ABOUT THE BROWNS QB
“That’s the Baker Mayfield of 2018.”
As you watched him complete 22 of 23 passes over the last three quarters in Cincinnati last week, did you say something like that?
I can tell you some of the top people with the Browns did, and there was a sense of relief from the front office to the coaching staff. Those were the best three quarters of Mayfield’s career, given the only incomplete pass really wasn’t — it was a spike into the ground to kill the clock.
As I was told by someone close to the situation, “As Baker started to hit those passes, it was like this huge weight came off his shoulders. He was having fun again and it rubbed off on everyone.”
The easy explanation is Odell Beckham Jr. left the game on Mayfield’s first pass of the day. It was an interception and Beckham suffered a major ACL knee injury trying to tackle a Cincinnati defensive back. Beckham is expected to be out nine to 12 months.
WHAT ABOUT ODELL?
More than one top NFL source told me “it’s too simplistic” to say Mayfield found his 2018 form because Beckham was out. Mayfield’s rookie (and best) season of 2018 was before the Browns acquired the receiver from the New York Giants.
But they don’t deny something changed. Something good happened.
There are disclaimers: Cincinnati being a poor defensive team is the first. There also is a tendency at times for backups to have an immediate impact when a star is hurt. Remember, D’Ernest Johnson had his best game as a pro when Nick Chubb went down with a knee injury in Dallas. Johnson ran for 95 yards on 13 carries vs. the Cowboys.
Since then, Johnson has gained 36 yards in 14 carries.
I was warned about falling into the “they are better without Odell” camp. The Browns often had Beckham running deep routes, and that put pressure on the defensive secondary – especially the safeties.
In a sense, he often was a decoy, and that opened up the middle of the field for the running game. They now have no one who will command that type of defensive attention.
THE TURNING POINT?
Before his remarkable streak (5 TDs, 22-of-23 passing) in the final three quarters in Cincinnati, Mayfield was a mess. In his previous seven quarters, he had thrown five interceptions and completed 43 percent of his passes.
That’s why the Browns also see Sunday vs. the Raiders as a possible turning point for Mayfield – if he can have another strong performance (even against another weak defense).
I heard Mayfield had a very good week of practice. He has been working hard all season, but he was playing with more “joy” this week. Offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt believes the reason Mayfield snapped out of his funk was the practices before the Bengals game.
“His preparation was one of the best,” he said. “That’s the blueprint. That’s what we expect each week. He has a little more swagger and confidence, you can see it in practice.”
Perhaps he had been thinking too much about the new offense and wasn’t following some of his usual instincts when it came to delivering passes quickly.
“There are moments when you are feeling it,” said Mayfield. “You’re putting the ball in the right place. You’re going through your reads. The field of vision slows down.”
That’s what happens when Mayfield has his confidence back. He doesn’t feel rushed and has an innate sense of where to find an open receiver. It also occurs when the play-caller is learning Mayfield and adapting plays to his skillset.
There are several theories floating around Berea about Mayfield. The big one is this – it just takes time for Mayfield to learn a new offense with a new head coach … again. It’s boring, but is likely to be the case.
ABOUT THE TRADE DEADLINE
1. The Browns aren’t making any noise about deals before Tuesday’s deadline. Nonetheless, I expect them to do something. It may not be a huge trade, but this front office is wired to make deals.
2. Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta and GM Andrew Berry were part of the front office in 2017 that took on Brock Osweiler’s $16 million contract in order to add a second-round pick from Houston in the 2018 draft. Many in the NFL ripped the deal, not understanding it was an NBA-type trade.
3. That 2018 second-rounder turned out to be Nick Chubb. Had the Browns failed to make the deal, they probably wouldn’t have Chubb. They had their own second-rounder (#33) in that draft, and used it on Austin Corbett. They used the Houston pick (#35) to grab Chubb. So they obviously had Corbett rated higher than Chubb.
4. Monday Morning QB’s Albert Breer reported: “Veteran pass rusher Olivier Vernon’s name is one that’s circulating as available for teams looking for help in that area. I don’t think it’s too much to think the Browns could trade Vernon and add a pass rusher elsewhere to replace him.”
5. Vernon has missed two games to injury. But in the five games he has played, the defensive end has been on the field for 80 percent of the snaps. They possibly could move Sheldon Richardson from tackle to defensive end.
6. Veteran Adrian Clayborn can play defensive end, but it was shocking to see he doesn’t have a tackle, a QB hit or much of anything in his last four games covering 81 snaps. Vernon is not doing a lot – zero sacks, 2 QB hits, 11 tackles in 364 snaps. Not sure what to make of the Vernon rumor, other than the Browns would love an upgrade.
7. I don’t think they are in the market for a prominent receiver to replace Beckham. I’ve heard a rumor about Breshard Perriman, who has caught 11 passes with the Jets. He was with the Browns in 2018 and is a speed receiver currently out with a concussion. But it was the John Dorsey front office that liked Perriman, not this one.
8. The Browns are expected to have KhaDarel Hodge back from the injured list this weekend. The coaches love Hodge because he can help on special teams and at receiver. He was playing in front of Rashard Higgins, who is now a starter. Hodge played 55 percent of the snaps in his three healthy games, catching three passes.
9. The Browns want to look at Donovan Peoples-Jones, called “Mr. Reliable” by Stefanski. That’s extremely high praise. “He is always in the right place at the right time. Getting lined up is not sometimes easy for young players at wide receiver. We line him up at multiple positions.”
10. The Browns will watch how their receivers perform vs. the Raiders before making any big decisions about trading for one. My guess is they will stay with the current group.
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