Neither Kevin Stefanski's approach or the offensive personnel limit how much Baker Mayfield can achieve statistically with the Cleveland Browns. A notion based around the idea that because the Browns are such a good running team and Stefanski in his heart wants to be a ground based running attack that hasn't produced huge passing numbers might make sense in theory, but it doesn't really hold up when considering how the NFL views offense.
It's essentially a way to try to insulate Mayfield from criticism by virtue of the fact that the offense doesn't allow him to put up big numbers akin to a quarterback like Troy Aikman with the Dallas Cowboys relative to the rest of the NFL, who won three Super Bowls and is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
So it's not a criticism of Mayfield's ability, but it's still unnecessary. He may never lead the NFL in passing yards, but he can absolutely put up impressive numbers.
In some ways, we are programmed to think of the offense of a team like a pie chart. There's only so much that can go to the passing game, the running game and then the individuals within.
The thought process for the Browns is to simply change the size of the pie, increasing it. Stefanski doesn't come off as someone who insists on winning a certain way. Rather, he's simply going to find the effective way to move the ball and score points. More offensive success overall leads to more numbers for individuals.
With the Minnesota Vikings in his only season as offensive coordinator, Stefanski had Kirk Cousins, a pretty good quarterback and Dalvin Cook, an exceptional running back. He also had a head coach in Mike Zimmer who had a mandate in terms of the running game. So they ran the ball quite a bit. Perhaps too much.
Cousins threw for 240.2 yards per game in 2019, which was 18th in the NFL.
Stefanski is the one who sets the agenda in Cleveland, so he's free to do anything he wants. And looking at Mayfield's average yards per game for the 2020 season, just 222.7, it's easy to draw the conclusion that Mayfield is going to be limited from achieving significant statistics, especially when they can hand the ball to Nick Chubb, arguably the best back in the NFL.
But when breaking down Mayfield's season into parts, it's pretty clear that Stefanski intends to keep growing this passing game and that the Browns have it in them.
The first six games of the season, Mayfield was dreadful.
103 of 170 (60.5 percent), 1.095 yards (182.5 yards per game)
10 touchdowns (5.8 percent)
6 interceptions (3.5 percent)
6.44 yards per attempt
None of these numbers are good and it led people to fairly question whether Mayfield was the quarterback for this team. He was a game manager in those contests. Starting in the seventh game of the season, Mayfield started playing significantly better and increasingly became a focal point of the offense.
246 of 387 (63.5 percent),
2,935 yards (244.5 yards per game)
20 touchdowns (5.1 percent),
3 interceptions (.7 percent),
7.58 yards per attempt
For our purposes here, the difference in the yardage, yards per attempt and turnovers really stand out. Over a yard more per attempt, 62 more yards per game and reducing the interceptions by 80 percent.
Had Mayfield thrown for 244.5 yards per game over the course of the season, he would have amassed a hair under 4,000 yards for the season and had more yards than Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Parsing a bit further, let's eliminate the three awful weather games the Browns played and we might be left with where Stefanski sees the passing offense going.
210 of 320 (65.5 percent), 2,477 yards (275.2 yards per game)
18 touchdowns (5.6 percent)
3 interceptions (.9 percent)
7.74 yards per attempt
In nine games, two of which occurred in the postseason, suddenly the Browns look the part of a dangerous passing team. They still have Chubb and Kareem Hunt, but their offense simply was more effective.
This also occurred during a time when the Browns were not threatening opponents vertically in any meaningful way.
Heading into 2021, Mayfield isn't learning the offense anymore. He knows it. Beyond that, Stefanski is going to have a better feel for how to call the offense as well as further catering it to the talent he has.
The Browns hope to have more of a vertical component in their offense with the return of Odell Beckham Jr. from injury, additional growth from Donovan Peoples-Jones, David Njoku and the addition of Anthony Schwartz.
Maybe just as importantly, the Browns will have a better defense. What can get lost in the 2020 season is how many games the Browns simply didn't have many possessions. A unit that didn't get many stops, the biggest outputs from the offense came in games where the opponent scored consistently.
Out of the 18 games the Browns played last year, they scored 30+ points in eight of them. In only two of those games did the opponent score under 30.
When the defense was able to keep the opponent off the scoreboard, they weren't getting the ball back to the offense. They were forcing the opponent to take long, slow drives that would end in field goals, limiting the amount of possessions the offense would have.
With the infusion of talent on defense the Browns have, the hope is they will be able to generate more stops, be it forcing punts or turnovers and doing it relatively quickly. More possessions would provide more opportunities for the offense to produce.
Mayfield can absolutely put up significant numbers in Stefanski's offense and it already started to show in 2020. The statistics in 2021 may reflect the growth Mayfield had in 2020, looking more like the passer he was at Oklahoma, potentially convincing some of his critics that he's more than just a cog in the Browns offense.