In the 2021 season, the Las Vegas Raiders will renew acquaintances with Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield. Since Jon Gruden’s return to the Silver and Black, they have already faced Mayfield’s Browns twice. Luckily for the Raiders, they are 2-0 in these matchups.
Mayfield, a former Heisman winner, and number one overall pick has become beloved in Cleveland. After a disappointing 2019 season where he threw 21 interceptions, he rebounded in a big way in 2020. He posted 3,563 passing yards to go along with 26 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. Along with the statistical improvements, he guided the Browns deep into the playoffs and took the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs to the brink in the Divisional Round. One of the brashest players in the NFL, here’s the scouting report on the Raiders’ Week 15 opponent.
Back to the Basics
Mayfield is in charge of running a fairly simple offense in Cleveland. Head coach and play-caller Kevin Stefanski does a great job of making things simple for Mayfield. Stefanski does so by running a high volume of play-action and quick-hitting pass plays. This is not to take away from Baker’s ability to read a defense and execute as he does a great job of this pre-snap.
In the play above, Baker notices the oncoming blitzers from the left side and is able to attack it due to his understanding of the route concepts built into the play. While this is nothing crazy and most quarterbacks can make this play at the NFL level, it is a good microcosm of the Browns’ quick passing offense. It is heavily built on Baker’s ability to identify mismatches pre-snap and attack them with his great accuracy and quick release.
Make no mistake about it, the biggest threat in the Cleveland offense is the one-two punch of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. However, Stefanski does a great job of countering the run-oriented approach with lots of play-action. For Baker, this often includes roll-out passes. These passes are generally more difficult, but give shorter quarterbacks like Mayfield more clear views of the field.
This throw is a good summary of the play-action offense they employ. Rolled to his weak side, Mayfield is forced to throw the ball back across the field for a 35-yard completion. As seen here, Mayfield doesn’t have elite arm strength but is able to make the play happen due to his pinpoint accuracy and gunslinger attitude.
Room for improvement
The biggest way the Browns’ offense can improve is by keeping receiver Odell Beckham Jr. healthy. This will help to add a downfield element that was sorely lacking in their offense without him.
This throw shows the difficulty Baker had going deep last season. Simply, the Browns did not have wide receivers that were capable of separating down the field with regularity. This forced Mayfield to throw into tight windows and, oftentimes, not even attempt these passes. With Odell back in the fold and Stefanski getting more settled in, expect to see Baker more willing to try these passes in 2021.
How the Raiders can attack him
For the Raiders, simply copying the template set last season is a good starting point. While former coordinator Paul Guenther failed in many aspects, his defense did a great job against Cleveland in 2020. When evolving this game plan, Gus Bradley will likely have to account for star-wideout Odell Beckham Jr.
As always, the defensive line will need a big day against the heavy doses of play-action, something which has killed the Raiders often in the past. Not only will they have to get pressure on Mayfield, eliminating his ability to run off these bootleg plays will be paramount. Not an elite runner by any means, he will still do so if it is given to him. If faced with the threat of Chubb and Hunt as well as Mayfield on the ground, the Raider defense will tire quickly and the game could get out of hand early.
Due to the nature of the quick passing game, the Raiders’ defensive backs will have to play a physical game. Whether this is in the form of press-man coverage or coming up to tackle. Luckily for Vegas, this is an area that both Trayvon Mullen and Damon Arnette have excelled in. Bradley will also be tasked with adjusting from his typical Cover 3 defense. Otherwise, the Raiders’ defense will get carved up in the short levels of the field.
Overconfidence leading to turnovers
If there is one thing that defines Mayfield, it is confidence. This confidence turned a Texas Tech walk-on into a Heisman Trophy winner and number one overall pick. At the same time, it has empowered him to attempt throws that are simply not available to him.
As stated earlier, Mayfield does not have elite-level arm talent. While he certainly has a good arm, this throw is not in his arsenal. However, Mayfield will never give up on a play and while it helps him at times, the Raiders defense could gain some big plays out of this never say die attitude.
Can history repeat?
Mayfield seems to have settled into a role as the Browns quarterback. Not an elite quarterback by any means, Mayfield can quarterback a good offense when surrounded by players who can elevate him. As such, he is nowhere near the biggest threat on the Browns offense and they often ask him to simply keep the chains moving. If the Raiders can force the game into Mayfield’s hands they will be well on their way to securing a big win over a team that looks to be contending in 2021. If Mayfield takes steps forward in Stefanski’s offense (like we saw with Kirk Cousins in Minnesota), he will be a real tough opponent to conquer.
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*Top Photo: Sam Greene/Imagn Content Services