After Another Poor Performance, Baker Mayfield At Crossroads
As tempting as it may be to make grand pronouncements about Baker Mayfield as a failure to become the Cleveland Browns franchise quarterback, which may ultimately prove true, he's going to at least get the rest of this season to try to prove himself, possibly longer.
Six games into the season, Mayfield has played reasonably well in a few games, but there's been second half mistakes or just a nagging feeling he isn't where he should be. Then in games against the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, he looks pretty helpless, raising questions about his ability to play against top competition.
The Browns aren't going to beat the Steelers or most anyone else when their offensive line is dominated like that, but Mayfield, in an attempt to improve the situation, has an ugly habit of making bad situations worse.
That is part of the problem. Mayfield so desperately wants to be the guy, to be that great quarterback that it seems like he's trying too hard. Part of the magic of his rookie season seemed to be a care free attitude that enabled him to just go out there and play. It didn't feel forced and though he made his share of mistakes, but he was less incumbered in his play. The Browns were also far more aggressive attacking down the field. Success begat success and he got on a great roll.
Because Mayfield started so well in his career, rather than building up to success, he's in a position where he's trying to reclaim it, which can come with its own set of issues. Frustrations and anger as to why it's not happening the same way, which can lead to desperation in terms of what he tries to do on the field.
It seems like Mayfield has been somewhat shell shocked that he hasn't come out playing better. He did everything right in the offseason, despite the challenges presented by COVID-19 that he seemed ready to be great. The fact it hasn't happened and that has left him chasing a ghost, compounding the circumstances he now faces.
Mayfield has thrived when people doubt him, using it as fuel to motivate him to work harder to prove them wrong. And he's still doing that, but he's also playing like he's carrying the weight of an entire fanbase's hopes and dreams on his shoulders.
It has become a mental block and it's led to stagnation in his development, preventing from taking a step forward and now seems to be causing regression.
Mayfield isn't seeing the field well and this has nothing to do with height. He's often hesitating to make throws because he's double checking or confirming what he thought initially. And that's as a result of failures in making his initial diagnosis, which led to the pick six that opened the game, immediately setting the tone for the game.
That's a huge problem and one that needs remedied as soon as possible. Mayfield simply has to be better in that aspect of the game.
Mayfield is not short on talent or ability. He has plenty of arm strength and accuracy, mobile enough to extend plays and has made a number of big plays in his young career.
And all of the questions and criticisms he's facing are fair. He's not playing like a franchise quarterback, which naturally leads to questions about how the Browns get one. Instead, Mayfield is a governor on the Browns offense that can do enough to win games, but ultimately limits how good they can be.
Some of the frustration on the outside looking in comes from the fact there are mistakes he continues to make, despite being in his third season. He is falling into traps that defenses are setting for him routinely.
There are times that Mayfield looks great, showing the potential he can still be the quarterback this team needs. Excellent ball placement and accuracy. Extending plays with his legs and finding open receivers. He will have drives that look like his rookie year when he was a sensation throughout the league. That's the quarterback this team continues to rally behind. He has the respect and admiration of the locker room, which is hopefully a good sign this can turn around.
Mayfield isn't a bust or a failure yet, but he is certainly at a crossroads in his career. Playing the Cincinnati Bengals might help. The bye week after the game against the Las Vegas Raiders will likely be good for him, not only for his physical health, but his mental health as well.
Getting that time to gain a fresh perspective can be helpful. When a team and a player are in the thick of things during the season, it can be more difficult to see something that seems to obvious on the outside.
Although the mistakes made particularly in Pittsburgh weren't as a result of a new offense or coaching staff, that break can be helpful from the standpoint of what he is learning this year and where his focus is.
Because he is in another new offense, it's fair to ask the question of how much is going through his head on a given play. Any time spent thinking about what has to happen with the offense or his mechanics is not being spent on what the defense is doing, which is where his attention should be solely focused.
The bottom line is the Browns have ten games left in the regular season, assuming COVID-19 doesn't play a role. They are on pace to make the playoffs, so they could get at least an 11th. Six games in, Mayfield doesn't look hopeless, but he doesn't look like the answer. With almost twice as many games left to be played, he needs to step up and play better to give reason to believe he can be.
With so much going well for the Browns as a team, the last thing they want to have to do is searching for a quarterback when they should be ready to contend. All of their focus is on getting Mayfield right, because if they can, it makes their planned progression work with them a contender as soon as next season.
That only adds to the pressure on Mayfield, which makes it difficult for him to relax and avoiding holding on so tight, but that is likely exactly what he needs to do. Much of Mayfield's improvement would come from being better in terms of his reads and identifying what defenses are doing to him. That has to be the major focus going forward.
Mayfield and the Browns have six games and a bye week to improve in preparation for their rematch with the Ravens December 14th and finish out the season January 3rd against the Steelers. Both games will be at home. The team as a whole needs to perform better in those two games, but none more than Mayfield.
Over the next seven weeks, Mayfield must adopt a more beneficial mindset for the situation, remove the mental block, which should allow him to play better football put himself in the best position to lead this team the rest of this season, including against both contending division rivals.
If Mayfield can achieve a more productive thought process, the Browns could have their quarterback. If not and he continues to struggle, then the doomsayers were right and the Browns will have a significant issue to address.