CLEVELAND, Ohio – Last season, Baker Mayfield was being compared to Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson during his pursuit of their rookie record for touchdown passes.
This season, Mayfield is being compared to Paul McDonald. As you might imagine, that’s not good.
Mayfield leads the NFL with 11 interceptions. That’s the most by a Browns quarterback through six games since McDonald threw 12 in 1984, according to ESPN Stats and Info. McDonald threw 23 total that year, his first and last season as the Browns’ full-time starter.
There’s more. If you count Mayfield’s interceptions as a rookie, his 25 picks leads the league over the last two seasons, according to Pro Football Focus.
The interceptions go on Mayfield’s record, but Freddie Kitchens isn’t faulting his quarterback for all of them.
“I think each and every interception kind of has its own story,” Kitchens said last week.
What’s the story with Mayfield’s 11 interceptions? I took a look at each one to try and figure that out.
The scene: In Week 1, The Browns trailed the Titans 22-13 early in the fourth quarter, and faced second-and-14 at their own 45.
The play: Mayfield had four receivers running routes, and Nick Chubb in the backfield to pick up a blitz. The Titans were playing zone, and safety Kevin Byard’s responsibility was the right flat. But when that area was empty, Byard dropped into deeper coverage, putting him right in Mayfield’s passing lane on the throw to Odell Beckham Jr.
The story: The pass was clearly behind Beckham. Whether or not Beckham was in the right spot, Mayfield, who wasn’t pressured on the play, didn’t account for Byard.
The scene: In Week 1, the Browns trailed the Titans 29-13, still early in the fourth quarter, and faced third-and-4 at their own 31.
The play: Mayfield tried to connect with Jarvis Landry on a quick out route, but cornerback Logan Ryan stepped in front to grab the pass.
The story: Mayfield wasn’t under pressure, and it looked like Landry was the primary read on the play. Mayfield — looking left the entire way — seemed to simply underestimate Ryan’s ability to see the pass coming, because he had tight coverage.
The scene: In Week 1, the Browns trailed the Titans 36-13 late in the fourth quarter, and were beginning a drive at their own 30.
The play: Landry ran a quick slant route, but Mayfield’s pass couldn’t connect, allowing cornerback Malcolm Butler to make a diving interception before returning it 38 yards.
The story: Despite no pressure, Mayfield’s pass was high and so far behind Landry that, at first, it wasn’t clear if he was the intended receiver. What remains unknown is if Landry ran the route Mayfield was expecting.
The scene: In Week 2, the Browns led the Jets 23-3 early in the fourth quarter, and faced second-and-14 at the Jets 34.
The play: Mayfield had three receivers, and Chubb ran a route out of the backfield on the play. Mayfield tried to hit Beckham on a deep crossing route, but cornerback Darryl Roberts was able to close on the pass and catch the deflection.
The story: Mayfield was able to step into his throw toward Beckham, but he didn’t account for Roberts’ ability to defend the throw. The pass being high didn’t help. Roberts was able to get his hands in the way and cause the deflection.
The scene: In Week 3, the Browns trailed the Rams 20-13 with 33 seconds left in the fourth quarter, and faced fourth-and-goal from the Rams 4.
The play: Throwing out of an empty backfield with five receivers, Mayfield was quickly flushed out of the pocket and to his right before making a desperation throw into the end zone toward Damion Ratley. Safety John Johnson got ahead of Ratley and made a diving interception.
The story: Protection broke down quickly and Mayfield was forced to scramble to his right and throw while moving backward.
The scene: In Week 4, the Browns led the Ravens 7-0 midway through the second quarter, and faced third-and-3 at the Ravens 48.
The play: The Browns tried play action with Mayfield faking a handoff to Dontrell Hilliard, then quickly throwing to Landry, who was running a short slant. But the Ravens were all over it. Cornerback Maurice Canaday broke on the pass to make the interception.
The story: Safety Earl Thomas was racing toward Landry before the pass was even thrown. With Thomas closing fast, Landry seemed to pull up on his route, allowing Canaday a clear path to the interception.
The scene: In Week 5, the Browns trailed the 49ers 7-0 early in the first quarter, and were starting a drive at their own 25.
The play: In his first game back from suspension, Antonio Callaway was able to get behind cornerback Richard Sherman deep down the field, but Sherman intercepted the underthrown pass.
The story: Mayfield was dealing with pressure from Nick Bosa, who quickly shed Demetrius Harris’ block. Mayfield threw on the run to his right, trying to strong-arm the pass to Callaway, but it fell to Sherman.
The scene: In Week 5, the Browns trailed the 49ers 14-3 with five minutes left before halftime, and faced third-and-goal at the 49ers 6.
The play: The play call worked great until the very end. Harris and Callaway lined up to Mayfield’s right, and Harris took defenders with him into the end zone, allowing Callaway to slant to the middle wide open. The pass bounced off Callaway’s hands and right to K’Waun Williams, who returned it 49 yards.
The story: Mayfield’s throw was low and behind Callaway, who still managed to get his hands on it. Mayfield was able to step into his throw even as Eric Kush and Chris Hubbard were bull rushed to collapse the pocket.
The scene: In Week 6, the Browns led the Seahawks 20-12 midway through the second quarter, and faced second-and-10 at the Seahawks 46.
The play: The Browns lined up Chubb in the slot with Beckham on the outside. The idea of the play was to have Chubb and Beckham cross routes, losing one or both of their defenders. But Mayfield’s throw was picked off by cornerback Tre Flowers.
The story: Right as Mayfield threw, Beckham collided with linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven, sending Burr-Kirven to the ground and momentarily stopping Beckham. Mayfield’s throw, intended for Beckham, went to Flowers.
The scene: In Week 6, the Browns led the Seahawks 20-12, and faced second-and-8 at the Seahawks 10.
The play: Landry ran a slant into the end zone against cornerback Shaquill Griffin. Mayfield’s pass deflected off Landry and Griffin and was intercepted by safety Tedric Thompson.
The story: Much like he did in Week 1 against the Titans, Mayfield threw to Landry despite good coverage. The pass was high and behind Landry. He was able to get one hand on it, but Griffin got both hands on it, deflecting it into the air, allowing Thompson to make a diving interception. In the backfield, Mayfield wasn’t able to step into the throw due to pressure coming through the right side of the line.
The scene: In Week 6, the Browns trailed the Seahawks 32-28 late in the fourth quarter, and faced second-and-15 at their own 20.
The play: With five receivers and an empty backfield, Mayfield tried to connect with Hilliard, who was running a short route. But the pass deflected off Hilliard’s hands and linebacker K.J. Wright intercepted it.
The story: Mayfield, who wasn’t pressured on the play, threw behind Hilliard. The running back was able to get both hands on it, but only to deflect the pass to Wright.
As Kitchens often points out, football is a team game, dependent on 11 players working together. We all know that. Mayfield’s interceptions this season show how many different variables can lead to mistakes.
Three interceptions were affected by Mayfield being pressured in the pocket. Three were thrown behind receivers despite a clean pocket. Two were bobbled right into a defender’s arms. One was due to a collision. Another seemed due to a receiver wanting to avoid a collision.
“I have said it from the beginning that quarterback play is dictated so much by the people around him, being on the same page, being where you are supposed to be, how you are supposed to get there and things like that,” Kitchens said. “We need to make sure that Baker is continuing to get better with his eyes, his reads and his throws.
“I have to continue to do a better job of continuing to put him in a better situation. We have to do a better job around him in protection, in where we are supposed to be and then catching the ball.”
Then maybe Mayfield can get back to being compared to NFL greats, instead of the not-so-greats.
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