Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland.
There are extreme methods when coaching up young quarterbacks. There is tough love and there is coddling. And when it comes to coaching Baker Mayfield out of his sophomore slump, the Browns have chosen the latter approach.
It’s understandable, really.
Mayfield has struggled through the first six games of his second season, but not from lack of work or dedication to his job.
He has suffered from defenses presenting him new and different looks, from breakdowns on his offensive line, from repeated penalties on offense, and from his receivers increasingly unable to secure his high-velocity passes.
He has also been hurt in his last two games – a banged-up left leg against San Francisco and a hip injury after a scramble run against Seattle.
It’s hard to choose which drop-off in Mayfield’s game is most shocking – his accuracy (56.6 percent), his interceptions (11 in six games), his passer rating (66.0), or his numbers close to the end zone (9 of 29 inside the 20, including 4 of 17 inside the 10 with three touchdowns and three interceptions).
Nevertheless, the Browns are standing by their man. As they should.
Former Browns GM Phil Savage once said that when a team chooses its franchise quarterback everyone in the organization has to support him completely. The Browns are doing that now.
“I think his ball’s still accurate. Everybody keeps saying there’s inaccuracy in his ball. I still think he throws a good football,” said GM John Dorsey.
“Baker is one of those guys that he is smart enough that he is not going to make the same mistake twice. He is learning from that, but I like where he is. I like his competitiveness. I love everything about him. That has not changed for me one bit in terms of his competitiveness, his ability to throw the football and move this thing. What I really like is his teammates like him.”
Coach Freddie Kitchens said, “We have to do a better job around him in protection, in where we are supposed to be, and then in catching the ball.”
Quarterbacks coach Ryan Lindley said he is “extremely” confident that Mayfield will be the elite quarterback the Browns envisioned because of, “On a day to day basis, the things he does on the field and the way he carries himself. And he’s still young and still growing. When you see what that kid’s going to become, and what he is, that’s something special.”
In the meantime, though, the Browns would be wise to rein in Mayfield and ease the offensive burden from his shoulders. They can do that by managing the game better and focusing on superstar back Nick Chubb when the offense gets in the red zone.
Lindley hinted such a change in philosophy could be coming as the result of self-examination by the coaches.
“The biggest thing, to me, is just take what they give you,” Lindley said. “Don’t force things.
“And I think especially the way we’re sitting now, the way Nick Chubb’s playing, we can do that. He’s running the ball well, we’re playing well up front, blocking in the run game, so let’s just extend drives and keep things rolling.”
Now for takeaways at the bye week from every other position group …
Chubb’s stats compare favorably to Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey, who is being touted as an MVP candidate. McCaffrey has 618 rushing yards, seven touchdowns and a 4.9 average. Chubb is close behind at 607, six and 5.3. So what happens when Kareem Hunt is reinstated in three weeks? Kitchens said the Browns developed a plan in the spring for Hunt’s eventual incorporation into the offense. “It will come to fruition here in a couple of weeks,” he said.
Incredibly, Odell Beckham Jr.’s 89-yard catch-and-run in the Jets game is the only touchdown by a wide receiver. The expected return of Rashard Higgins after the bye will give Mayfield his full complement of four receivers for the first time all season. But that isn’t going to change Jarvis Landry’s opinion that Mayfield must be “intentional” in getting the ball to Beckham and him.
Ricky Seals-Jones leads the team in yards per catch (20.4) and receiving touchdowns (two). Who saw that coming?
We’ll know Monday at the earliest and Wednesday at the latest how many lineup changes the coaches intend to implement. Will Dorsey acquire an offensive tackle? Will Kendall Lamm replace Greg Robinson at left tackle? Will Wyatt Teller replace Eric Kush at right guard? Everything is on the table.
Dorsey made a point of saying Olivier Vernon had his best game against Seattle. But other than Myles Garrett (tied for the NFL lead with nine sacks), the biggest playmaker has been backup tackle Devaroe Lawrence (one interception, one fumble recovery).
Joe Schobert said he believes he’s having his best year. Unofficially, he leads the NFL with 43 solo tackles. He also has a forced fumble and fumble recovery. Meanwhile, the biggest question about this group is why Genard Avery, a fifth-round pick in 2018, has been on the field for two defensive snaps through six games. Two.
The Browns’ uncommon depth here was demonstrated when backup cornerbacks Terrance Mitchell and T.J. Carrie held the fort for four games while starters Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams rehabbed hamstring injuries. Ward and Williams are expected back for the New England game, and we’ll see if Williams, in particular, regains his starting job.
One of the pleasant surprises has been that rookie punter Jamie Gillan and kicker Austin Seibert have been two of the most consistent performers on the team. In addition, coordinator Mike Priefer’s clamp-down on penalties and Dontrell Hilliard’s 74-yard kickoff return combine to make this the most improved area of the team – by far.