The Cleveland Browns are struggling, and with three straight weeks of difficult games ahead before a merciful bye, there’s a chance things get worse before they get better. As a result, fans are trying to figure out just who’s to blame for Cleveland’s season suddenly looking bleak.
There are some who believe the biggest culprit is rookie QB Baker Mayfield. A surprising amount of people have called into local radio insisting Mayfield isn’t doing enough, that his recent performances are the root cause of Cleveland’s losing streak.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. While his play through five games has been a bit uneven, Mayfield is hardly the biggest reason why the Browns have come off the rails.
To be clear, I’m not here to excuse any negatives from his performance so far, or imply there aren’t any to begin with. Mayfield’s internal clock seems to have slowed in recent weeks, as he’s taken some sacks as a result of hesitating with his throws. His completion percentage is lower than what you’d like to see, though some of this is due to his wideouts’ issues with dropped passes.
At the same time, to see Mayfield as the sole reason why the Browns are slumping is off-base. Doing so would essentially be blaming an entire team’s struggles on the play of someone who’s not even halfway through his first NFL season at the league’s most important position.
The fact is we were spoiled by the instant success seen from Mayfield. He sprinted out of the gate with strong performances in his first two weeks, helping notch the Browns’ first win since 2016. We bought into the hype, seemingly forgetting he was still a rookie and still had a lot to learn.
Again, I’m not saying the aforementioned issues Mayfield is working through are having no impact on the team’s performance, nor am I saying he shouldn’t receive any blame.
At the same time, this is part of the learning curve, something which was easy to forget when Mayfield got off to such a great start. His first two games had fans assuming he would only get better, that we wouldn’t see the usual up and down performances rookie QBs typically endure as they adjust to the pros.
This made it easy to forget teams were eventually going to have enough game film on him to prepare accordingly. It was only a matter of time before Mayfield could no longer catch opponents off guard.
This isn’t to say you should expect him to decline. Instead, I’m only pointing out that he’s reached an important checkpoint in his professional growth, and is currently working through the hurdles which come with this.
Apparently, more than a few fans aren’t buying that, and instead believe he’s not doing enough to elevate his team. If you really feel this way, I’d recommend taking a deeper look at what he plays through on a weekly basis.
His line is struggling to protect him, as Cleveland is giving up quarterback hits at an alarmingly high rate.
His receivers are dropping like flies, forcing him to find success with Jarvis Landry and two project rookie wideouts who are struggling to get open or hang on to the ball.
His coach is dogging his offensive coordinator through the media, creating an environment where he doesn’t know who to listen to.
But, sure, despite all this Mayfield is totally the main source of Cleveland’s problems. Shame on him for not taking all of this in stride…
I understand why expectations are so high for him. Mayfield took the league by storm with his debut, and left many thinking the Browns had finally solved their quarterback problem. However, his recent cooling off doesn’t mean those hopes are dashed, that he’s actually become a significant issue for Cleveland.
It instead just confirms the obvious – he’s not a finished product. How could you assume he would be this early in his career?
Mayfield has shown signs he can become the long-sought after franchise quarterback for the Browns. That said, whatever struggles he’s working through aren’t proof he’s bringing down the team.
All they are is further proof he’s still growing. Holding this against him is simply not giving him a fair shot.
Casey Drottar is an independent sports writer. Subscribe to his podcast, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook