Baker Mayfield Gets Out of Hole He Dug, In Position to Thrive
Six games into 2019, Baker Mayfield was completing a pitiful 56.5 percent of his passes with five touchdowns against 11 interceptions. He wasn't where he needed to be for the Browns, where he wanted to be for himself and the team's record reflected it at 2-4. It wasn't entirely Mayfield's fault, but he was causing a lot of his own problems. Holding the ball too long, making poor decisions, trying to save plays that weren't there and bearing responsibility for far too many negative plays, it had the makings of a lost season for Mayfield and the Browns as a whole.
Mayfield put it on himself in public, refusing to pass the buck and being honest about the issues holding the team back, starting with his play at quarterback, turnovers and negative plays. Although dealing with a hip issue suffered against the Seattle Seahawks, the bye week provided the opportunity for Mayfield to take an honest account of himself and strive to improve the remainder of the season.
Five games and three wins later, Mayfield has some inconsistencies that can continue to improve, but he's managed to dig himself out of the hole he created. Mayfield has thrown nine touchdowns against two interceptions the past five games, getting him back in the black with 14 touchdowns against 13 interceptions. He's also completed 64.4 percent of his passes, getting his season number above 60 percent for the season.
There are a few keys to Mayfield's improvement. First and foremost, his mechanics are better. He's not falling off on throws and he's driving the ball better. Second, he's getting the ball out faster, which is a product of adjusting to what defenses are doing to try to fool him and being more confident in his decisions. Third, his eye discipline is better so when he does extend plays, which is far less frequent, it's producing far better results and making Mayfield more dangerous in general. All of this is reducing the number of hits Mayfield takes, which means he's not playing banged up and can be a more effective passer.
Mayfield still makes mistakes, will still make some poor decisions, but his ball placement and velocity have improved significantly and the first six games of the season feel like ancient history. He's also trending upward, getting better on an almost weekly basis. If that continues, it could be difficult for opponents to stop the Browns the next five games, which gives them a shot to validate the season with a trip to the playoffs.