Baker Mayfield’s play since the bye week has only shown why he does not deserve a contract extension. The Cleveland Browns moved to 8-3 on the season after beating the Jacksonville Jaguars on the road. This is monumental for a franchise that has not had a winning record since 2007 and reaching the eight win mark guarantees the Browns won’t have a losing record. There is obvious work to still to be done as the franchise is right in the mix of the wildcard playoff picture. They are currently the fifth seed in the AFC which is likely their best placement chances unless the Pittsburgh Steelers implode and lose the division.
Discussing playoff hopes for the Browns twelve weeks into the season is a welcomed change after porous play over the last decade. Yet, one thing that has not changed in that time period is conversations about the Browns having a franchise quarterback. Baker Mayfield in his third season has yet to solidify himself as the franchise quarterback to turn the tide of the organizations ineptitude.
Mayfield has shown flashes of brilliance over the last three years but inconsistency has overshadowed many of those highlights. Week twelve’s matchup in Jacksonville was more of the same with Mayfield’s inconsistent play working against his argument for a potential contract extension. Although he had his best game since week seven, there were numerous throws that Mayfield missed that he should simply make.
Now no quarterback is perfect and even the most accurate quarterbacks misses a throw or a wide open target. The difference between an average starter and a franchise quarterback is the ability to minimize those occurrences as much as possible. Unfortunately for Mayfield it became almost habitual the last two weeks of missing open targets in the endzone.
Looking back at the Philadelphia Eagles matchup in a home game, Mayfield threw poor passes back to back when targeting Harrison Bryant and Austin Hooper. The first pass was severely underthrown to Bryant who clearly had the defender beat. The throw resulted in defensive pass interference because of the lack of air under the ball forced Bryant to work back to the pass. The following play Mayfield missed an open Austin Hooper throwing the ball too high out of Hooper’s reach. After two errant throws and stuffed run plays on the goal line the offense ended the drive scoreless.
Similar issues arose against the Jaguars but happened throughout the game and were seemingly more frustrating. Plays in the redzone included missing a wide open Rashard Higgins on a perfectly executed pick play. A few plays later Mayfield showcased poor touch missing Jarvis Landry wide along the goal line. The offense missed out on a touchdown and had to settle for a chip shot field goal. In a close game these plays have to be made because they could be the difference between winning and losing.
Mayfield’s struggles of consistently delivering the ball in the right area showed up the rest of the game. There were moments of throwing the ball behind receivers running across the field resulting in incompletions. Throws that stood out were on play action rollouts that were simple check downs that Mayfield missed constantly. Those missed opportunities halted drives or caused third and long situations that could have been avoided.
The Cleveland Browns are winning and many of those victories are not pretty. Head coach Kevin Stefanski has stuck to his guns and ran the ball often with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Also the offensive line is playing tremendously well and is arguably the best group in the NFL. The improvement along the offensive line was supposed to only help Mayfield after the lack of protection he got last season. Those protection issues caused Mayfield’s mechanics to breakdown and they have continued into this season. The biggest glaring issue remains his footwork in the pocket.
Mayfield’s footwork problems could be directly related to missed throws in the endzone because his lack of throwing lanes in the pocket. Having the poise to slide within the pocket helps smaller quarterbacks like Baker find lanes to deliver the ball with incoming taller defensive linemen. The missed pass to Rashard Higgins in the endzone is an example of vision miscues in the pocket. Mayfield has to improve his footwork and become more poised in the pocket to find consistent success throwing the ball.
Another issue that stands out is Mayfield’s ability to deliver passes with touch consistently on different levels. He has shown his fast ball and it is the throw that he relies on more often than not. The facet of his game that we have not seen on a consistent basis is dropping the ball in the bucket directly over a defenders outstretched hand. Mayfield’s inconsistent touch may seemingly be the biggest cause for missing targets underneath or delivery to intermediate levels against zone coverage. This could be something that can improve based on his throwing mechanics and may be more of a reflection on coaching to develop his touch on throws.
There are obvious improvements that need to be made to Baker Mayfield’s repertoire but he still has the potential to be the franchise quarterback the Browns desperately need. In order for Baker Mayfield to prove he can be a franchise quarterback, he needs to make the right read and deliver the ball in the right spot on a consistent basis. He is eleven games into his first year of a new offensive scheme and of course there were expected growing pains. The next two games on the schedule are excellent tests for Mayfield to prove himself as an above average starter. He has not performed that well against top tier competition and if the Browns are to compete in the playoffs these matchups may provide the answers.