Browns QB Baker Mayfield has been indecisive, uncomfortable, 'Monday Night Football' analyst Brian Griese says
Baker Mayfield doesn't look comfortable operating the Browns offense lately.
It's a key point Brian Griese makes while offering his assessment of the embattled quarterback.
Griese will serve as an ESPN analyst for the upcoming “Monday Night Football” showdown between the Browns (7-8) and Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7-1) at Heinz Field, and he's eager to see how Mayfield responds to the adversity of throwing a career-high four interceptions in his most recent outing, a 24-22 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Christmas at Lambeau Field.
“We've seen him go to throw and cock and pump quite a bit and pull it back. To me, that's indecision on the part of a quarterback,” Griese told the Beacon Journal by phone Saturday evening. “I think part of it is he hasn't been on the same page with his receivers enough. That, as much as anything, tells me that he's not comfortable.
“When you're comfortable as a quarterback, you see the defense, you get into the right play, you get to the top of your drop and then you pull the trigger and there's no hesitation. That's what I'll be looking for on Monday night. Is he able to eliminate the hesitation, communicate with his receivers what he wants them to do against each look and then execute? That's, I think, what he's been missing.”
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A somewhat optimistic view of Mayfield is he can't play worse than he did in Green Bay, especially because he had missed two weeks of practice on the COVID-19 list and flew to Wisconsin the morning of game day.
Yet Mayfield has had a horribly disappointing season, and the Browns need him to be much better for them to beat the Steelers.
“You can only address [the interceptions], learn from them and then not allow it to affect your confidence and your aggressiveness going forward,” Griese said. “So if he gets into Monday night and early in the game he's hesitant or there's plays to be made and he doesn't want to pull the trigger, [it will be difficult].”
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Griese wants to see how Mayfield finishes the season before delivering a final verdict on what the Browns should do with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Because General Manager Andrew Berry exercised the fifth-year option on Mayfield's rookie deal, the Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Oklahoma is under contract through the 2022 season for $18.858 million guaranteed. Whether Berry acquires a clear-cut upgrade over Mayfield or merely competition for him will be the top Browns story line of the 2022 offseason.
“If I'm Andrew Berry, I really want to see how the rest of this season plays out,” said Griese, whose career as an NFL quarterback spanned from 1998-2008 and included a Pro Bowl selection in 2000 as a member of the Denver Broncos. “I want to see how [Mayfield] responds to what was a really ugly game on Christmas Day. Injured or not, the shoulder or the lower-body injuries didn't affect Baker's decision making. Two of those interceptions were, in my mind, wrong decisions, and I think Baker would tell you the same thing.
“If things don't get better in the next two weeks ... then I think you need to go and find some competition at that position. After four years, what you haven't seen is the level of consistency to say that Baker is your franchise quarterback, and that's just being fair. There have been moments where he's been efficient or he's made plays and you can win with him, but I don't think you can say that you've seen that consistently, and I think the teams that play against Cleveland and play against Baker consistently put him in position to have to win the game, and I think you're going to see that again on Monday night.”
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Mayfield has completed 62.4% of his passes in 13 games this season for 2,825 yards and 15 touchdowns with 11 interceptions for a rating of 86.1. His completion percentage is ranked 27th and passer rating 25th among 32 qualifying quarterbacks. He is 6-7 as a starter this season.
ProFootballFocus.com ranks Mayfield 27th among 37 qualifying QBs. He finished eighth of 38 last season, his first under Browns coach Kevin Stefanski. His previous low was 17th of 37 in 2019.
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Mayfield and the Browns have failed on all five opportunities they've received this season to produce a go-ahead score in the final minutes of games. Their clutch gene couldn't be located once again in Green Bay, where Mayfield's fourth interception sealed the outcome with 43 seconds left to play, though the Browns wanted a pass-interference penalty called on the Packers.
“The fourth-quarter collapses really are what stick out to me the most because that's when your best quarterbacks — your franchise quarterbacks — rise to the occasion,” Griese said. “And Baker has not done that this year.”
To be clear, Griese believes the completely torn labrum Mayfield suffered in Week 2 in his left, non-throwing shoulder is affecting what he's able to do during games. However, Griese doesn't believe the injury or the shoulder harness Mayfield wears is causing him to play as poorly as he has been.
Griese said he had labral tears during his playing days that caused his left shoulder to continuously pop in and out of socket, though he never donned a harness.
Mayfield's harness became a hot topic again Friday, with Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt saying it has “hindered” the player and Stefanski downplaying the significance by stating he believes the quarterback grew accustomed to the equipment earlier in the season.
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“In order to throw the ball effectively, both sides of your body have to work together, and your left side has to be able to rip through to get the velocity,” Griese said. “Everybody's throwing motion is different. John Elway, when I came into the league as a rookie, he had a very different throwing motion. He would rip his left arm and left side through, and that created a lot of velocity for his right side. I was a different thrower. My left side fought my right side, but that allowed me to get the balance that made me a very accurate quarterback.
“I would say Baker is more on that violent spectrum of having to generate a lot of velocity because he's not a big quarterback and he doesn't have a strong arm, or as strong as some of the other quarterbacks in the league. So I think it definitely affects a quarterback playing, and anybody that says it doesn't probably hasn't had that injury and had to throw the football consistently. But that injury, that's not the reason he's throwing all these interceptions. There's a lot of decision-making that's going into those. There's a lot of situational football. There's a lot of not recognizing blitzes, not picking things up, not going to the right receiver, not being on the same page in critical situations with receivers, especially against Green Bay.”
Mayfield went 21-of-36 passing (58.3%) for 222 yards and two touchdowns with the four interceptions for a rating of 55.3 against the Packers. He rushed twice for 11 yards and took five sacks.
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On the heels of the dismal performance, Mayfield received death threats on social media, according to an Instagram story posted by his wife, Emily.
“If I was a starting quarterback, I would not have an account right now,” Griese said.
Mayfield, 26, said Thursday he didn't consider any of the threats credible, so neither Browns security nor local authorities became involved.
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Griese said he's “absolutely” thankful he didn't need to deal with social media during his playing days.
“I know that social media is a very toxic place right now, and unfortunately starting quarterbacks in the National Football League have a big target on them, and there's no easy way to deal with that,” Griese said. “I feel bad for star athletes in general right now that have to deal with social media. You're great one week, and you're the worst thing the next.
“As a starting quarterback, we had to deal with your family goes to the game, a lot of times you've got fans that figure out that that's your family, and they just start to pick and pester, and that's no fun. That's just part of the job description.
“It does get emotional because his wife sees how hard he's working, and she doesn't necessarily understand all that goes into being in that position, and she's just trying to defend the person she loves. I get it, but it's probably never a good idea for your family to start defending you on social media.”
It's just another reminder 2021 wasn't easy on or off the field for Mayfield.
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Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Browns QB Baker Mayfield's woes tied to his comfort, Brian Griese says