Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski believes Baker Mayfield is on the verge of taking a big step in his game.
The Browns devoted a large portion of their Week 9 bye week to breaking down film from previous games and having in-depth discussions on how everyone on the Browns could get better, and Mayfield was no exception. He spent plenty of hours with offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt and Stefanski digesting the pros and cons of his performances that helped bring the Browns to a 5-3 record at the halfway point of the season.
After eight games with Mayfield, Stefanski believes he knows how to help Mayfield become an even better quarterback.
"I think Baker would tell you there are moments where he was really good and moments that he wants to get better," Stefanski said Wednesday. "I think that is just a great focus for our guys moving forward. We can help him, I know that. We can help him for sure in some of the design and some of the play calls. I think he is ready to ascend."
Check out exclusive photos of the Browns working on their bye week
Mayfield has thrown 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions so far this season and has a 90.9 quarterback rating, just three points below what he had in his record-breaking season in 2018 when he threw 27 touchdowns, the most ever thrown by an NFL rookie. He's had several high points in 2020, such as his five-touchdown performance in Week 7. He's also had some lows, like the Browns' recent Week 8 loss against the Las Vegas Raiders when Cleveland didn't record a touchdown.
But the bye week offered ample time to go in and take a hard look at mistakes and develop a plan for the rest of the season. If Mayfield can perform at an even higher level in the second half of the season, the Browns will be in strong shape to achieve their goals.
"I would say I'm continuing to put my head down and work," Mayfield said. "We're not anywhere near where we want to be, and I think that's the positive outlook on it. We're going to continue to work and work. We're learning on the fly, and I think this bye week came at a very good time. We're just going to try and get better."
So what is the next step for Mayfield?
Stefanski wanted to be clear: The No. 1 priority will always be to win football games, no matter what. As long as Mayfield is helping the Browns do that, Stefanski will be pleased with his quarterback.
But there's always room to improve, and both Stefanski and Mayfield mentioned completion percentage and ball protection as areas for improvement.
"For me, I look at missed throws, turnover plays and looking at the reasons why," Mayfield said. "We're being extremely critical of that. I think some of the turnovers are things that can easily be fixed, and to me, that's a positive. I can do that and I can manage that to put us even more in position to win.
"We have to take it one game at a time. I think our guys this week hit the reset button, refresh and get back to work. We're excited about this back half of the year and the grind that it's going to be."
For Mayfield, the bye week also served as needed time to heal a chest injury he's played through since Week 5. He's insisted the injury hasn't affected him on game days, but he acknowledged Wednesday the time off allowed his body to feel even better.
"I'm a lot better now," he said. "It's amazing what not getting up on Sunday does for you. I know a lot of our guys needed as well, so I'm happy."
That all bodes well for Stefanski's plans to help Mayfield play at an even higher level for the final eight games. He's never wavered in his belief he can help Mayfield become the best quarterback he can be, but he also knew patience was a requirement.
Now, after a long bye week and time to reflect and rest, Stefanski believes his quarterback is ready to make the jump.
"I think for all of our players, the main focus was we have to get better," Stefanski said. "As individuals and as a team, we have to get better. That was our mantra that we have coming out of the bye. We can't stay the same. I put Baker right in there. He has to continue to get better, and I think the comfort level in what we are doing and my comfort level in understanding him and all of our players will allow us to put game plans together to play to our guys' strengths."