Cleveland Browns Dawgie Bag: Is Baker Mayfield The Real Deal?

Eric Urbanowicz
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The Cleveland Browns have come out of the gate hotter than ever. They’re off to a 3-1 start, upsetting the Dallas Cowboys and actually looking like a potential playoff team.

However, even the best starts leave questions and considering that this isn’t a normal occurrence for Browns fans, they have many. Whether it’s what to expect, what could happen next and where some of their favorite players on the roster are. So let’s answer questions!


With Head Coach Kevin Stefanski now tying Hue Jackson with wins (after 4 games)…do we really think it was the talent that was the problem? The Sashi (Brown) truthers and the Buddy Boys (John Dorsey supporter) argument may never die. – Sam, Massillon, Ohio

Sam, my man! So this is actually a more complicated than just “was it the talent or was it coaches?” The talent was in some ways the problem…but not because of too much or too little, but rather how they fit.

John Dorsey did a good job as general manager, for the most part. He was able to get a quarterback who can play in the system that then offensive coordinator Todd Haley and eventually Freddie Kitchens wanted to run. However, once they went from that and turned into an air-raid offense, it wasn’t going to work. Especially since players like wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry can be deep threats but they can also be role players in the sense of blocking.

If Cleveland stuck with the original system that Kitchens ran under Gregg Williams, last year may have looked drastically different. Especially with Beckham Jr.. Instead they went from balanced to aerial assault, which ultimately set the offense back.

As for Dorsey vs. Sashi Brown, Dorsey won that battle. However, both of them helped influence current general manager Andrew Berry. It renders the point moot, but since we’re sports fans, it’s not going to die anytime soon.


When will Andrew Sendejo be replaced? – Brad, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Brad, you and many other fans have wondered this and unfortunately it may be a while before that happens. It’s not because of a lack of players at that position but rather because of the chemistry and communication. There are better players available at free safety: HaHa Clinton-Dix, Clayton Geathers and Darian Stewart just to name a few. That’s also not to mention internal options, like sliding strong safety Ronnie Harrison or cornerback Terrence Mitchell to the position or plugging in Sheldrick Redwine or even camp standout JoVante Moffatt.

While they may be better options, we may have to wait until the bye in week nine to see a change. Last week against the Dallas Cowboys, only three defensive players played 100% of snaps: cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Mitchell…and Sendejo. If he’s playing that much, it means he’s more than likely the defensive signal caller, or the quarterback of the defense. To remove him would mean teaching someone else all the plays and not just their part but also calling any audibles and conducting any defensive realignments.

That job usually goes to veterans who are playing out in the middle of the field. The only other veterans who’d fit that role are linebackers Malcolm Smith and B.J. Goodson. Mack Wilson and Sione Takitaki are too young and really haven’t proven enough yet, and Mitchell only sees his side so he may be the right choice unless they switch him to safety when (and if) cornerback Greedy Williams comes back.

In summary, it may be a while because of teaching the scheme to a new player and teaching the signal calls to someone else.


What do we need to do at MLB? We can’t be pleased with our linebacker play. We are getting beat in coverage and it is a gaping wound in the run game. – Rick, Indianapolis, Indiana

Believe it or not Rick, the linebackers haven’t played that badly. Are they the next Terrell Suggs-Bart Scott-Ray Lewis-Jarrett Johnson combination or Bruce Irvin -Bobby Wagner-K.J. Wright tandem? No, but they’re also not expected to be. This isn’t a slight against them as a whole, it’s because of what the scheme calls for.

Joe Woods schemes are more 4-2-5 where there’s an extra defensive back. Meaning there’s only two linebackers on the field. On those plays, they are Malcolm Smith, whose seen a resurgence, and B.J. Goodson.

The biggest struggle with replacing the middle linebacker right now is there’s nobody on the current roster that could fill the role. Mack Wilson split time on the outside and inside but he’s coming off a pretty severe injury and hasn’t been able to go 100 percent. Goodson has been playing most of the MLB snaps and it’s clear that he is expendable.

There’s two options in play and both have pros and cons. The first is possibly playing a defensive set that has a hard hitting safety play the middle as a linebacker-safety hybrid, similar to what Mark Barron or Jabrill Peppers could do. Safety Karl Joseph may fit the profile well for it and could potentially pull it off. The problem is, you’d need someone to step into Joseph’s role. Harrison could do it, but then you have his spot to fill, so you’re creating one hole to fill another.

The other option is free agency, which doesn’t hold a lot of options. While names like Manti Te’o, Darron Lee and Jake Ryan may be tempting, there’s a reason why nobody has touched them. Whether health, performance or general headache, teams are being extremely cautious with available players. Not to mention, they wouldn’t be ready to go the next week, as they’d have to learn the schemes and plays.

At this point, I’m not overly worried about this linebacking core but it will be something to monitor.


Whats up with Defense? It can use some improving. – Marlene, Campbell, Ohio

Marlene, this is a two pronged problem and simply put, it’s the second edge rusher and it’s the secondary.

Starting with edge rusher, it’s why you saw huge pushes for Jadeveon Clowney and Yannick Ngakoue before they settled on retaining Olivier Vernon. There’s some names that could slot in nicely like Cameron Wake, Michael Bennett and Jabaal Shear, who would make for good running partners with Myles Garrett. As long as someone gets pressure on the quarterback when Garrett is double teamed, they have a chance.

As for the secondary, there’s one big thing that needs to happen: they need to get healthy. Losing rookie safety Grant Delpit early on has hurt badly and forced Sendejo to play a bigger role. Greedy Williams getting hurt stung massively, as they’ve had to reshuffle the secondary. Injuries have rattled this team early and it’s killing them.

The secondary’s personnel is fine, they really need to develop chemistry and communicate better, though. You can see that when they’re on the same page, they do well. However, when they don’t communicate, they struggle massively.


Why is Rashard “Hollywood” Higgins not playing? Why is Ronnie Harrison not starting at safety? Daniel, Madeira Beach, Florida

Daniel, you’re probably not going to like these answers.

The reason Harrison is not starting at safety is because he’s being blocked by Karl Joseph. While he could learn, strong safety and free safety are two totally different beasts and there’s no guarantee that Harrison would be better than Sendejo.

As for Higgins, there’s been a lot of speculation around him that he hasn’t been running routes correctly. While I don’t think that’s the case, it’s possible.

Higgins took a while to get going in camp and lost ground, while KhaDarel Hodge and Donovan Peoples-Jones performed well. Yes, he was Baker Mayfield’s safety valve receiver but as we’ve seen, it’s less Higgins and more the third-receiver option.


Is Baker Mayfield the real deal? (As in franchise QB)Mike, Superior, Wisconsin

Mike, this is often the big question and my answer is yes.

Now, it ultimately depends on what you define as a franchise quarterback, as there’s no real definition. While we know obvious names like Lamar Jackson, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson are franchise quarterbacks, there’s some other names that may be questioned but are considered them as well. Names like Jared Goff, Ryan Tannehill, and Kirk Cousins, for example.

What makes a franchise quarterback is being able to build around them and plan around them. Fans often confuse elite players with franchise players, and would expect the absolutely top tier of talent.

The offense that Kevin Stefanski runs is one that Mayfield runs very well. His interceptions are down, his quarterback rating is just outside the top ten and he’s not getting sacked that often. While his passing yards and completion percentage aren’t stellar, in this system it’s alright.

If that doesn’t sound like a franchise quarterback, think about one of the names up there: Ryan Tannehill. He wasn’t asked to throw 40-50 times a game, he wasn’t asked to be Tom Brady or Patrick Mahomes. He was asked to conduct the offense, run the plays that were called and audible out if need be and make the plays when needed. That’s what earned him the franchise quarterback mantle in Tennessee.

Baker Mayfield is managing like Tannehill, so in essence, he is a franchise quarterback. Fans need to realize that you don’t need a flashy quarterback who can pass 50 times game, run like a gazelle and cook a tasty New York strip at the same time. You need someone who knows the plan and can execute it on the field. So far, that’s been Baker Mayfield.


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Eric Urbanowicz


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