Baker Mayfield showed against the Kansas City Chiefs that he can be the man of the future for the Cleveland Browns.
Heading into the season, the Browns and Mayfield declined to engage in contract talks as it did not make sense for either side. Mayfield can rack up more money if he waits as the market continues to skyrocket for quarterbacks, and the Browns hope for one more year of consistent play out of their quarterback.
After starting the season a year ago as a legitimate bottom-three quarterback in the league, Mayfield did not fall into a slow start again this year. Against the Chiefs, Mayfield racked up 321 yards through the air on 21 completions. While the interception will be the talking point of the game, but Mayfield was deadly on-target all game long.
Of 28 throws (two of which were deemed unchartable), Mayfield had just three off-target throws all game. He missed emerging tight end David Njoku on a scramble drill the first drive, he then missed Njoku again as he was coming back to the ball in the fourth quarter, and then the interception at the end of the game.
Outside at the intermediate level, Mayfield hit on three-of-five attempts. Over the middle of the field, he hit on all three of his looks, and deep he hit on both of his chartable throws of 30 yards or more. Operating the short game, Mayfield hit on 17-of-18 of passes under 10 yards in depth.
As far as accuracy is concerned, it would have been hard for Mayfield to have a better game. This is certainly a strong start to the game for Mayfield as the Browns look like legit Super Bowl contenders. Taking a look at some analytical metrics, we dive a bit deeper into Mayfield’s season opener.
In terms of efficiency, measured by Football Outsiders’ DVOA, Mayfield came in as a top-10 quarterback on the week. Mayfield’s DVOA came in at 28.1% on the day, ranking him as the ninth most efficient quarterback during Week 1 play.
Football Outsiders also measures efficiency on a per-play basis, measured with the metric of DYAR. Mayfield’s DYAR came in at 12th in the league with a number of 72. Looking at ESPN’s QBR metric, Mayfield also fell 12th in the league with a Week 1 QBR of 68.3.
Turning to PFF, Mayfield fell as the 15th best quarterback in the league with a passing grade of 75.2. This grade puts him well above average on the week. Mayfield came in as the top-ranked quarterback in the AFC North in all of the metrics listed above. These are convincing numbers for a quarterback entering a year with a new contract on the table.
When turning on the tape as well, a ton of bad habits that plagued Mayfield early on last year looked to take a backseat in his 2021 debut. Over the past two seasons, Mayfield has struggled entirely to step up into the pocket when facing pressure. On Sunday, Mayfield showed the wherewithal to feel pressure, step up in the pocket, and deliver downfield. He showed tremendous comfort in the pocket against the Chiefs.
During the early parts of his career, and especially during the Freddie Kitchens era, Mayfield started to experience a breakdown in his mechanics. This was specifically the case with his lower body and his footwork. Ever since Kevin Stefanski has arrived, however, those weak points of Mayfield’s game have now become some of the finer points of it. From resetting his feet before throwing, to being one of the best at selling the play-action, the mechanics of Mayfield are crisp.
Touch when needed was also on display for Mayfield on Sunday as well. The arm strength and ability to drive a ball has never been in question for Mayfield, however he put a couple footballs right into the bread baskets of his receivers down the field. We saw it on the long ball to rookie wide receiver Anthony Schwartz, however his best throw came in the second half as he hit Njoku in stride down the left sideline.
Could Mayfield have avoided the turnover in crunch time? Sure. He would have seen a bump given to his QBR and PFF grade had he converted on that. There was probably one sack that could have been avoided, but it did not feel like Mayfield left backbreaking plays on the field outside of the last interception.
Looking at the bigger picture, the Browns could not have asked for much of a better game from Mayfield. With a new contract up in the air, Mayfield could not have asked for a better start either.