CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Browns were on their fourth offensive drive in last season’s Week 1 matchup with the Ravens when it started to become clear something was missing:
Odell Beckham Jr.
Baker Mayfield had yet to throw a pass his way. After the 2019 storyline of how Mayfield and Beckham couldn’t get on the same page, it seemed the 2020 was beginning the same way.
That’s when Kevin Stefanski called a play he normally doesn’t. On first-and-15 at the Ravens 34, Beckham took a step over the line of scrimmage then backed up as Mayfield fired a pass out to him on a wide receiver screen. Wyatt Teller raced out from his right guard spot to block.
It’s the kind of play fans saw a lot in 2019 when Mayfield threw the sixth-most wide receiver screens in the NFL (31). Stefanski used the play only five times as the Vikings offensive coordinator that year.
The play against the Ravens gained just one yard and was Beckham’s only wide receiver screen of the season.
It is a good example of how Stefanski’s offense differed from what had come before with the Browns. It’s also a good jumping off point for explaining how Mayfield and his receivers leaned on some new routes in 2020.
EXPECTED TO INCREASE
Stefanski’s Vikings offense targeted 19 deep crossing routes in 2019. Quarterback Kirk Cousins wasn’t the league leader (that was the Rams’ Jared Goff with 44), but Cousins was perhaps the most efficient. He went 16-for-19 on deep crosses for 396 yards.
Also, Cousins spread the ball around. No Viking had more than five targets on the route. Mayfield targeted the route just four times in 2019 despite 20 as a rookie.
Stefanski reversed course on that in 2020. Mayfield was 12-of-15 with one touchdown on deep crosses last season. David Njoku had four targets and Jarvis Landry three, but eight different receivers were targeted, mirroring Cousins’ performance.
Landry’s number of out routes remained about the same from 2019 to 2020, going from 18 targets to 20. But Beckham’s use of the route almost disappeared through his seven games last season. He had a team-high 24 targets on out routes in 2019 and only four last season.
Even projecting for an entire season, Beckham would’ve had barely 11 targets on the route, well below his 2019 total. Despite that, Mayfield jumped from 14th in targeting the route in 2019 to third last season (46-of-66).
Double Move (deep)
Fans should remember this route from Donovan Peoples-Jones’ touchdown against the Titans. He faked an out route 10 yards downfield then continued down the sideline for a 75-yard touchdown pass from Mayfield.
Mayfield was 10-of-16 for 385 yards and two touchdowns on deep double move routes last season, tying with the Bills’ Josh Allen for the most targets (Allen was 7-of-16).
Mayfield was 3-of-10 in 2019, with only five passes considered catchable.
In 2019, the deep double move route was almost exclusively for Landry and Beckham, who combined for nine targets. Last season Mayfield targeted eight players on the route, led by Landry with five.
EXPECTED TO DECREASE
As I mentioned above, wide receiver screens became a smaller part of the offense last season. But all screens were dialed back, too.
Mayfield threw 78 screen passes in 2019, ranked second behind the Cardinals’ Kyler Murray. Mayfield was 29-of-33 last season. More specifically, the Browns went from 49 running back screens to 19, and 26 wide receiver screens to five.
Tight end screens, meanwhile, increased. Demetrius Harris was targeted on all three tight end screens in 2019. Austin Hooper caught seven last season, and Mayfield attempted 11 overall.
This had been a bread-and-butter route for Beckham. With the Giants in 2016 (his last Pro Bowl season), Beckham caught 21 slants, ninth-most in the league. A year later he caught 12 slants in just four games before his season was cut short by a broken ankle.
That’s why it wasn’t surprising to see the Browns go heavy on slants in 2019 with Mayfield’s 59 targets leading the league. Landry was fifth and Beckham sixth in targets among receivers. The problem with slants in 2019 was that they weren’t productive. Mayfield’s DVOA on the route was -7.2. Beckham (-8.4) and Landry (-3.6) were also getting low returns.
Cousins threw just 21 slants in 2019. Combine that with the low production the Browns got that year and it wasn’t a shock to see Mayfield attempt just 27 last season.
Austin Hooper had eight targets on seam routes in 2019 with the Falcons, ranking fifth among all receivers. Landry and former Browns tight end Ricky Seals-Jones each had six targets.
Mayfield’s 21 pass attempts on seam routes that season ranked fourth. Cousins, meanwhile, was near the bottom with seven attempts.
As expected, Mayfield’s seam attempts declined last season, completing 5-of-12. Hooper caught two of his team-high four targets.
Not a designed route, obviously, but it’s worth noting how much better Mayfield was in dealing with chaos last season. He ranked fourth on broken play targets in 2019, completing 12-of-26 (46 percent) with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
The number of broken plays jumped to 38 last season, although Mayfield’s overall rank dropped to seventh. But he completed 21 passes (55 percent) for three touchdowns and one interception on those broken plays.
The goal for 2021 should be reducing broken plays to the number Cousins and Stefanski had with the Vikings in 2019:
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