Baker Mayfield has had a rough start to his NFL career, but the Browns still have plenty of time to turn things around. What does this game mean for the team?
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A “barnburner” is a term used to describe a high-scoring game, but in the Cleveland Browns’ (3-2) Week 5 defeat to the Los Angeles Chargers (4-1), the whole field was on fire.
Despite the best intentions and efforts of quarterback Baker Mayfield and his offense, the Browns were defeated 47-42. It was a fun game to watch, and it demonstrated why many people believe the Browns are a Super Bowl candidate this season. In the same boat as the Chargers, who are headed by Justin Herbert. The Browns’ ability to compete head-to-head with the Chargers on the road in Los Angeles speaks volumes about how good they are and can be.
Moral triumphs, on the other hand, are meaningless in the NFL. They’re even worse when the defeat becomes part of NFL history.
Baker Mayfield and the Browns’ brilliance was squandered in a devastating defeat.
The Cleveland Browns’ Baker Mayfield #6 leaves the field following a loss to the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium | Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Against the Chargers, Cleveland’s offense was successful in every aspect. Its main fault, as noted in the rankings, was that it didn’t score enough to stay up with Herbert and co.
The Browns racked up 531 total yards of offense, topped by 161 yards on the ground by running back Nick Chubb. Cleveland’s running attack was led by Chubb, who averaged 7.7 yards per carry and scored a touchdown, but the offense as a whole put up fantasy football-friendly statistics.
Mayfield, the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner, threw for 305 yards and two touchdowns on 23 of 32 passing attempts. He earned a 122.5 quarterback rating and a 9.5 yard per completion average.
Those are the kinds of statistics that usually result in a victory, particularly if they can be displayed on the road. The Browns were so strong offensively that they established an NFL record in their brilliance. Sadly, it wasn’t the type that would wind up in Cleveland’s trophy cabinet, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
For the first time in NFL history, a team lost after scoring over 40 points and gaining 500 yards of offense while committing no turnovers.
In Week 5, that club was the Browns.
Kevin Stefanski’s talent was recognized even in defeat.
Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski stands on the sidelines during the first quarter of their game against the New York Giants at FirstEnergy Stadium | Jason Miller/Getty Images
The idea that a game involving the Browns may be regarded as a masterpiece speaks much about how important head coach Kevin Stefanski is to the team.
Remember, the Browns are just a couple seasons removed from finishing 0-16 in Hue Jackson’s first season as head coach. Only the Detroit Lions and the New York Jets have ever gone winless in a 16-game season in the NFL.
If you’re a Browns fan, that’s not good company.
Stefanski, on the other hand, epitomizes the phrase “excellent company.” Since taking over for the disastrous Freddie Kitchens following a 6-10 season in 2019, the 39-year-old head coach has resurrected the Browns and has the potential to transform them into an offensive powerhouse.
He was the first head coach to lead the Browns to a winning season since Romeo Crennell in 2007. The 2020 season was a watershed moment for Cleveland, as the Browns went 11-5 with the NFL’s No. 14 offense. They reached the playoffs and even beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in a game. Though they lost in the AFC Divisional Round to Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, Stefanski and his squad showed they could compete with the conference’s “big boys.”
Stefanski has Cleveland’s offense humming once again, fresh off a Coach of the Year award for his work in 2020. The Browns’ offense is presently ranked ninth in the NFL, averaging 28.4 points and 435.6 yards per game.
Cleveland’s offense should keep going strong.
If the Browns can take comfort in a defeat, it’s that their offense seems to have all the components in place to keep scoring at a high rate.
Against the Chargers, Chubb accounted for the bulk of Cleveland’s run yards, but the beauty of Stefanski’s system is that he has a true two-headed monster in Chubb and backfield mate Kareem Hunt. Hunt was impressive in his own way, averaging 5.1 yards per carry and finding the end zone twice against Los Angeles.
Via five games, the two running backs have combined for 818 yards of rushing offense, making Mayfield’s job simpler through the air. Cleveland’s play-action offense is lethal, and tight end David Njoku is a key component. Against the Chargers, Njoku had seven catches for 149 yards and a score, and he’ll be a big danger as long as defenses have to focus on the backfield.
It all comes down to Mayfield at the end of the day, and he’s shown he can perform in big games. He matched Herbert throw for throw, completing 71.9 percent of his passes.
The beauty of it is that Stefanski doesn’t need him to be a superstar like he was at Oklahoma. Cleveland’s offense is already explosive enough. Baker’s job is to keep the Browns’ train on track.
Pro Football Reference provided the statistics.
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