Baker Mayfield knows offense needs to play better in coming weeks

For the second straight week, the Browns lost the opening coin toss and their opponent deferred to the second half. 

For the second straight week, the Browns scored on their opening drive.

If the details ended there, those outcomes would be generally viewed as a victory. Producing points is the name of the game for every NFL offense, and the Browns’ unit has done that to start each of their first two games.

The possessions afterward, though, have left a lot to be desired. 

After starting with a touchdown drive in Week 1, the Browns didn’t sniff the end zone again until two quarters later. In Week 2, after scoring on three of their first four possessions, they punted on four of their next six. And when it comes to those scoring plays, too often in two weeks, they’ve found themselves settling for field goal attempts instead of celebrating touchdowns.

In fact, that’s how Week 2 began. After Odell Beckham Jr. made a spectacular, one-handed grab down the sideline inside the Jets’ 5, the Browns failed to enter the painted area just 12 feet from the line of scrimmage. Austin Seibert trotted onto the field for a field goal attempt that resembled the old NFL extra point and gave the Browns a 3-0 lead.

Again, that produced points. But with the talent on this roster, there’s so much more left out there.

“We absolutely need to play better,” quarterback Baker Mayfield said after the Browns’ Week 2 win over the Jets. “I think that’s the biggest thing. Not losing sight that a win is a win, especially on the road, and we needed this one, but field goals early on? We’ll take points, but at the same time, we have to be able to finish those drives. We need to play better. It’s a little frustrating at times. I think I’ll be able to look at this film and get better from it.”

Cleveland’s offense was better in Week 2 than it was in Week 1, but there were still some issues. The Browns too often found themselves struggling to sustain drives. They were just 4-for-13 on third down, punted six times and were nearly even in time of possession with a Jets offense that was abysmal for most of the game due to their necessary reliance on a third-string quarterback in Luke Falk, who performed admirably despite the adverse circumstances. The Browns averaged 6.4 yards per play, but if one removes the 89-yard Beckham touchdown reception, the per-play average drops to 4.93.

The positives: Nick Chubb found the end zone for the first time in 2019 on a 19-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Mayfield finished with a passer rating of 83.6 that included his first 300-plus-yard game of the season. And most importantly, Beckham found the end zone on a short catch and sprint that effectively closed the book on the Jets’ chances Monday night.

“That’s how explosive we can be,” Mayfield said of the touchdown pass to Beckham. “That’s the type of thing, like I’m saying with the incompletions, something like that wasn’t a long throw that we really had to scheme something up to protect it and hold on to the ball and throw it down the field.  Just get the ball into his hands. Just get it into the playmakers hands. He’s a big difference maker when it comes down to it." 

Through two weeks, the Browns’ passing offense has been noticeably vertical. Part of that has to do with how dangerous Cleveland’s offense can be with Beckham, Jarvis Landry and Co. running routes. You can’t make the big play without taking the risk.

But such consistent risk-taking can put the Browns at a disadvantage when spread wider over the course of a game. If two of every three pass plays are aiming for gains of 10 or more, eventually the offense will face a greater chance of sputtering, at least partially because the opposing pass rush will know it will get an extra half-second or so to hunt the quarterback thanks to the longer-developing plays being run. Mayfield has already been sacked eight times through two games and taken 11 total hits, which head coach Freddie Kitchens acknowledged Tuesday as an area that needs improving.

“I’ve got to do a better job of getting the ball out of Baker’s hand quicker,” Kitchens said.

A coordinator keeps such a thing from happening with balanced play-calling: sprinkling in running plays on a variety of downs and distances, and countering additional rushers by targeting shorter routes. That maximizes the chances of what Mayfield referenced after Monday night’s win: Getting the ball in the hands of playmakers.

“I think it’s a learning curve needing to know when I have to take my shots and then check the ball down and get completions,” Mayfield said Monday. “It’s a little difficult at times, but like I keep harping on, just get completions.”

Kitchens did a better job with that in Week 2, with some credit going to the Browns avoiding the penalties that constantly put them behind schedule in Week 1. Such play-calling produced both Browns touchdowns, with the Beckham score coming on a short completion and Chubb’s score arriving via a running play the Browns had attempted multiple times earlier in the half.

Persistence is key in this strange game. Often, it’s the slight difference between a win and loss. As the season progresses, the Browns will benefit more from their balance, which should increase completions and better pace the entire unit. And eventually, perhaps, we’ll be talking more about the resulting big plays than the questions about the offense’s rhythm.

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