It’s not time to celebrate in Cleveland just yet as there are still 11 regular-season games left to play, but after all the misery that football team has inflicted upon its fans (who could forget the legendary Factory of Sadness video?), the Browns’ 4-1 start to the season is worthy of appreciation.
Hats off, first of all, to new general manager Andrew Berry, who did an awesome job getting Kevin Stefanski the talent he needs this offseason to make his offense work. Rookie left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr., plus right tackle Jack Conklin and tight end Austin Hooper — a pair of big-money free agents — are key cogs in Stefanski’s ground-and-pound offense, which is predicated on lots of power run concepts, outside zone and play-action.
Kudos also must go to Stefanski, whose scheme has turned out to be an excellent fit for quarterback Baker Mayfield. He endured a difficult 2019 season but, in a make-or-break third year, has been solid. Stefanski does an outstanding job scheming up ways to get the 6-foot Mayfield out of the pocket, where he hasn’t been as effective in the NFL.
Through the use of boot action, Mayfield suddenly finds himself on the move more than ever. It enables him to take advantage of his athleticism and excellent arm strength to make strong throws downfield, with the help of the defined reads that Stefanski has planned.
Mayfield’s stat line looks solid. He has completed 61 percent of his passes for nine touchdowns, four interceptions and a 88.6 passer rating. But he can still play better. He had a pair of turnovers in the Browns’ Week 5 win over Indianapolis. Afterward, Mayfield seethed about his play, noting it was his worst performance of the season.
While Indianapolis’ defense is good, Mayfield is right. He has to play better this weekend against Pittsburgh, who enters with a 4-0 record and boasts one of the league’s most explosive offenses and one of the league’s best defenses.
Cleveland likes to run the ball, but that’s going to be difficult against Pittsburgh, which should put this game in Mayfield’s hand. He faces a tough task against a team that can get pressure just fine with four men, a boon in today’s football. When they do blitz, the Steelers are dangerous, too.
In this extra edition of my weekly “Things I Noticed” feature — the video above which was expertly stitched together by my main man Ron Schiltz — I detail the three things the Browns have to do in their passing game if they want to escape Pittsburgh with a victory.
Two of those keys involve Mayfield, who is eligible for a big contract extension after this season. And while Mayfield will be playing with a rib injury he suffered Sunday, this is the kind of game the Browns will weigh when they decide how much they want to offer Mayfield down the road. It’s a money game, folks, and the type of showdown that often brings out the best in players.
Here’s to hoping we get just that from Mayfield in Week 6. If we do, Browns fans, some of the most passionate in pro football, may have something to crow by the time Monday rolls around.
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