Browns need better from Baker Mayfield

Cleveland Browns

Baker Mayfield has given the Cleveland Browns hope of making the postseason, but because he’s the central reason for their renewed playoff ambitions, he also holds the brunt of the responsibility whenever the team flounders.

Based on what NFL fans saw in Week 1, it will take some work on the Cleveland Browns part to establish themselves as front-runners in a wide open AFC North, even if they entered the 2019 regular season with more hype than anyone else.

While the Browns had the strongest offseason imaginable by acquiring Odell Beckham Jr. and two excellent pass rushers, none of that seemed evident on the field. In their home opener, the Browns were roundly trounced by a seemingly mediocre Tennessee Titans team, who have their own desire to return to the postseason.

At the heart of Cleveland’s surprisingly woeful display in a 43-13 blowout loss was the even more shocking ineffectiveness of the offense. Decimated by the ageless Cameron Wake and hounded by superstar safety Kevin Byard, the Browns could only muster one passing touchdown. And with the the Browns chasing late, Mayfield threw three interceptions to throw the game away.

It was a tragically poor performance from Mayfield, who absorbed hit after hit, en route to being sacked five times. While his offensive line did him no favors, Mayfield can only blame himself for his three interceptions, and he missed his new star receiver, Odell, on several occasions.

Mayfield had a few trademark throws, including a pretty deep pass on a back-shoulder throw to Jarvis Landry near the end zone. But he seemed rattled by the Titans smart pressure, making uncharacteristic decisions.

As a rookie, Mayfield was sensational, putting himself in the argument as a top 10 quarterback with 7.7 passing yards per attempt and 266.1 passing yards per game. But few were willing to anoint him as a top 10 quarterback due to his mistakes, as he threw 14 interceptions and sometimes struggled with his accuracy.

Those two issues were self-evident in Sunday’s loss to Tennessee. Whereas last year Mayfield could be forgiven for playing with a mediocre supporting cast and for being a rookie, those two excuses are no longer relevant. Browns fans expect more progress from the promising No. 1 overall pick, and they also expect Mayfield to make use of the weapons around him. In Beckham, Landry, David Njoku, and Rashard Higgins, Mayfield has one of the NFL’s most enviable pass-catching quartets.

Against Tennessee, Mayfield gave Odell a stat line akin to what Eli Manning serviced, forcing the superstar wideout to convert 11 targets into just seven receptions for 71 yards. Mayfield missed him deep, he missed him short, and he flat-out missed pulling the trigger when Beckham was open, and all of those things are genuinely uncharacteristic of Mayfield.

As their chemistry grows, so, too, will the statistics. Yet none of that explains Mayfield’s horrible interceptions, nor his inability to move the ball against the Titans defense. Last season, Mayfield flourished under optimal conditions when it came to his pocket, as he was rarely sacked in the final five games of the regular season. However, when the Titans turned up the heat, Mayfield struggled.

That isn’t a coincidence, and other NFL teams have surely taken notice to what Mayfield had issues with against the Titans. He’ll have to answer that challenge over the remaining 15 games of the 2019 season, in addition to doing a better job of both taking care of the football and getting said ball into his best playmaker’s hands vertically.

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Mayfield easily has the talent to accomplish this, which is why he’s under the pressure of expectations to begin with. The Browns understand that Mayfield is a special talent, and with that talent comes scrutiny.

If the Browns are to make the playoffs for the first time since Bill Belichick led them there in 1994, they need greatness from Mayfield. Certainly, they need him to be much better than he was in Week 1, especially after division-winning sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson set the bar high with a historically dominant performance.

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