Week 1 Film Review: Mayfield's Meltdown
By Tyler Arthur
Who expected that, then? Anyone put a bet on the visitors by 30?
This weekend’s featured Sky Sports 6PM kick off was between everybody’s summer sweetheart, the Cleveland Browns and the Tennessee Titans. The favourites in the game, despite having not won their home opener for over a decade, had their second-year franchise quarterback Baker Mayfield and his many offensive weapons slated to beat the traveling side.
The debut of Odell Beckham Jr., alongside his best friend from college – Jarvis Landry, and Tight End David Njoku, meant plenty of excitement was expected from the passing game. Sophomore running back Nick Chubb was also the subject of plenty of enthusiasm from Browns fans and fantasy football players alike.
The game started off strong for the hosts, with Dontrell Hilliard running in a short run to make it 6-0 (the PAT was missed) – yeah, sorry to the Chubb fantasy owners I mentioned, including myself.
That opening drive, consisting of eight plays, covering 73-yards, was reason for optimism, and was followed by just a mere field goal in retaliation. The home team was in the driver’s seat.
The next three drive after the FG were significantly less successful, and then the Titans scored again on a truly commanding drive, spanning 87-yards in 11 plays, punctuated by powerback Derrick Henry, with a one-yard inside run to make it 10-6.
Within the next four offensive possessions, there were three three-and-outs.
The Browns got the ball after the two-minute warning, with three timeouts left – one problem, after an absolutely stunning punt (70 yards!!!), they were backed up on their 3-yard line… And then 1-yard line, after a false start. Here lies our first clip to show the rough day that number 6 had at the office.
Let’s take a look at the first play that started the decline of the much-hyped Browns offense, then.
This, in my opinion is not wholly on Mayfield. Now, let me be clear, he should have sensed the imminent pressure and done at least something. What happened here then?
The Browns gave up a safety to Cameron Wake, who came off the edge opposite to the tight end, in the 60 protection that Cleveland offered. It’s easy to blame the offensive line here, obviously, and it should be noted that right tackle Chris Hubbard definitely didn’t do very well, but I think that the play call was at fault here.
This play, I believe, is the reason that the Titans got a safety. Again, Mayfield is well within his ability to throw the ball away when there’s nothing there, but as you saw, he wasn’t looking to do that and didn’t sense the sack coming.
The reasons that I don’t like this play call come in multiple layers.
First things first, the situation.
It’s 1st and 11.5 yards, after the penalty, and they are between their one and two-yard lines. This is a play on which you need to create some breathing space, with either a run or a quick pass into a playmaker’s hands. Instead, we get a pass play, where the only route with a window to pass under five yards is a delayed checkdown to the running back. My final criticism is that the left side of the field isn’t really being used, David Njoku is on the field and lined up at tight end to the left side, but stays in to help block. This means that when the Titans are in man coverage, the lone receiver gets double coverage – so even if the protection was perfect, he wouldn’t get open.
The second thing is the way that Mayfield ‘reads’ it. He clearly decided he wanted that isolated out route, and when he didn’t have it (as soon as he sees that its man / double coverage he doesn’t have it) he didn’t turn back to the other side of the field. If he did, he might have either made a throw in time, or sensed the pressure properly and escaped it.
This was the first of multiple times in the game that Mayfield could have done better, even if just to scramble out of the end zone to give them a second chance to get out of danger.
The reason that the Browns went for the pass is because they were trying to score before the half, and they were running their two-minute drill. However, the two-minute offense doesn’t override the basic principles of smart playcalling, especially when they’re the two minutes at the end of the first half. There is no way I would be looking to pass in that situation, and that definitely didn’t help, in hindsight.
After this mistake, the Browns went into the half trailing by a score, at 12-6.
Through a back and forth throughout the third quarter, which included an absolutely fantastic drive, on which Mayfield looked brilliant and the Cleveland offense was in full flow, both teams added to their total – putting the score to a tight 15-13.
This scoreline was short-lived, and a Derrick Henry screen went 75-yards for a Touchdown on the very first play of the next drive, to respond.
So here we go. This is where it really went wrong.
Trying to respond to the massive TD from Tennessee, the Browns started to move the ball, and then came the next play we are going to watch, early in the final quarter – a bad quarter, to say the least. PFF actually noted Baker Mayfield as the Quarterback with the biggest variance from the first 3 quarters to the fourth, going from a 91.4 grade down to a 20.0.
The first and most important of – spoiler alert – Mayfield’s three interceptions, seemed to be pretty random, for want of a better word. They were moving the ball, and then on just the third play of the fourth quarter, a pass intended for Odell Beckham Jr. was snagged by star safety Kevin Byard.
At a first glance (both live, and on all-22) this looks like an absolutely brilliant play by the fourth-year defensive back, and it was a great catch – but in reality, Mayfield just missed.
I want to explain why I believe this play was the most important play of the entire game.
This week, we’re going to try something new for the first time in one of my articles – let’s take a look at what the defense was doing.
The Titans come out in a 3-3 over nickel look beneath two high safeties, focusing on taking away the pass, as the Browns attempt to close the gap. There are four rushers on the line of scrimmage, however, Tennessee drop the Sam linebacker out, and rush the Will, to create an overload on the side with less receiving threats. With this shifting of the rushers to one side, the safeties rotate at the snap of the ball, revealing a Cover 3, in which Kevin Byard [the red defender above] comes down into a curl zone, where he ends up undercutting OBJ for the interception.
I really like the way that this defensive look allows them to put some pressure on the offense without rushing excess people. They are still rushing the very standard four defenders at the quarterback, but by dropping the OLB and rotating behind it, they can concentrate the pressure more, and force the running back to stay in and help block, while simultaneously having an extra body in coverage to the three-receiver side. The lack of a releasing back makes Byard’s job remarkably easy, as he only has one threat to his entire side of the field, and so he can take away the intermediate seam that would often be targeted within a Cover 3 – just as he did on this play.
This play art isn’t anything too crazy, and we don’t have to spend too much time breaking the design down, but this play is very important when looking at the next one – thus me saying this was the most important play of the game. On Mayfield’s left you have a clearout go route, with a flat route underneath from Njoku and then a sit route from the two receiver, Jarvis Landry. Odell Beckham is isolated to the offensive right, and he runs a dig route – the target of the eventual interception.
As is best shown by this camera angle from the replay on the live broadcast, Mayfield didn’t make a bad read, he just missed. He straight up threw the ball off-target and it was intercepted. Beckham was what I’d refer to as ‘NFL open’ and should be catching the ball for a nice gain in traffic, on this play.
But now you’re asking, ‘why was this the most important play of the game though, he just missed?’
Obviously, an interception is bad, and this started the downfall of the Browns offense (it only gets worse from here, trust me), but what is most noticeable to me, is the fact that this play should have prepared the Browns for the next one we’re taking a look at.
Anything look familiar?
This play call is almost exactly the same as the previous call. They slightly tweaked the formation, and switched the routes between the two and three receivers, but it’s the same combination. Then, on the right side, Odell Beckham Jr. has now switched up his dig route for an out route instead. What this basically is, is a different version of the same play.
Well, what did the defense do this time?
THE SAME THING.
This is not me being dramatic, this is not me reaching for something to analyse. I looked at two interceptions from Baker Mayfield on two back to back drives, and I discovered the unthinkable.
He threw a different interception, on two separate occasions – running an almost identical play into the exact same coverage.
For your ease of comparison, I’ll put the two clips against each other here.
On this play, the Titans came out in the same defensive look pre-snap. They then proceeded to run the same play, against an almost identical offensive call.
How does Mayfield throw an interception…? I genuinely don’t understand. He should be able to recognise the look, it is identical. The safeties rotate, the Will blitzes, the Sam drops into a zone.
The fact that Mayfield doesn’t identify this, and turn back to throw the out route to Beckham, is very disappointing, and actually surprising to me.
This throw was the only interception where Mayfield’s decision making actively caused the pick, with the other two being based on inaccuracy and possibly some miscommunication. It’s debatable – which is more worrying – but for me, this second interception was the worst. He had the same look against a similar play, and decided to stare at and then throw to a player who was so tightly covered that the defender could undercut a five-yard out.
The final of Mayfield’s interceptions was the pick six that he threw to Malcolm Butler. As you can see, this is another play where the ball just doesn’t make it to his receiver. There are two possible causes for this pick. Either he plain missed again, or he expected his receiver to sit down in space and stop his route. This play was on a drive where the only objective was pride, but still – this mistake is uncharacteristic and surprising. They were losing 36-13 when this play happened, so it’s not the biggest crime in terms of costing them the game, but this inaccuracy/miscommunication is concerning.
The defense is (once again) running a Cover 3, this time with less bells and whistles, and no deception or anything like that. And the offensive play call from the should be perfectly well suited to getting a nice pass underneath that look, for some possible yardage after the catch.
The offensive call was a simple levels concept with two five-yard ins and David Njoku on the deeper dig route over the middle. Due to the fact that Tennessee didn’t do anything fancy by dropping players out, this was one of the easier reads you could make. Against the passive shell, in which Malcolm Butler (the eventual recipient of this ball) not only backpedalled to his deep zone, but he literally started 12-yards off the ball, he should have had an easy pitch and catch.
My belief on this awful play is that Mayfield expected Jarvis Landry (the two receiver with a 5-yard in) to identify some space in the coverage and sit down instead of break in. If he had done this, the ball would have been catchable – although, if we’re being critical, unnecessarily high – and Landry could have tried to make a play. Now, in my opinion, the correct pass on this play would be to get the ball to the 1 receiver, as soon as he breaks on his route. Butler is backing off, having already started more then five-yards deeper than where this route is breaking in, so you can tell before that as soon as you see Butler moving backwards, he will be open.
I will even show you here how open he was, so you don’t just have to take my word for it.
This is the moment that Mayfield threw the ball.
Look at the spacing of everyone on the field. Butler is backing off, and the curl zone is the responsibility of a safety who started even deeper, leaving acres of space underneath. Jarvis Landry, I should note, would be open if he had settled down as I think his quarterback expected him too, but still not as open as Damien Ratley is on his five-yard in. I would rather hit a guy in stride running towards two teammates who could block for him than a player who has sat down still to catch the ball closer to the nearest defender.
All in all, this play probably should have been thrown to a different receiver, but if you take that away, the miscommunication between Landry and Mayfield is still concerning.
So there we go. Three interceptions and a safety
The safety was the fault of offensive play calling and bad pocket awareness, while lingering on a dead read.
Pick one was the fault of Mayfield completely missing a throw.
Pick two was down to an embarrassingly bad decision against the same exact coverage that he threw his previous pick into.
And finally, the third pick was down to a miscommunication on arguably the wrong read when the game was already over.
Is this the end of Baker Mayfield? Definitely not. Is everyone still billing the Browns as a Super Bowl contender? Well, probably.
A graduated Journalism student, Tyler also writes for Read American Football and Gridiron Hub. He played Wide Receiver and eventually Quarterback for his university team at DMU, and is now using his knowledge and passion for learning to dive deeper into the analysis of X’s and O’s in the NFL. You can find him on twitter @tylerarthur69