Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield went from rookie breaking sensation ready to lead the Browns to glory to question mark in 2020. As goes the quarterback goes, the team. The Browns entered 2019 with all the hype you could want based on a talent-laden offense to end the season 6-10. We all know what happened after that and where we are now. Questions abound on if this team has learned anything from last year. Can Baker find the magic of his rookie season? Will OBJ find his old form and make the Giants trade look better? Will the revamped line and Kevin Stefanski offense be just what this team needed? None of us know, but the arrow is pushing further upward.
Stefanski is the perfect coach for Baker Mayfield
Browns fans, you have been punched in the gut so many times over the years. The above will likely get a lot of “prove it” comments. Kevin Stefanski will have to prove himself to Baker just as much as Baker will to Stefanski. So far, so good as Baker seemed happy with the team’s direction during the NFL schedule release party interview. All of that will take time, and some mistakes will happen. The one question that is already answered and why Stefanski is the head coach is that in two years in the NFL, Baker has been at his best in 12 personnel. Kevin Stefanski loves to use “12” personnel.
Kevin Stefanski’s offense ran those sets 35% of the time per Sharp football. In 2018, Baker was at his best with multiple tight ends and/or running backs on the field “12” personnel: 39-of-60, four touchdowns, one interception, 101.8 passer rating. “13” personnel: 17-of-27, three touchdowns, no interceptions, 134.3 passer rating. In 2019 out of “12” personnel Baker Mayfield had a 100.5 passer rating, 11.1 air yards per attempt, and a 2.5:1 interception to touchdown ratio. The Browns running game averaged 4.5 yards per carry out of the same package (Sharp Football). DePodesta did not hire Stefanski by accident. Everything he does is where Baker has had his most success in the NFL. It is also why the Browns have three tight ends that could potentially start for many NFL teams. How did Baker do with play action?
Per Pro Football Focus, the Vikings used play-action passing 34.1% of the time last season. Stefanski will continue to use it in Cleveland. How did Baker do using play-action in 2019? Baker Mayfield had the highest completion percentage differential in the NFL on play-action vs. non-play-action dropbacks (10.1%). Further, play-action was utilized 10.1% more in victories vs. losses for the Browns in 2019. So basically, using play-action more won games and made Mayfield a better quarterback. That is not surprising considering the Browns tandem of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt coming out of the backfield.
Don’t forget that Baker was one of the best passing quarterbacks on the move in 2018. Last year not so much, but it was a different kind of on the move. Stefanski will use naked bootlegs, rollouts, and general movement in the pocket to make it harder for pressure to get to Mayfield. If Baker can find that 2018 form again within the designed movement, he will discover serious downfield success. Every move the Browns made this offseason starting with the hire of Stefanski, is about Baker Mayfield. Now it is time for Baker to make the same commitment and show up ready to lead this offense. The time for excuses and tantrums are over as this offense has more talent than arguably any in the NFL.
Bold take on the 2020 season
The Browns will end 2020 with a top-five offense in the NFL. They will challenge for a spot in the playoffs if not win the division outright. Yes, I know the Ravens are still in the division. While this is labeled as a bold take, they were not that far off in 2019 despite a 6-10 record. The talent on this football team won six games despite the atrocious coaching of Freddie Kitchens. Not to mention the constant turmoil this team brought upon itself. That will all change this year.
Kevin Stefanski is organized, straight-forward, and extremely intelligent. Stefanski has built this team, through Andrew Berry, into what he wants to offensively and defensively. They have an identity heading into the 2020 season, and this already light years ahead of the last two coaches. Browns’ fans will say how the same was said the previous year, and we have had great offseasons before, but this one felt a bit different. The Browns leadership had a clear plan in the offseason and executed it with precision. They know what the identity will be of this football team. The Browns and Baker Mayfield will have success in 2020.
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