One of my favorite movies is Rounders starring Matt Damon, Edward Norton, and John Malcovich, which focuses on high-stakes, underground Texas hold ’em and the effects on relationships and livelihood. One of the tone-setting and pivotal scenes is when the hubristic Mike McDermott (Damon) loses his entire $30,000 bankroll in a single hand to Russian mobster Teddy “KGB” (Malcovich). As his mountain of chips are taken away, you can feel the demoralizing, embarrassed, and deflating defeat. That’s how I felt after the Monday Night Football loss to the now 4-0 San Francisco 49ers.
After a 40-25 rout of the divisional rival Baltimore Ravens in Week 4, the Cleveland Browns laid the eggs of all eggs. The team was out-coached, out-manned, and out-schemed from the first snap under the primetime lights.
Let’s dig into some standout statistics from the Week 5 defeat, with an emphasis on quarterback Baker Mayfield1:
At this point, it is safe to say that the sophomore slump is in full effect for Mayfield *ducks for cover*. After showing an uncanny knack of foreseeing trouble in the pocket during his rookie campaign and in Week 4, the quarterback reverted back to his happy foot, uncomfortable pocket presence and inaccurate delivery of the football in Week 5, resulting in the following statistics and ranks:
Mayfield was under pressure on 14 of his 26 dropbacks (53.8%), which was the third-most in Week 5. On these dropbacks, he completed one of ten pass attempts for 25 yards, four sacks, and a 0.0 passer rating. Part of the blame is on the continued emphasis of the deep attack passing game, wherein Mayfield had the second-longest average time to throw of 3.11 seconds. This, coupled with the continued questionable pass protection at the left and right tackle spots, was a recipe for disaster against a stout 49ers front-four comprised of rookie sensation Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, and Dee Ford. On a year-to-date basis, nearly 50% of Mayfield’s pressured dropbacks have ended with him outside of the pocket (highest in the league), wherein he has 1.2 yards per attempt. The quarterback is just trying to do too much, with too little protection in front of him.
Additionally, the red zone struggles continued for the quarterback and the team in Week 5, only generating three points off of two trips to the field zone, including a game-changing interception on a dropped pass by second-year wide receiver Antonio Callaway. Through the first five weeks of the season, Mayfield has recorded the following stats in the field zone:
The target distribution has been unfavorable as well, with superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr only receiving three looks in the zone through five weeks, whereas wide receivers Damien Ratley and Antonio Callaway and tight end Demetrius Harris have totaled nine.
For comparison purposes, let’s take a visual look at Baker’s performance in the first five weeks under Freddie Kitchens in 2018 versus the first five weeks in 2019 for passing grade, passer rating, and adjusted completion percentage:
The regression is apparent and is staggering at the moment, but as mentioned above, Mayfield is not solely to blame.
Is Mayfield the franchise quarterback the city has coveted for decades? Absolutely. Is he currently struggling to find an identity in the Kitchens/Monken fused offense? Absolutely. These do not have to be mutually exclusive ideas or beliefs. I believe in my heart-of-hearts that Mayfield will continue to fine-tune his game, including an advantageous pocket presence, keeping his eyes downfield, and diverting defenders with his eyes. After all, these are attributes he excelled at in 2018.
The alternative is simply unacceptable.
The Browns have gone through some growing pains thus far in the 2019 season, with ups and downs reminiscent of the Millennium Force roller coaster at the Cedar Point amusement park. The team will look to back on track at First Energy Field on Sunday afternoon versus the red-hot Seattle Seahawks.