The Cleveland Browns offense and most notably Baker Mayfield were dreadful in the victory against the Minnesota Vikings, but head coach Kevin Stefanski isn't hitting the panic button and no one else should be either.
Stefanski trusted Mayfield to the very end, even if it didn't pan out the way he hoped. The defense was able to deliver them a victory.
The issues with Mayfield started the second he hurt his shoulder against the Houston Texans when he tried to make a tackle and his shoulder dislocated. They were able to pop it back in quickly and he kept playing, but everything changed from that point. The rest of that game, Mayfield was dumping off short passes.
Against both the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings, Mayfield was off target, usually sailing passes. It was inconsistency against the Bears as he did make a number of great throws, but against the Vikings, he was downright awful.
While the shoulder is likely causing issues that are difficult to identify, what's clear is footwork and weight transition have become problematic. Mayfield is throwing off his back foot, which has historically caused him to sail passes. There are some other passes that he's missing that are more difficult to diagnose, such as the wheel to Odell Beckham on the final offensive snap of the game.
None of this has anything to do with Beckham being on the field, who recorded five receptions and 77 yards against the Bears. None of the throws Mayfield missed in that game had anything to do with Beckham. His presence dramatically improves the spacing on the field. There are a number of options created by what the defense is forced to do in order to counter him. The offense is simply more dangerous with him in the lineup.
As was the case the first six games last year when he was still getting comfortable within the offense, it was a Mayfield problem that required a Mayfield solution. Last season, Mayfield simply played better but that improvement coincided with the unfortunate ACL injury to Beckham, which caused far too many to jump to the irrational conclusion that Mayfield was somehow less effective with Beckham on the field.
Mayfield needs to get his footwork right, transition his weight more effectively which may also help him deliver passes on time and get into a rhythm. He also needs to make better decisions with the ball and look to run less. Most importantly, he needs to get healthy and with little information to go on, it's difficult to know when that is likely to happen. But until it does happen, being right in everything else he does is critical.
Mayfield isn't the only one hurt as Jedrick Wills, who had been playing with a bad ankle, left the Vikings game on a cart. It's not yet public if he simply aggravated the existing injury or if he did something worse.
The Browns have seemingly been trying to simply get by until Chris Hubbard could be healthy enough to play to then rest Wills and let his ankle heal. Hopefully, that's still a possibility.
The other issue up front on the offensive line is that Wyatt Teller has not played anywhere near the level he did last year as a run blocker. His pass protection has never been great, but it's also a tick worse this year. Last season, Teller was so dominant in the running game, the Browns running game simply followed him and found success. When he was out due to injury, there was a noticeable drop off in production and efficiency.
If the offensive line coach Bill Callahan can somehow help Teller to find a middle ground between last year and the first four games of this year, it would represent a significant improvement.
The Browns have been less inclined to challenge loaded boxes this season. A month into the season and the Browns have opted to throw in those situations, including down by the goal line. Certainly, attacking the defense where they have less personnel is always a smart play, but there have been situations, particularly by the goal line, where the Browns should be confident to just win at the line of scrimmage and generate yardage. They haven't been.
As it is, Jack Conklin is the best run blocker on the group followed closely behind Joel Bitonio. Conklin has been an elite run blocker while Bitonio is playing at an All-Pro level in both aspects of the game.
Unfortunately for Conklin, he has had some issues in pass protection and Danielle Hunter, one of the better edge rushers in the NFL, was able to cause significant problems throughout the game.
So, in all, the Browns are getting mediocre pass protection from both tackles as well as their right guard. Conklin should be able to bounce back particularly as the competition isn't quite as fierce combined with a knee that should be getting healthier. Left tackle and right guard are larger concerns.
Last but certainly not least is the fact that the young wide receivers are pretty inconsistent thus far. Donovan Peoples-Jones and Anthony Schwartz are having trouble creating separation, which is limiting what they can offer.
That being said, Beckham, Rashard Higgins and Demetric Felton are getting open, so the passing game has options. Their tight ends continue to be viable targets and probably should see the ball more, particularly David Njoku.
Last but certainly not least is Kareem Hunt. Whether it's screens or underneath throws, he's been a great option to get the ball, able to be a multifaceted weapon that has been incredibly effective the past two games.
In that respect, there's some room for criticism for Stefanski. And it's not because he's doing a bad job. He's not. It's entirely about how difficult it can be to balance out game planning where the ball is going and how coaches can get in ruts and get away from effective concepts because they caught up going elsewhere.
While there are a number of issues going on with the Browns offense, they all pale in comparison to the apparent problems with Mayfield. It's his offense and everything starts with him. The team will be limited as long as he is and he knows it. He's going everything in his power to fix the issues he can until his shoulder is able to heal. Based on his history, he will get it figured out and improve, which may be the main reason Stefanski doesn't feel the need to panic.