Baker Mayfield started Sunday's win over Cincinnati 0-for-5 passing with an INT before lighting up the scoreboard in the Browns' comeback win. The improved play from the QB came after Odell Beckham Jr. suffered a season-ending ACL tear.
The dichotomy sparked a question that has swirled around Cleveland: Is Baker better without Beckham on the field?
The premise of the question suggests Mayfield benefits from not trying to force the ball to OBJ, thereby getting through his reads quicker and finding the open target rather than trying to keep his star receiver happy.
Mayfield shot down the question Wednesday as disrespectful to a player who just suffered a major injury.
"I think it's completely insensitive to a guy who just tore his ACL," Mayfield said. "I'm not even going to comment on it."
Mayfield went out point out that without Beckham on the field "teams are going to play us differently" and there might be fewer one-on-one opportunities for other players in the offense.
Jarvis Landry, Beckham's BFF and the other star wideout in Mayfield's corps, a day earlier also rejected the idea that the QB is better off without OBJ.
"I would say that's not true at all," Landry said Tuesday on 92.3 The Fan, via the Akron Beacon Journal. "I think a lot of our offense has been solely based on having Odell on the field. And a lot of the things that have opened up for us as an offense has been because of the threat that he is. Now we've just got to find a way to adapt and adjust and make plays."
On the face of it, the question of whether taking a talent like Beckham off the field would benefit the offense is mind-warping. Of course, when a defense has to send multiple resources to slow one player, it opens opportunities elsewhere. Perhaps, the better question isn't how much not having Beckham will affect Mayfield, but rather how it might hurt the Browns' run game, if safeties who would normally be tasked to OBJ duties are now freed to fill the box.
Nevertheless, the focus will remain on Mayfield, with each game an overblown referendum on whether he's better or worse without Beckham.
The small sample size of Mayfield playing without OBJ gives the impression the signal-caller could thrive. Week 7 was Mayfield's fourth career game with a 125-plus passer rating. The other three games came in 2018 without Beckham on the team -- last game with 125-plus passer rating: Week 14, 2018 versus Carolina. Perhaps Mayfield going all of 2019 without such a game was less about Beckham and more about then-coach Freddie Kitchens?
Beckham's 53.5 catch percent in 2020 was the second-lowest among 34 WRs with 40-plus targets (only A.J. Green, 50.0 percent, has a lower catch rate)
Mayfield's passer rating targeting Beckham is 71.1, the lowest among all players the QB has targeted 20 or more times since 2019. Per Next Gen Stats, since Beckham joined the Browns, Mayfield has been much more likely to throw INTs with OBJ on the field.
|OBJ On Field||OBJ Off Field|
|Yards per Attempt||7.2||6.6|
The sample size isn't large enough to make definitive statements without considering other possible reasons. But with the Browns in the thick of the playoff hunt with nine games left, we'll see how the figures look by the end of 2020.
For Landry, watching Beckham go down with a season-ending injury was difficult to handle.
"It's tough. You know? It's tough, but, you know, his spirit is, I really can't say," Landry said. "It's one of the things that, for him, it hurts. It hurts. And as a teammate, as a brother, it hurts to see your brother go down on the field like that, and obviously to lose him for the whole season. It's something that's really tough."
How the Browns and Mayfield respond will determine if Cleveland is playing in the postseason for the first time since 2002.