If Baker Mayfield’s Week 1 performance against the Ravens was alarming, his game on Thursday night against the Cincinnati Bengals was a shot of reassurance for Browns fans who have rightly worried about the prospects of the man who was supposed to solve the team’s quarterback problem once and for all.
Last season saw Mayfield take significant steps backward following his record-setting rookie year, prompting fears that his first season had been just a tease before the merry-go-round cruelly started over once more.
The biggest concern was not that Mayfield began to play worse — it was the bad habits that he developed, fostered and leaned into. Those flaws weren’t created from nothing — they had been there in his college tape but were such a small part of his game it felt like nitpicking to even talk about them. Last season, they all became much bigger problems and threatened to completely take over his career.
A new head coach in Kevin Stefanski and a whole raft of offseason changes were supposed to address those issues, but against the Ravens it looked like nothing had changed.
Mayfield had no comfort in the pocket. He didn’t trust what he was seeing both in terms of his receivers running their routes or that his protection was going to hold up. His biggest issue has been losing faith in what’s around him, and he has been constantly looking to escape from clean pockets, actually causing the pressure that he's trying to protect himself from.
This week showed how much difference the right opposition and game flow can make to a young quarterback struggling to get his game together. The Ravens confused Mayfield with their pressure packages and were nearly unstoppable on offense, putting the Browns in a deep hole quickly and removing their run game from the equation.
Nick Chubb, narrowly beaten for the rushing title in 2019, carried the ball just 10 times all game and was only even on the field for 11 snaps in the second half as the Browns chased a massive deficit. Consequently, the offense didn’t feel like it could run play-action concepts — Mayfield had just nine play-action pass attempts all game.
From a clean pocket against the Ravens, Mayfield’s PFF grade was just 59.8. He was ineffective, indecisive and looking for any excuse to try to get out of the pocket and on the run. The Browns as a whole were simply destroyed by a better team across the board, and Mayfield wasn't immune.
Against Cincinnati, though, things were starkly different, and Mayfield had a far better platform from which to work. We saw signs that these bad habits can be reversed, that the positives of his game can win out in the battle for his future.