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3 ways Baker Mayfield became a better version of himself in Kevin Stefanski’s offense

CLEVELAND, Ohio – As the 2020 season becomes smaller in the rearview mirror, more data emerges to help explain what it was we saw.

I wrote a few weeks ago about how the Browns put Baker Mayfield in positions to succeed by leaning into his strengths from previous seasons. That included more play action, designed rollouts and lots of tight ends on the field.

Data backed up that it was the right way to go with Mayfield, and the quarterback responded by doing well in most of those areas last season.

But simply being in Kevin Stefanski’s offense also had a lot to do with Mayfield’s success. As the season went on, Stefanski began to get a better handle on how Mayfield could perform at his best in the offense.

“Baker has to continue to get better,” Stefanski said as the Browns emerged from their Week 9 bye. “I think comfort level in what we’re doing, my comfort level in understanding him and all of our players will allow us to put game plans together and play to our guys’ strengths.’’

That’s where some of the latest data from the 2020 season comes in. Here are a few ways to show the improvement in comfort level between Stefanski and Mayfield:

1. SUCCESS RATE

If you’re unfamiliar with success rate, it generally means getting 40 percent of the yardage needed on first down, 60 percent on second down and 100 percent on third or fourth down.

As a passer, Mayfield ranked 32nd in this category in 2019 with 42 percent, according to Sharp Football Stats. That’s out of 55 quarterbacks with at least 30 dropbacks.

Mayfield’s success rate jumped to 49 percent last season, ranked 17th. Mayfield found his stride over the season’s second half and earned Pro Football Focus’ fourth-best passing grade (89.8) over that stretch. His success rate also improved, jumping from 28th (47 percent) over the first eight games to 13th (51 percent) over the final eight.

The next two stats help explain why Mayfield’s success rate improved.

2. FAILED COMPLETIONS

Football Outsiders recently looked at success rate a different way. The analytics website revealed how quarterbacks ranked with failed completions, which are completions that don’t get the yardage needed to be considered a successful play. It basically breaks down the same way success rate does above.

Mayfield ranked 15th in this stat in 2019, getting failed completions on 24.6 percent of his throws. He ranked 22nd as a rookie.

Enter Stefanski, and Mayfield’s failed completion percentage decreased to 18.7 percent last season (57-of-305), which ranked seventh. The Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes ranked second last season, followed by the Bills’ Josh Allen, the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott and the Texans’ Deshaun Watson.

Surprisingly, the Bears’ Mitchell Trubisky was first (9.7 percent). Even Football Outsiders was shocked by that. But Trubisky’s yardage averages told more of the story.

His average successful pass came with 7.8 yards to go, Football Outsiders noted, tied for shortest in the league. And those passes picked up an average of 11.6 yards, second fewest in the league.

In other words, Trubisky was efficient, but more dink-and-dunk than most quarterbacks.

That brings us to our final stat.

3. COMPLETED AIR YARDS

Every pass travels a certain distance in the air from the quarterback to the receiver. That is called intended air yards. If the pass is completed, those yards become completed air yards.

While Trubisky’s intended air yards averaged 7.8 last season, his air yards on completions averaged only 5.3. Mayfield’s intended air yards remained flat at 8.5 from 2019 to last season. But his completed air yards rose almost a full yard, from 6.3 to 7.2, according to Pro Football Reference.

The difference can be found in Mayfield’s success throwing deep last season. He completed 50 percent of his passes of at least 20 yards (ranked fourth), and that was with 20 fewer attempts than the year before.

In 2019, his 76 deep attempts were fifth most. But his completion percentage on those passes (35.5) ranked 22nd.

Improving his deep throws last season raised Mayfield’s average completed air yards, which reduced his failed completions, which improved his success rate as a passer.

Stefanski’s offense helped Mayfield connect the links in that chain and become a better version of himself than we saw in 2019.

More comfort between coach and quarterback can only make that chain stronger.

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