The Cleveland Browns currently sit at 1-2 ahead of a key divisional matchup against the Baltimore Ravens this weekend. It isn’t time to panic yet, but the offense has struggled mightily thus far. There are multiple reasons for this, but the main one is quarterback Baker Mayfield, who needs to play much better if Cleveland wants to enter the playoff race.
Cleveland Browns Offense Held Back by Baker Mayfield, Who is Holding Onto the Ball for Too Long
The Browns offense has scored just 49 points in three games despite being one of the most talented units in the NFL. The group hasn’t gotten into a rhythm or found its identity yet. Starting tight end David Njoku is on injured reserve, offensive linemen have been ejected, injured, and switched positions, and receiver Rashard Higgins hasn’t played since early in Week 1. The situational playcalling is subpar. But none of these reasons are good excuses for Mayfield’s underwhelming play; he’s thrown three touchdowns to five interceptions thus far, and his issues go beyond the box score.
Many are blaming Cleveland’s offensive line for not giving Mayfield enough time to survey the defense. This is happening, but it isn’t the line’s fault. According to ESPN Analytics, the Browns rank first in the NFL in pass block win rate at 66%. A pass block win is defined as when the offensive lineman holds his block for at least 2.5 seconds. Dating back to his rookie season, Mayfield has been excellent when throwing the ball in under 2.5 seconds. When he holds onto it for longer, he takes unnecessary sacks, hits, and forces the ball into tight coverage.
At one point in last week’s game against Los Angeles, Mayfield was 13/15 on passes under 2.5 seconds and 3/21 otherwise. There are two takeaways from this; the first is that Kitchens must do a better job of scheming quick passes for Mayfield. The second is that the Browns have a problem. If Mayfield isn’t able to sit in the pocket and read defenses, he won’t be a starter for very long. Nearly every positive play Mayfield has made this year has come on his first read, and that’s concerning. We’ve seen Mayfield progress to his second, third, and fourth read and make plays before, so perhaps he just needs more reps in new offensive coordinator Todd Monken’s system.
But it’s more than just Mayfield not reading defenses well. He’s paranoid about taking hits. He is fading from clean pockets for no reason instead of stepping up and delivering a strong throw. The loss of Kevin Zeitler may have something to do with this, although his replacement, Eric Kush, has been solid, aside from his reps against game-wrecker Aaron Donald.
Per Pro Football Focus, Mayfield’s average time to throw is 2.74 seconds, and his average time to scramble is 2.80 seconds. That time to scramble explains the discrepancy between PFF’s TTT number and NFL Next Gen Stats’, which is 3.03 seconds, third-highest in the NFL.
Whether it’s getting more comfortable in the offense, trusting his lineman more, or something different, Baker Mayfield must get the ball out quicker. As he goes, so does Cleveland’s offense, and they need to start going better, and fast. The Browns had playoff expectations for this season and can’t afford to wait for the offense to click. Mayfield shouldn’t shoulder all of the blame for the team’s scoring issues, but he is responsible for a large portion of them. It’s time for Mayfield to prove that his record-setting rookie season wasn’t a fluke.
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