touchdowns that run on loop all week on SportsCenter. Beautiful to watch.
5. The Lions upset of the Eagles in Philadelphia was impressive, though Philly was missing their top two receivers. Still, the Lions are undefeated and threatening to remain in the NFC North race past September. One key reason for Sunday’s victory was their secondary. They smothered the healthy Eagles receivers, giving Carson Wentz little space to make throws, tallying an impressive 10 passes defended. The schedule gets tough, however, with Kansas City, Green Bay, and Minnesota on tap. Their secondary will need more days like Sunday for the Lions to remain competitive.
6. Get up, Donte Jackson.
7. Mike Evans may be the best receiver in the league no one talks about. His erratic quarterback has a lot to do with that, however. Case in point, his game Sunday. 7 catches, 146 yards, and 3 touchdowns in the first half. 2 catches 44 yards in the second. Jameis Winston is infuriating, wasting Evans’ talent.
8. A pet peeve of mine is the slowness with which teams break the huddle. How many timeouts are wasted and 5 yard delay of game penalties taken each week because of this nonsense? They should have taken care of this stuff of the first week of training camp. It boggles my mind that Aaron Rodgers, after many years in the league, can have three instances a game when he can’t get a play off in time. Hurry up.
9. Kyle Allen made throw after throw in leading Carolina’s destruction of the Cardinals on Sunday. 4 touchdowns and a 144.4 QB rating gets your attention. If he keeps playing this well, the Panthers will have a Cam Newton decision to make.
10. After the aforementioned top teams, the rest of the league is a crap shoot. Quarterback play is unstable week to week, even series to series. There aren’t enough consistent guys under center to know what you’re getting each Sunday. It makes for exciting football during the season and gives quite a few teams hope. The inevitability of the top teams winning in January will become more obvious in November and December, however.