Will the “Bye Week” Myth Sink Kevin Stefanski?

After Baker Mayfield’s amazing transformation became apparent in 2020, people started talking about the coaching miracle that occurred during the bye week. I don’t know who started this myth, but the hard truth is that Baker’s transformation actually began during the Bengals game in Week 7, mere minutes after Odell Beckham, Jr. was injured.

To review, we had:

Week 7 – vs. Bengals
Week 8 – vs. Raiders
Week 9 – bye

And during the Bengals game, we had:

08:33 – 1st Quarter – OBJ injured.
11:09 – 2nd Quarter – Baker hits Jarvis Landry for completion #1 of 22.

Note: Baker threw 4 incomplete passes between the OBJ injury and the Landry catch.

So, 12 minutes and 24 seconds after OBJ left the game, Baker began his franchise-record pass-completion streak, and his amazing, and lasting, transformation into an elite QB.

Now, if you believe what happened during those mere minutes was a miraculous display of coaching prowess, please tell me what Coach Stefanski told Baker there on the sideline. Something like this, perhaps:

Stefanski: Baker, you gotta complete more passes.
Baker: Sure thing coach!

No. That did not happen. Rather, what we saw was a sleeping giant awakening. Freed from his mental cage, Baker spread his wings like one of those dragons on Game of Thrones. The mental cage was the reality-distortion field generated by OBJ’s celebrity. Once that cage came down, and the pressure to feed OBJ was off, the Browns’ offense transitioned from an ego-driven, throw-it-to-OBJ scheme to a professional Kubiak-Shanahan scheme operated by an elite QB.

And it showed. Big time.

Some people claim that it was just a coincidence. Those people are not bright. According to NFL NextGen Stats, the odds against Mayfield completing 22 straight passes were 19,062 to 1.

What we saw may have been the most amazing transformation in NFL history. So, when you adhere to the Bye-Week Myth, you are desecrating that event. And covering up the truth of what actually happened. A truth that can deliver a Super Bowl to long-suffering Browns fans if it is honored.

As of now, Coaches Stefanski, O’Shea, and Van Pelt are all basking in the glory of their elite QB, and not making a peep about OBJ. But what if they bring OBJ back, and then Baker regresses again, just like in 2019? Who will get the blame?

Certainly not OBJ. Baker will get a lot of criticism. But it is more likely that people will do the logical thing: ask the coaches to administer another self-scouting exercise to Baker. After all, they fixed Baker in 2020, why don’t they just fix him again in 2021?

Do you see the problem now? If the coaches fail to fix Baker again, their heads may be on the chopping block.

Coach Stefanski is not one to hog all the credit for his players’ success. He is wisely humble. However, if he lets the Bye-Week Myth stand, then he is tacitly endorsing it.

Of course, the coaching staff may have their hands tied by an OBJ supporter higher-up the organization. If Andrew Berry, Paul DePodesta, or the Haslams insist on keeping OBJ, then there is nothing the coaching staff can do other than pray that somehow Baker and OBJ finally develop chemistry this summer. But with OBJ rehabbing, that is very unlikely.

And so, Coach Stefanski should be preparing to go back to his original strategy of featuring Nick Chubb and Wyatt Teller over Baker & OBJ. It may be his only way to survive at this bullshit franchise.

Note: you can see the sequence of events during the Bengals game with ESPN’s play-by-play feature.

Has the Ghost of Odell Beckham been Exorcised?

After suffering through 22 games of hideous QB/WR performance from Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham, Jr. during 2019 and 2020, we finally know exactly what the problem was: Baker felt pressure to get the ball to Odell regardless of what the play-call was or what the defense was doing or whether or not OBJ was even open. He was pressured to abandon the playbook, the scheme, and professional quality quarterbacking in general. For 22 games, the Browns practically operated with a scheme called “throw it to OBJ.”

Mary Kay Cabot who writes for Cleveland.com referred to this phenomena as the “ghost of Odell,” which is an apt description. However, she thinks the ghost has been exorcised. From this podcast (11:40):

“I don’t think he’s going to have the ghost of Odell reigning over him saying, my god, I’ve got to get the football to Odell Beckham, Jr.”

Cabot thinks that the success Baker had during 2020, while OBJ was sidelined, has built up his confidence to a level where he could resist the pressure to get the ball to OBJ. And that Baker can just sail right into the 2021 season ghost-free.

But we have no evidence that the ghost has been exorcised, and it is dangerous to think that it has. This is a powerful ghost that brought the development of the Browns’ franchise quarterback to a grinding halt for 22 games. I don’t know about you, but I sure as fuck did not enjoy that period of Browns history, and definitely don’t want to see it repeated.

But the ghost doesn’t just draw power from OBJ. The ghost is also energized by the players, coaches, management, ownership, sports media, fans, and probably Baker himself. Just assuming that it will not come back is an act of pure folly.

The fact is that feeding a ball-hog, regardless of how talented he is, is not something that can work in the NFL. The Browns have rather solid proof of that. And building a team around a WR instead of the QB is simply not done in the NFL. But that’s what you contribute to when you join the OBJ cult.

It’s important to remember that OBJ does not want Baker to read the defense! He does not want Baker to go through his progressions. And Baker will have pressure to comply; to “get the ball into the hands of the play-makers” which is code for “shut up and throw the damn ball to OBJ already.”

A player like OBJ is the very last type of player you would acquire for the run-oriented, spread-the-ball-around Kubiak-Shanahan offense that Coach Stefanski runs. Stefanski’s system calls for selfless players who know that no single player can be the main focus. So, why is OBJ still on the team? Because the ghost has not been exorcised.

Note to podcasters: gushing over OBJ is not helping the Browns win games. That is your goal, is it not? Because you can’t have both. The New York Giants were not a winning team with OBJ on the squad (31-49). And neither were the Browns during OBJ’s 22 games in Cleveland (10-12). Turns out, ego-aggrandizement is not an effective offensive scheme for an NFL team.

Brain-Eating Speed Virus Ravages Browns Reporters

As we speak, legions of mind-controlled thralls are fighting a desperate rearguard action to protect his majesty, Odell Beckham, Jr. from the widespread knowledge of his horrific stats that he has registered during his 22 games with the Browns. This zombie army has deployed a bioweapon that has infected nearly all Browns reporters with the most inane meme of all: speed.

Of course, speed is a valuable attribute for a receiver to have, but the fact is that defensive backs are plenty speedy themselves. For example, Browns cornerback Denzel Ward (4.32) is faster than every receiver on the Browns except for Marvin Hall (4.28). But I would bet that Ward will have no trouble covering Hall during practice this summer.

Remember Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi (4.38)? He couldn’t make the team despite being faster than OBJ (4.43). As it happens, being a receiver in the NFL requires quite a lot more skills than just running fast in a straight line – skills that take years of hard work to develop.

And now look what Dan Labbe of Cleveland.com just wrote:

“Trading Beckham could leave Landry and Higgins as your top two, but where does the speed come from?”

Answer: Who cares? We see Landry and Higgins burn faster DBs all the time. And they have been doing that all their lives. Did you know that Jarvis is slower than all four Browns tight-ends? (See my speed page here.) Did you know that Jarvis ran the slowest 40-yard dash time (4.77) among receivers at the 2014 NFL Combine? What happened next?

Five Pro Bowl invitations.

By contrast, his majesty, OBJ, has only made three trips to the Pro Bowl. (Note: both Landry and OBJ entered the NFL in 2014.)

Here’s another interesting stat: OBJ is known as a very dangerous threat after catching the ball, but that alleged slow-poke, Rashard Higgins actually has a better YAC (yards after catch). For the 2020 season, Hig ran for 77 yards after catching 37 balls, which is an average of 2.08 yards. OBJ ran for 47 yards after 23 catches, which averages out to 2.04 yards. It’s not a huge difference, but considering the hype around OBJ, it’s rather surprising, no?

Labbe also wrote:

“Beckham, Landry and Peoples-Jones makes sense as a top three, but it likely means there aren’t many targets for a player like Higgins…”

Can you imagine? Labbe is benching Hig after he was instrumental in helping the Browns win their first playoff game in 26 years! Ridiculous! But that isn’t all that the Browns did with Landry & Hig as their #1 & #2 WRs. The Browns also defeated the Steelers at Heinz Field for the first time since 2003. They beat the Steelers again a week later in the first round of the playoffs. They made the Steelers cry. And now it looks like the Browns cracked the very foundation of the franchise as Ben Roethlisberger and GM Kevin Colbert butt heads in public.

And so, if your brain has been mostly eaten by a mind virus, get a Crayon and scribble this on your walls: “If it Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix it.” That will help you prevent embarrassing yourself. And no, the Browns playoff-caliber offense did not require OBJ’s services. Any non-brainwashed, objective individual can see that OBJ should be traded, and the returning resources should be put at the disposal of DC Joe Woods. In fact, that might be the only path to the Super Bowl for the Browns. The NFL is rather competitive, and wasting resources in order to showcase a celebrity prima-donna is not going to get it done.

Note: Despite Landry winning the “Slowest Receiver of the Year” award at the 2014 Combine, Andrea Hangst still wrote this brilliant analysis: “Despite Poor Workout Numbers, Jarvis Landry Is a Top-Flight WR Draft Prospect.” Did she nail that, or what?

Odell Beckham Fanboi PANIC!

It looks like the fanbois have figured out that OBJ is in danger of being traded, and they have begun to say crazy things. The Browns didn’t need OBJ in the back half of the 2020 season, and it is now obvious that OBJ’s huge salary can be better deployed to acquiring much-needed defensive players.

Here’s what Beau Bishop said during the Cleveland Browns Daily podcast for 2/17/2021 (56:23):

“The biggest position-in-need offensively, this off-season…to me, it’s not a position, it’s an asset. And it’s the asset of speed. I think the only thing we don’t have offensively is, holy heck that dude runs 4.28!”

This is hilarious because the Browns actually have a speedster who runs EXACTLY 4.28. His name is Marvin Hall. The Browns signed him on December 7, 2020. He played in the game against the Jets, had two targets, and caught one 12-yard pass from Baker. You can watch Hall’s highlights reel here.

So, there’s your speedster. Happy now? Of course, all this nonsense about “speed” is just disguised OBJ fanboi-ism. “Speed” is now a code-word that means “bring back OBJ.” Now, watch how fast it goes out the window. Bishop went on to say (at 58:14):

“I think that David Njoku has a real future in this offense. And speed can be defined in a lot of different ways. What you basically want is someone to stretch the field and I think David can be that.”

Can you imagine? A tight-end with 4.64 speed “stretching the field?” So, it’s not actually about speed, now is it? What this looks like is a way to save OBJ by throwing the vastly over-paid Austin Hooper under the bus instead of OBJ.

And so we see the fanbois in a panic, lashing out at other players in a desperate attempt to keep the big-shot celebrity on the Browns. And that’s a good sign for real Browns fans who know that Baker only thrives when he is unburdened of OBJ.

Note: yes, Njoku should be made the #1 tight-end, but not because of his speed. And yes, Austin Hooper’s giant contract was an equally giant mistake by Andrew Berry. Imagine if the Browns liberated funds from both OBJ and Hooper, and used them to sign a few defensive players. Then you bring in Ricky Seals-Jones to fill the tight-end spot. Seals-Jones has proven chemistry with Baker, and would probably out-produce Hooper.

The Danger of Odell Beckham Fanboi-ism

There is nothing wrong with being a fanboi, per se, as long as you don’t mind having your brain turn to mush. But this is the primary threat to the Browns going forward because Odell Beckham, Jr. fanboi-ism is running rampant in Cleveland. Let’s look at some examples.

The Orange and Brown Talk podcast from February 11, 2021 titled: Diving Into a Deep Odell Beckham Jr. Touchdown and What it Means for the Future of the Browns’ Offense plays like an OBJ fanboi club meeting. This OBJ 43-yard touchdown pass against the Bengals in Week 2 was the center of the discussion:


After discussing the play, Doug Lesmerises gushes (at 24:05):

“How can you watch this play, Ellis, and think anything other than Odell’s got to be back as a Brown in 2021?”

And Ellis L. Williams then replies: “To me, it’s that simple.”

Really? You’re going to look at a single piece of tape to evaluate a player? If you can point at that play, why I can’t I point at this play and say that OBJ should be traded?:


What about all the plays where OBJ didn’t catch his target? Why not highlight one of those? God knows there were plenty. During the 2020 season, OBJ was targeted 43 times and caught 23 of them, which comes to a miserable 53.5%. By contrast, Rashard Higgins had 52 targets and 37 catches for a superb 71.2%.

The problem, of course, is that OBJ’s stats suck, so defenders really have no other option than to cherry-pick the evidence to support their flimsy cases. Or float ridiculous theories like this one from Lesmerises (at 28:20):

“Is part of this then that – I know there’s the discussion point of: did Baker get better because Odell wasn’t there? But, what you’re explaining Ellis is that Baker got better despite Odell not being there because he was efficient in this 10-20 yard area…”

In other words, without having OBJ to blaze down the field, Baker was forced to perfect his pathetic little dink-and-dunk passing game. What a ridiculous idea. But this is emblematic of OBJ fanbois who always ignore the fact that Donovan Peoples-Jones is just as fast as OBJ, and that the Browns, as of this writing, have five more receivers who are faster than OBJ. (See my speed page here.) Not to mention the fact that the fabled “speed” of the Chiefs that the fanbois are constantly carrying on abut didn’t prevent them from getting their faces smashed-in by Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl.

And it’s not a mere “discussion point.” The cold, hard, statistical facts prove unequivocally that Baker and OBJ are a literally terrible QB/WR duo, and that Baker is elite when throwing to his other receivers.

After acknowledging that Baker & Odell have zero chemistry (at 37:40) Williams goes on to say:

“…that’s the last progression I’m waiting to see Baker Mayfield take and if it happens in weeks 1-4 next year, where he’s in a rhythm with Odell that we haven’t seen before, Browns fans are going to be feeling pretty dang good about that connection going forward.”

In other words, hope, is his plan.

This is what I’m talking about. This is the mushy-brained thinking that rules the Browns. The biggest take-away from the 2020 season is that Baker Mayfield just might be the next Tom Brady unless OBJ is on the field with him; then he regresses into one of the worst QBs in the league.

And you know what? Just about everybody in Cleveland is okay with that; as long as they can get that selfie with the big celebrity.

The fanbois also dubbed that OBJ touchdown against the hapless Bengals defense as “Peak Browns Offense” simply because it was OBJ’s best play of the season. Of course, calling it the peak is an insult to the rest of the team that beat the Steelers twice in a row and made them cry! OBJ had nothing to do with those glorious, victories.

Why don’t the fanbois analyze this play? Because this is how the Browns got to the playoffs; with the old-school crew of Hig, Landry, and Njoku:


Note: today OBJ posted this on Twitter:

“Players with 6,800 rec yds and 50 rec TD in their first 80 career games: Odell Beckham, Jr. End of List. Let’s not forget @OBJ is DIFFERENT.”

Okay, but where are your Super Bowl rings? You can’t be the GOAT without some rings.

The Only Way Odell Beckham Jr. Will Ever Get A Super Bowl Ring

Tom Brady has a record of 7-3 in the Super Bowl. But did you know that two of his losses came at the hands of Eli Manning and the New York Giants? Those victories over The Goat capped the 2007 and 2011 seasons. Three years later, Odell Beckham, Jr. was drafted by the Giants, and the trips to the Super Bowl came to a screeching halt.

OBJ played five years for the Giants from 2014-2018. During that time, the Giants only had one winning season. Their overall record was 31-49. During the prior five years, 2009-2013, the Giants were 43-37. So, you could argue that the Giants went from being a winning franchise to being a losing franchise while employing OBJ. And the most important variable of all stayed steady during that period: the incredibly durable Eli Manning was the Giants QB, and only missed a single game between 2005-2018.

Today, we see OBJ dragging down Baker Mayfield’s stats whenever OBJ is on the field. As counter-intuitive as it may be, OBJ’s stats point to him as being Football Poison. The reason is very simple: OBJ is a narcissist who demands that the offense revolve around him. But, regardless of talent, that just doesn’t work in the NFL. Quite to the contrary. OBJ’s reality distortion field discombobulates his QB so much that the team suffers. Eli Manning could not make it back to the Super Bowl while being saddled with OBJ, and Mayfield won’t make it either.

So, OBJ is shooting himself in the foot.

However. Imagine if OBJ were to show up at training camp with a Nick Chubb attitude, right down to the no-nonsense haircut. Imagine if he didn’t beg for the ball. Imagine if he didn’t sulk and pout, and annoy Baker into throwing him low-odds passes. Imagine if he just let Baker read the defense, go through his progressions, and get the ball to OBJ only when it made actual sense.

Now that would be something. The Browns would win all the games.

The fact is that receivers like OBJ, Tyreek Hill, Julio Jones, etc. have to expect to be doubled-teamed frequently. Sure, it might feel unfair to be punished for being talented, but it’s just the way the game is played. But, if you draw a double team, you are effectively taking two defenders off the field. Instead of it being 11-on-11, now it is 10-on-9, and a QB like Baker Mayfield is going to go to town against that kind of alignment. So, you give up some targets in exchange for your teammates balling out; in exchange for winning more games; in exchange for going to the Super Bowl.

It’s not a bad compromise. But does OBJ actually value a Super Bowl ring higher than he values his own narcissism? I don’t think that he does, and this is why the Browns need to wash their hands of him.

As the Soup Nazi might say: “No ring for you!”

Note: In 2019, the aging Eli Manning was replaced by Daniel Jones. So, we can’t look at that year to see if the Giants improved after trading OBJ because of the tectonic shift in the team.

Paying the Odell Tax: 365 Yards per Season

As everybody now knows, Baker Mayfield plays much worse when Odell Beckham, Jr. is on the field. But exactly how much worse? If we examine the “yards per passing attempt” metric, OBJ taxes the Browns to the tune of 365 yards per season. Take a look at this chart:

So, during his rookie year in 2018, before OBJ joined the Browns, Baker averaged 7.66 yards per throw. When OBJ joined the team in 2019, that number dropped to 7.17. OBJ only played the first six games of 2020 before being injured, and during those games Baker’s average dropped some more, down to 6.44. But, as soon as OBJ was gone, Baker went off like a rocket, averaging 7.81 for the remainder of the season.

For the entire 2020 season, in this metric, Baker ranked at #17 with 7.3 yards-per-attempt. However, without OBJ there to distract him, he likely would have ranked at #8. That’s the difference between being ho-hum and being elite.

Combining the data from Baker’s three seasons, we find that he has averaged 7.72 yards per pass attempt without OBJ, and 6.99 with OBJ.

So, OBJ has cost the Browns 0.73 yards per pass attempt. That doesn’t sound like much, but suppose that Baker makes 500 pass attempts in a season. That would give us a total of 365 yards (500 * 0.73). Spotting an opponent 365 yards would theoretically translate into almost 5 touchdowns.

Of course, when you employ a player like OBJ, you expect just the opposite. In fact, if OBJ added 5 touchdowns, you would probably consider that to be a lackluster performance. So, going from expecting +5 touchdowns, but only getting -5 is a 10-TD swing in expectations, at least.

Rather disappointing, but only if your goal is to win games. If your actual goal is to rub shoulders with a celebrity, then perhaps you might think 10 touchdowns is a small price to pay to hang out with Odell.

PAWS OFF BAKER MAYFIELD!

Good Baker has returned, and it feels like the Browns have a shiny, new elite quarterback. Everybody in Cleveland is just tickled pink at their good fortune. But some just can’t wait to “fix” Baker some more. Can you imagine? People, who have no idea whatsoever as to how they were gifted with this miracle, think they can make it better.

Absurd.

It’s the spring of 2019 all over again. Back then, there was nothing wrong with the Browns’ passing game. Mayfield and his Bake Pack were the talk of the town after a strong finish to the 2018 season. No “fixing” was required. And then the team decided to fix it anyway.

On March 13, 2019, the Browns blew a giant hole in their o-line by sending ace guard Kevin Zeitler to the New York Giants. They also made the dubious decision to take in return a wide receiver who was being run out of town for publicly criticizing his quarterback: Odell Beckham, Jr. Freddie Kitchens was then expected to make that mess work, but could not do so.

The Browns then did the unthinkable in the 2019 season: they regressed. So, is that what you want? Regression? Because that’s how you get regression; you try to fix something that ain’t broke. Ideally, the Browns offense would be encased in carbonite just as it was for the playoffs. And that means NO ODELL.

Baker, Chubb, Kareem, Hig, Landry, DPJ, Njoku, Jedrick, Bits, J.C., Wyatt, Conklin, Hooper. That’s the squad; don’t change a fucking thing. Don’t mess with success. All the Browns need to do is put everybody on the WTP (Wyatt Teller Program) where they work hard and make themselves into elite players. And that little extra oomph will get them to the Super Bowl. Maybe you add some depth to the o-line, but the Browns should be almost solely focused on upgrading the defense.

The very dumbest idea I have heard so far is that the Browns should use their first-round draft pick on a receiver. Proponents suffer from “Tyreek Envy.” But Rashard Higgins averaged 17.6 yards-per-catch against Kansas City, while Tyreek only averaged 13.8. Both Hig and Jarvis Landry lack elite speed, but still somehow manage to play at an elite level. Anybody who proposes to “fix” the Browns’ passing game needs to be exiled to Toledo.

Fixing the passing game didn’t work in 2019, and it probably won’t work again in 2021. However, I am open to re-acquiring some former Bake Pack members who have proven chemistry with Baker. For example, Ricky Seals-Jones is on the Chiefs now, but in 2019 he had 14 catches from Baker, 10 of which were first downs, and 4 of which were TDs. And one of only 7 receivers in the league to have a higher per-catch average than Higgins in 2020 was former Brown Breshad Perriman, who is on the Jets now. In 2018, Perriman averaged 21.3 yards-per-catch on 16 receptions playing with Baker.

We already know that Baker has chemistry with Seals-Jones and Perriman, so having those two guys for depth would be amazing. There might even be some other receivers that Baker had good chemistry with back in college that the Browns can look at. Perriman is a free-agent, and the Chiefs haven’t done much with Seals-Jones, so the Browns should be able to sign both of them.

Baker seems to be developing chemistry with Austin Hooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones, but as we see, it takes time and lots of reps. This is why we want to freeze them in carbonite; we have a good investment in them and don’t want to start over with new prospects.

Here are my chemistry rankings with 5 being the highest score:

5.0 – Rashard Higgins
4.5 – Jarvis Landry
4.0 – David Njoku
4.0 – Kareem Hunt
3.5 – Donovan Peoples-Jones
3.0 – Austin Hooper
3.0 – Harrison Bryant
3.0 – Nick Chubb
0.0 – Odell Beckham, Jr.

I like Landry and Hig as the superstar starters, and DPJ as Baker’s top protégée. Njoku made some clutch catches in the playoffs and deserves to be reinstated as the #1 tight-end. The Browns overpaid for Hooper, but the guy is talented.

Having gone through this exercise, I feel more strongly than ever that OBJ needs to be voted off the island. He is an ego guy; not a chemistry guy.

And the stakes are high, because I believe that, given high-quality prospects, Baker can manufacture superstar receivers just like the Cleveland Indians manufacture Cy Young Award winning pitchers.

You read it here first.

Note: the Browns have treated Rashard Higgins like he was gum stuck to the bottom of their shoe. Then, after a series of injuries to other receivers, Hig finally got to play and Baker made him a star.

Note: The QB/WR duo is similar to pitcher/catcher battery-mates in baseball. A QB obviously needs more than one “catcher” but the Browns should bend over backwards to keep Baker’s favorite catchers on the roster for as long as possible.

Good Baker/Bad Baker Mystery Solved

Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield has two personas: Good Baker and Bad Baker. Good Baker delighted fans during his 2018 rookie year. Bad Baker showed up to spoil the 2019 season, and was mundane during the first six weeks of 2020. Then Good Baker returned and lit the NFL on fire, taking the Browns this close to defeating Kansas City in the playoffs.

People are baffled as to why sometimes the Good Baker shows up, and other times you get the Bad Baker. But it is all very simple. Good Baker is the default Baker. This is the Baker that won the Heisman Trophy, broke the NFL record for most touchdown passes for a rookie, etc.

Bad Baker emerges the moment Odell Beckham, Jr. walks on the field.

Why would that be? Because OBJ demands that Baker stop playing his position correctly. Baker is supposed to “read the defense.” So, his job is to look at how the defense has lined up, send a man in motion to see how they react, consider the routes that each one of his receivers will run, and then decide which one will have the best odds for success.

Odell communicates something like this to Baker: “Forget all that bullshit and just throw me the fucking ball because I am a million times more talented than any receiver on this team.” Bad Baker caves to Odell, throws a low-odds pass to him, and the cornerback breaks it up because he sees it coming a mile away. When your scheme is “throw it to OBJ,” your offense becomes a bit predictable, and Bad Baker racks up a pile of shitty stats. He also gets criticized for being a “one-read quarterback,” and deservedly so.

Now, when OBJ leaves the field, none of the other receivers demand the ball because they aren’t narcissistic prima donnas. Good Baker goes back to reading the defense, lights them on fire, and the Browns are off and running again.

That, is all there is to it.

This explains how Good Baker reappeared so rapidly during the Bengals game in Week 7. It doesn’t take Baker long to shift gears from Bad Baker to Good Baker. Being an elite quarterback is in his bones, and always will be. Just think of OBJ as the light-switch that turns Good Baker on and off. He had Baker switched off during Week 7, and Baker switched back on after OBJ had to leave the game.

Apparently, the exact thing that OBJ does to Baker involves sulky, petulant, body-language. Perhaps there is also pouting, and maybe a few words in the huddle. I don’t know exactly what OBJ does, but he sure as hell does something. Something that should have been stopped a long time ago.

Everybody is carrying on about how fabulous Coach Stefanski and GM Berry are, but neither one reigned in OBJ enough to bring out Good Baker. The return of Good Baker was pure, dumb luck; the direct result of OBJ’s injury. No coaching miracle happened during the bye-week, as some allege.

Receivers coach, Chad O’Shea, didn’t tell OBJ to stop bothering Baker. Coach Van Pelt didn’t tell Baker to ignore OBJ. Baker himself didn’t tell OBJ to knock it off. And Browns’ alleged analytics wiz, Paul DePodesta didn’t discover the glaring stats screaming for OBJ to be benched.

I’m not saying the coaching staff did a bad job; obviously they did quite well. But I guarantee you that the Browns are not winning the Super Bowl with Bad Baker at the helm.

Since nobody on the Browns has demonstrated the ability to reign in OBJ, they need to trade him. The team is simply not able to tap into OBJ’s skills without blowing up their franchise quarterback. It’s time that they admit failure and move on from OBJ.

If they don’t, and if OBJ is brought back for the 2021 season, then there is only one thing Good Baker can do to survive: eat the sandwich. In episode 702 of Seinfeld, “The Postponement,” George is amazed by a man who is impervious to his girlfriend’s feminine wiles. He just keeps eating his sandwich as she cries, and even takes her french fries.

But can Baker eat the sandwich? While it seems like it might be easy for Baker to ignore Odell when he carries on, I’m not so sure that it is. OBJ appears to hold in thrall the entire Browns organization, sports media, and city of Cleveland itself. If Baker doesn’t target Odell enough, he will hear about it – loudly.

But again, I wouldn’t spend a single second trying to deal with this nonsense, and just trade OBJ for some badly needed talent on defense. OBJ had a fair chance, playing in 22 games with the Browns. And he failed utterly and completely to gel with his quarterback. That, we have learned the hard way, is simply not is thing.

Who should replace OBJ? It doesn’t matter. Any other Browns receiver lining up in Odell’s spot would result in a dramatically better passing game. It literally…

DOES. NOT. MATTER.

That’s now destructive OBJ is to this offense.

No, the Browns are not Embarking on a Speed Overhaul

Browns announcer, Nathan Zegura, continues to claim that the Browns are looking to acquire faster players. This is odd because Coach Stefanski told him that they were doing no such thing. During the January 20, 2012 episode of the “Cleveland Browns Daily” podcast Stefanski said:

“We’re looking for skill-sets at specific positions…”

And that is basic common sense. Stefanski made a few more comments along the lines that, “speed is good” talking about how players on the perimeter (WR & CB) need to be fast, but he is not looking to replace any players because they aren’t fast enough.

So, why does Zegura persist? Because he is an Odell Beckham, Jr. fanboi, and doesn’t care about OBJ’s documented and disastrous effect on Baker Mayfield. In the next podcast (on January 21st) Zegura implied that the Browns top three receivers for 2021 would be OBJ, Landry, and DPJ. Zegura hoped that Rashard Higgins could “fit in” and that the team could “work that out.”

Of course, the real lineup should be Landry, Higgins, and DPJ with OBJ traded. And you could make a strong case for Hig being the #1 receiver. Not only was he #8 in the league in yards-per-catch, but he came in at #3 for DVOA.

Furthermore, future Hall-of-Fame QB, Aaron Rodgers, has a passer rating of 120.7. But when Baker targets Hig, he has a 126.1 rating. That is Super-Bowl caliber. Meanwhile, the Baker-to-OBJ duo is literally, statistically dogshit. And Hig works cheap; he gets a fraction of what Landry and OBJ get.

Besides, if you were going to order your receivers by speed, OBJ wouldn’t even be playing. Marvin Hall, Taywan Taylor, JoJo Natson, KhaDarel Hodge, and Ja’Marcus Bradley are all faster than OBJ. And Donovan Peoples-Jones is only 5/100ths of second behind OBJ in the 40-yard dash. At the wide receiver position, the Browns are overloaded with speed. See my speed page here.

Note: I can’t verify Hig’s DVOA rank myself since I don’t have a Football Outsiders account. However, I’ve heard a couple of people on podcasts cite it, so it’s probably true.

The Long Knives are out for Baker Mayfield

Everybody knows that Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham, Jr. have failed to achieve chemistry. That is not in dispute. The war that broke out immediately after the Browns playoff-loss to the Chiefs is over what is to be done. And Baker Mayfield is the one with the red laser dot on his forehead as Browns employees and OBJ thralls in the media open fire.

This is completely insane, and I can hardly believe it is happening. Only moments after OBJ left the scene did we see, right before our eyes Baker Mayfield rise like a phoenix from the ashes and play at an elite level, just like he did in 2018 before he had the bad fortune of being teamed-up with OBJ.

In the first off-season episode of the “Orange and Brown Talk” podcast, Dan Labbe said that Baker’s ascension was an illusion caused by weather & weak opposing defenses. Mary Kay Cabot said that Baker didn’t deserve a raise because he only had “one good half-season.” Cabot also said that the Browns wouldn’t have made the playoffs if OBJ hadn’t single-handedly won the Dallas game. Perhaps, but the Browns probably could have made the playoffs in 2019 if OBJ weren’t there to discombobulate Baker. Getting in was much easier that season with the Titans getting a wild-card spot with a mere 9-7 record.

We know that OBJ is a super-talent, but we also know that he is bad at his job. And trying to build a team around him instead of Baker is the kind of crazy talk that should land a person in a padded cell. I’ve posted these two quotes before, but they bear repeating because analytically, this is an open-and-shut case. From this ESPN story:

“Mayfield’s completion percentage targeting other receivers this season is 78.6%…Mayfield’s completion rate to Beckham, meanwhile, was just 59.9%.”

…and…

“Over the last two seasons, Mayfield and Beckham have the worst completion success rate (55.6%) of any duo in the NFL (with at least 100 attempts).”

The. Worst. In. The. League.

Like Chris Rock said to Howard Stern when he announced that he was re-marrying: “You’re going back to Shawshank???”

Another pro-OBJ sign came from the very first off-season episode of the “Cleveland Browns Daily” podcast on January 18. Nathan Zegura said that the Chiefs receivers were able to get more separation than the Browns receivers because they were faster. And:

“Perhaps that is something that the Browns need to look to improve is their overall speed.”

First, my impression was that the Chiefs were holding our receivers until the refs started flagging them. Then Baker lit them up. So, it wasn’t even about speed.

Second, “speed” is nonsense. Last year, the New York Football Giants improved their team speed, and were very proud of their accomplishment. Here is a story:

In 11 Personnel, There is no Team Faster than the Giants.

The Giants finished at 6-10; hardly a ringing endorsement of “speed.”

I believe that “speed” is a code-word for bringing OBJ back, and making Higg a “healthy scratch” again. Something that will wreck our newly-found playoff Browns. Besides, we already have a promising young burner. Donovan-Peoples Jones only had 14 receptions, but he averaged 21.7 yards apiece; way higher than OBJ’s 13.9. Higgy & Hodgy also outdid OBJ with 16.2 & 16.4 respectively. Higg’s numbers won him the #8 spot in the league! That is not something that needs to be fixed!!! And people think he’s slow! Absurd!

The Browns offense wasn’t broke at the end of the 2018 season, but the team “fixed” it anyway and dropped from 7-8-1 to 6-10-0 in 2019. The offense isn’t broke now, and I pray that the only fix is trading OBJ.

P.S. Rashard Higgins is the #8 receiver in the league when measuring by yards-per-catch. How could he have accomplished that if Baker’s resurrection was an “illusion?” Answer: it was no illusion. After OBJ got hurt, Baker threw laser beam after laser beam to Higg for the rest of the season just like I told you he would back on November 17th when I wrote: “the Baker-Higgins duo is lightening in a bottle.”

Rashard Higgins Tops Tyreek Hill

Before the Browns-vs-Chiefs playoff game, everybody was carrying on about how “explosive” the KC receivers were. After the game, Browns’ analysts were complaining that the Browns’ receivers weren’t explosive enough. I guess they didn’t look at the box score, because Rashard Higgins was the best receiver on the field.

Average Yards-per-Catch (4 catches or more):
17.6 – Rashard Higgins (CLE)
14.8 – David Njoku (CLE)
14.5 – Mecole Hardman (KC)
13.8 – Tyreek Hill (KC)
13.6 – Travis Kelce (KC)
04.0 – Darrel Williams (KC)
02.9 – Jarvis Landry (CLE)

Honorable mention for Donovan Peoples-Jones who had 1 catch for 23 yards.

I bring this up because even after a fantastic season, the long knives are already coming out for Rashard Higgins. Idiots think that if only the Browns had Odell Beckham, Jr. to “take the top off the field” they could have beaten KC. Well, I hate to break it to you, but if the flagrant violation of the NFL’s helmet-to-helmet rule perpetrated by Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen were not ignored by the referees, the Browns would have beaten the Chiefs.

So yes, the Baker-to-Higgins duo is of Super-Bowl caliber.

And we have the analytic evidence that the Baker-to-Odell duo is the very worst in the NFL.

So, what will the Browns do in 2021? They will demote Higgins yet again, and go back to what we know does not work: throwing the ball to OBJ. So, fans need to mobilize and pressure the Browns front-office to not lead us out of The Promised Land and back into the desert.

Do you want to see Baker go back to being a “game manager,” and Browns receivers being chosen for their ability to block for Nick Chubb? Because that was Stefanski’s original scheme when he took over and was saddled with OBJ.

Speaking of which, Higgins also outdueled OBJ during the 2020 regular season by averaging 16.2 yards-per-catch versus OBJ’s 13.9. Higgins might be the most-underrated receiver in the league.

You probably noticed that David Njoku also topped the legendary Tyreek Hill in the stats above. Njoku also exceeded all Browns tight-ends during the regular season by averaging 11.2 yards-per-catch. And yet, he is still #3 on the depth-chart. But if Njoku got the same number of targets as Austin Hooper did, he would have put up the same numbers. In other words, it looks like the Browns overpaid for a tight-end that they didn’t even need.

Higg & Njoku, as original members of the Bake Pack, have proven chemistry with Baker and should be on the field with him as much as possible – regardless of what other celebrity players the Browns may have on the roster.

Back to the game: not only did Daniel Sorensen commit a flagrant violation of the NFL’s helmet-to-helmet rule, but the idiot announcers, Jim Yance & Tony Romo, lauded him for doing so:

Instead of giving the ball to the Chiefs, the refs should have called the penalty, and given the Browns 15 yards and a first down. Sorensen should have been ejected from the game, and the NFL should fine and suspend him. Considering the magnitude of the violation, I would be willing to call it even if KC forfeited a draft-pick to the Browns.

Baker “Magic” Mayfield

Two weeks ago, after the loss to the Jets, I criticized Baker Mayfield for fumbling, and holding the ball too long on pass plays. What happened next? In the following two games versus the Steelers, Baker had zero fumbles. In the wild-card playoff game, he got the ball out in 2.34 seconds versus his usual snail’s pace of 3.05 seconds. The legendary “Blitzburgh” pass rush couldn’t lay a finger on him – even going against the Browns’ alarmingly depleted o-line.

So, Baker fixed two big problems quickly. As if by magic, he transformed himself into a much better player in only a couple of weeks. This is what’s possible when Baker is not distracted by Odell Beckham, Jr. Everybody is amazed at Baker’s transformation since OBJ’s injury, but all of this progress would have occurred back in 2019 if the Browns had not traded for OBJ.

In any case, enjoy your playoff Browns while you can because as far as anybody knows, OBJ will be coming back to wreck the team again in the 2021 season.

Can the Browns beat the Chiefs? I don’t see why not. All season, Browns fans have been horrified by the team’s defense. But guess what? The Chiefs’ defense is just as bad. Almost exactly as bad. The Brown’s gave up an average of 358.4 yards per game during the regular season (yes, we have to specify that now 😊) and the Chief’s gave up 358.3.

Now, when you consider how the Browns went through the #3 defense of the Steelers like a hot knife through butter, the Browns should be able to score at will against the Chiefs. The Browns’ offense scored 5 touchdowns against the Steelers, so I’m thinking they should score about 15 against the Chiefs. 😊

Of course, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense are the class of the league, but even they stink sometimes. Just watch the first 3 minutes of the condensed version of their game versus the Dolphins. My favorite part is when Mahomes runs backward for a 30-yard sack!

But wait! There’s more! Like the Steelers, the Chiefs seemed to have peaked early. Over the last three games of the season, the Chiefs’ offense ranked at a mere #18! Which is only two rungs better than the Browns. The Chiefs’ defense has done considerably better than the Browns’ defense over the same period, but the Chiefs are, statistically, only a little bit better than the Browns at this point in time. And without the Coronavirus breakout, the Browns would probably be right there with the Chiefs.

And there’s even more! The last time the Chiefs won a game by more than 7 points was two-and-half months ago! They beat the Jets 35-9 back on November 1st. Since then, every victory has been a squeaker. And finally, the Chiefs closed the season with a loss to the Chargers.

So, at this point in time, I would concede that the Chiefs might be a slightly better team than the Browns are – on paper. But a 10-point favorite? That’s ridiculous. In fact, if I were a Chiefs fan, I would be afraid of the Browns; very afraid. I mean, look what happened on Sunday: Browns offensive line coach Bill Callahan shut-out the Steelers legendary pass-rush with a pick-up truck full of guys he fetched from the Home Depot parking lot. How does that even happen?

Answer: magic.

Deal with that Kansas City!

Baker “Fumbles” Mayfield

Two weeks ago, I wrote:

“Baker has done an incredible job of reducing his interceptions, and now he has to fix his fumbling problem.”

He didn’t listen. Now look what happened.

Nevertheless, Bakes almost pulled off a victory in one of the NFL’s patented shit-shows that they insist on stocking their shelves with. Without fans in the stadiums, the NFL is a straight-up TV show. Forcing teams to play without large chunks of their starters is like tuning into Seinfeld and seeing the Jerry character played by Ricky Gervais.

Nobody wants that.

And nobody wants the ridiculous “Holy Roller” rule either. Talk about random nonsense. But kudos to Kareem Hunt for recovering the ball and getting what should have been a first down. Once again, Kareem does everything and should be on the field at all times, including special teams and defense. Maybe he could play free safety, and at this point, we should probably let him kick extra points too.

He’s. Just. That. Good.

Last year, Baker had no confidence in his o-line and would often bail out of the pocket too early. Against the Jets on Sunday, Baker had the opposite problem: he trusted his depleted o-line too much. Hopefully, he will learn from the experience and get the ball out quicker until Jedrick and Wyatt are back.

I can’t believe these people who criticize Chubb & Hunt for failing to gain more yardage. Running backs don’t make holes; they find holes. The hard truth is that, like the loss to the Raiders, the Browns got beat in the trenches. With the Browns’ passing threat greatly diminished, the Jets were able to pin their ears back and shut down the Browns’ ground attack.

However, after the Browns finally started throwing some short passes to Chubb & Hunt, things started percolating. The Browns average 145 yards per game rushing, and if you add in those short-passing yards, Chubb & Hunt combined for 118 all-purpose yards. Not too shabby considering the circumstances. Chubb & Hunt also scored a touchdown apiece.

That wasn’t the problem.

The real problem was all the dropped passes. With more-reliable pass-catchers, the Jets would have had to back off a bit, and that would have loosened up the run game. Since the Browns were spotting the Jets four receivers, the tight-ends needed to step up their game, but they could not. David Njoku was the exception, catching all four of his targets. It’s not surprising that the Baker-Njoku duo would be the best of such a game seeing as how Njoku was the only member of the original Bake-Pack on the field. But unbelievably, Njoku was only on the field for 31 of the game’s 81 snaps.

Njoku is the Browns’ #3 tight-end, but catches more of his targets (70.8%) than Hooper (64.6%) or Bryant (63.2%). Time for a promotion.

All of the above notwithstanding, Baker did lead an impressive comeback in the second half and came very close to sending the game into overtime. Baker & the Browns don’t always win, but they never quit.

The Steelers will be resting Ben Roethlisberger on Sunday, and possibly some other banged-up players. So, we might have the Browns’ “A” team versus the Steelers “B” team. Therefore, nothing short of a dog-pounding is required for the Browns to conclude that they are the better team. Even Mason Rudolph should be able to throw a couple of touchdowns against the Browns’ secondary (if they play like they did against the Jets) so an acceptable final score would be in the neighborhood of: Browns 62 Steelers 14.

Will Baker Mayfield Stay Fixed?

Now that Baker Mayfield is finally fixed, and throwing the ball with preternatural accuracy, Browns fans are literally ecstatic. But the big question looming over Cleveland is: will Baker stay fixed?

Don’t forget. Baker was fixed in 2018, and broken for all of 2019. Not even Kevin Stefanski could fix him, and started the 2020 season by demoting Baker to a “game manager” QB. It took an Act of God to remove the thorn (Odell Beckham, Jr.) from Baker’s paw to catalyze the astonishing transformation from Bungler Mayfield into Laser Mayfield.

But nobody on the Browns wants to admit that. All the players, coaches, and management continue to sing the praises of OBJ. After all, OBJ is not a bad guy. He simply does not gel with Baker.

But now there is hope. Look at what Baker said in a USA Today interview after the victory over the Giants:

“We’re not trying to force the ball to anybody. We are trusting our progressions and play calls. We’re taking what is there and keeping the chains moving.”

Baker was not asked about “forcing the ball” which is a reference to how he used to play his position with OBJ on the field. He brought the subject up himself. He has mentioned this before, but the fact that he brought it up himself, I think, is significant in that he now seems to be clear on what caused him to be such a terrible quarterback in 2019: a ball-hog, prima-donna, wide receiver who caused him to play his position wrong.

Contrast the quote above to what Baker said about OBJ after the Week 1 beating from the Ravens:

“I’ve got to be better giving him a chance on some of those things, the free play late in the game (on an offside penalty), just give him a chance. He’s a great player, so I’ve got to give him a chance.”

“Give him a chance” is not game-plan, an offensive scheme, or even a professional quality play-call. It was a simple indulgence of OBJ’s giant ego. I’m still amazed that Baker was allowed to think that way, and was never corrected by his coaches.

So, it’s good that Baker knows; that knowledge might help him to survive the suck when OBJ comes back. Because the Browns organization seems eager for his return. Here is what Browns radio announcer Nathan Zegura said on the December 21, 2020 episode of the Cleveland Browns Daily podcast (10:37):

“…not only do we not have Odell Beckham, Jr., we do not have a burner on this roster. We do not have a guy who runs 4.3 on this roster. We don’t have one. This offense thrives with one. You need to have one of those guys to be really high-end.”

What’s weird about this is that the Browns offense did not thrive until after their burner suffered a season-ending injury. Baker went on fire literally minutes after OBJ left the second game against the Bengals. Baker has been elite ever since that event.

It’s this mentality that terrifies me that OBJ will be brought back, instead of being traded, and Bakes will be instructed, or convinced by OBJ, to throw the ball to him every time he has man-coverage – just like they did throughout 2019 when they were the very worst QB/receiver duo in the league. And that will be the end of Baker’s reign as Football Jesus. The Browns will win one Super Bowl this year, then OBJ will plunge the team back into mediocrity in 2021.

And the Browns do have a burner. In fact, you could say that we have three of them. In the 40-yard dash, both KhaDarel Hodge (4.39) and Taywan Taylor (4.33) are faster than OBJ (4.43). And Donovan Peoples-Jones is only half an eye-blink slower than OBJ at 4.48 and actually catches the ball: 76% of targets versus 53% for OBJ. And he works quite a bit cheaper too.

Of course, Rashard Higgins (4.64) beats-out faster corners on a regular basis, as does Jarvis Landry (4.51). And super speed is not a requirement to be selected to the Pro Bowl. Just ask Jarvis who has been selected five times.

The Browns seem to think that they cannot win with Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins as their #1 & #2 receivers – even though that is exactly what they are doing! And even though all the stats say that the Browns are a far better team without OBJ, the allegedly “analytics organization” can’t wait to get him back in uniform. Perhaps the team wants to sing his praises in order to boost his trade-value, but I don’t think so. I think they really want him back on the field, time-travelling the Browns back to 2019.

So, the answer to the question up in the title is: no, Baker will not stay fixed. While the odds for a permanent fix have improved a bit, the Browns organization remains under the control of OBJ’s Svengali-like spell.

Note: OBJ disputes his combine time of 4.43, and claims that he is a “4.3 guy.” However, if you watch his touchdown run against the Cowboys (at the end of this video) you will see OBJ being caught from behind by #54. That was Jaylon Smith who runs a 4.44. It was about a 30-yard dash but it was a pretty good foot race. So, it’s plausible that DPJ is a third Browns receiver who is faster than OBJ.

Note: there is a new narrative being used to “explain” Baker’s transformation: running up to OBJ’s injury, Coaches Stefanski and Van Pelt had been working diligently with Baker to improve his skills. And during the Bengals game, all of those improvements suddenly blossomed into the phenomenal rebirth of Baker. And OBJ’s injury was just a coincidence. And if you believe that, may I suggest that you make an appointment to have your brain popped into the MRI machine at the nearest hospital? Because you just might have a tumor sprouting in your cerebral cortex.

Note: congratulations to the New Your Giants for giving the Browns a tough fight. For a awhile there, I was worried that Dexter Lawrence would snap in two the legs of our entire o-line. And to think that he could be on the Browns if they hadn’t been suckered into trading away his draft pick in the OBJ deal.

Don’t Sleep on Freddie Kitchens

Having heard that Freddie Kitchens will be calling the plays for the New York Football Giants on Sunday, some Browns fans might be expecting an easy victory.

That would be a mistake.

The prevailing opinion is that the Browns’ “Lost Year” of 2019 was due to having an imbecile for a coach. But I believe that this historical era needs to be revised.

After the strong finish to the 2018 season with Freddie at the helm, everybody was pleased as punch. Nobody was expecting the Browns to regress in 2019. That’s why the beat-down administered by the Titans in Week 1 was so shocking.

So, how did Freddie go from being great in 2018 to stinking in 2019? Answer: he didn’t. He was the same guy. It was Baker Mayfield who dramatically regressed. And that was because he was injected with a heavy dose of Football Poison, otherwise known as Odell Beckham, Jr.

The flashes of genius that we saw in Freddie’s play-calling were washed away by the “throw it to Odell” scheme which simply did not work.

Coach Stefanski has won more games than Freddie, but he was also the recipient of a raft of top-notch talent on offense: Austin Hooper, Jedrick Wills, Jack Conklin, and an astonishingly improved Wyatt Teller.

The Browns should act like they are up against the 2018 version of Freddie Kitchens, not the 2019 version. Because the OBJ-free version of Freddie wasn’t too shabby.

Browns Defensive Player of the Week: Kareem Hunt

Kareem Hunt doesn’t play on the the Browns’ defense, but when there is a turnover, every player on the offense becomes a defensive player. And that’s what happened during the last minute of the Browns’ shellacking of the Tennessee Titans last Sunday. Baker Mayfield fumbled the ball, again, and Kareem had to save a Kenny Vaccaro scoop-and-score. See the 13:10 mark of this video.

Kareem says he practices this, and it shows. He took the perfect angle to run down Vaccaro. What I liked best is that Vaccaro didn’t even try to juke Hunt. It was almost as if he was resigned to his fate: “Oh shit, Kareem fucking Hunt is on my ass. I should probably just surrender myself.” And then Kareem unceremoniously rag-dolled Vaccaro, throwing him down without even hitting the ground himself. What a fantastic football player.

If the Browns are ever short-handed at linebacker, we know who can fill in.

Honorable mention to Donovan Peoples-Jones who had to take a wider angle than Kareem, but might have caught Vaccaro near the goal line. Andy Janovich also made a good effort, though his 4.81 speed wasn’t a match for Vaccaro.

This is Baker’s second fumble in three games. The first was against the Eagles where Baker was saved by a quick whistle. I wonder if Baker does the same fumble drill that the running-backs do. You know, the one we saw Kareem and Nick Chubb doing at the beginning of episode 9 of Building the Browns. Baker has done an incredible job of reducing his interceptions, and now he has to fix his fumbling problem.

Laser Mayfield

After Baker Mayfield’s franchise-record 22 consecutive pass-completions against the Bengals on October 25, 2020, many analysts downplayed the achievement because the Bengals had a poor record. I had the opposite opinion and wrote: The Second Coming of Baker Mayfield. Here’s a quote:

“Baker is now free to re-ascend into Football Heaven where he had previously spent his entire life before OBJ came to town.”

And that’s exactly what has happened. Since that watershed moment when OBJ exited the scene, Baker has been throwing laser-beams to his receivers.

Having been humiliated by the Titans in the 2019 season opener, the consensus last week was that the Browns would do better, but would still lose. And then Baker lasered those smug Titans for thirty-eight points in the first half, putting on another historic display of quarterbacking prowess.

The o-line kept Baker clean, and his receivers got open, but make no mistake, Baker was the star of the show. Fans were ecstatic during what might have been the most exciting half of football ever. It just doesn’t get better than that.

Fans were also raving about Rashard Higgins, who was just doing exactly what he has also been doing for his entire life. Here’s what Josh Keatley wrote:

“Benching Higgins may have been the biggest mistake of the John Dorsey tenure.”

That’s high praise, but let the record show that Hig was also benched in 2020 and only got to play after a series of injuries suffered by other receivers.

And Hig will probably be benched again when OBJ and the other “faster” Browns receivers come back – assuming that Paul DePodesta is still wielding his slide-rule. But Hig is plenty fast. See #39 of the Titans in this photo?:

Higg Beats Borders

That’s Breon Borders who runs a 4.49s 40-yard time, substantially faster than Hig’s 4.64. And yet, there’s Hig burning him for a touchdown – something he has been doing his entire career. Here is a scouting report from 2016 (emphasis is mine):

“Higgins was ultra productive in college, putting up crazy numbers over the past two seasons. He is Colorado State’s all time leader in catches (230), receiving yards (3520), and touchdowns (31). He put up these eye popping numbers by being an excellent route runner and having great hands. Higgins is one of the more advanced Wide Receivers in regards to footwork and route running and route concepts. He plays the game very smart. He shows good awareness to read the defense and find the open gaps. He uses subtle movements to get defenders flat footed and off balance. After the catch, Higgins shows quick feet and good change of direction to make defenders miss. Despite his smaller than ideal frame, he shows no fear going over the middle and will fight for contested balls. He tracks the ball well and shows a good ability to high point the ball. When the ball is not in his hands, Higgins shows a willingness to become a blocker downfield.”

Every word of that is still true today.

Fans were unhappy with Coach Stefanski taking his foot off the gas in the second half and letting the Titans restore their dignity. But having Baker laser-beam the defense in the first half, then Chubb & Hunt pound them to dust in the second half is not a bad strategy for winning. You also have to allow your o-line to join in the fun with the run-blocking that they enjoy more than pass-blocking.

Who’s going to stop the Browns now? Answer: nobody. Barring serious injuries, the Browns will win the Super Bowl. Then, next season, OBJ will come back, Hig will go back to being a “healthy scratch,” Baker will be discombobulated, and the Browns will struggle to make the playoffs.

But for now, the Browns are The Greatest Football Show on Earth, so enjoy it while you can.

Baker Mayfield Soars without OBJ Albatross

As I have been saying for a while now, the way to fix Baker Mayfield is to ditch Odell Beckham, Jr. And that is exactly what has happened. Read it and weep, OBJ fans:

So far this season, the Browns have played six games with OBJ on the field, and five with him off. With OBJ playing, Baker’s passer-rating was a rotten 84.3. Without OBJ, Baker’s rating is an excellent 103.3!

In other words, if OBJ were not on the team this year, Baker would be the ninth-best quarterback in the league, ahead of QBs like Josh Allen, Ben Roethlisberger, Justin Herbert, Dak Prescott, etc. See the rankings here.

Without OBJ, Baker’s completion percentage has improved from 60.6% to 62.1%, with three of those non-OBJ games played in horrendous weather. Baker’s rating also got a large boost from throwing fewer interceptions: 7 with OBJ, 0 without. Keep in mind that the theory is that OBJ distracted Baker. And without OBJ, Baker is now free to concentrate on improving other parts of his game, like reducing his interceptions. This is a big deal because it shows that Baker is improving again.

In his rookie year of 2018, Baker ranked at #19 with a 93.7 rating. Then OBJ joined the team in 2019, and Baker nose-dived to #31 with a hideous rating of 78.8. He actually ranked beneath Mason Rudolph!

Baker was poised to stink up the season again this year until OBJ’s injury. While obviously bad for OBJ, that injury will be worth millions of dollars for Bakes at contract-negotiation time.

We were all baffled by Baker’s regression in 2019. Just about everybody blamed it on coach Freddie Kitchens. However, the mystery deepened when the regression continued into 2020 under coach Stefanski. Now, the case has been solved.

But the big question is: will the Browns keep OBJ for next season? Remember, Baker’s resurrection was a happenstance. Coach Stefanski did not fix the situation. Coach Van Pelt did not pull the plug on OBJ’s reality distortion field. And Paul DePodesta didn’t figure it out with his fucking slide-rule. It was pure dumb luck, and that dumbness just might inflict OBJ on long-suffering Browns fans again in 2021.

If that happens, then the Browns need a new scheme. Baker said that if he saw OBJ with man-to-man coverage, he would throw the ball to him regardless of what play was called because it was assumed that OBJ was Football Jesus and could win the jump-ball against any cornerback. It didn’t work. Back here, I calculated some stats that showed OBJ was the worst receiver on the team, catching only 53.5% of his targets (compared to 80% for Rashard Higgins.)

So, that scheme would need to be shit-canned. In the new scheme, OBJ would be treated like any other receiver, and he should explicitly be prohibited from pouting about not getting the ball on every fucking play. Something like that might work, but probably not because Andrew Berry and coach Stefanski simply don’t have the balls to get OBJ in line.

I think the ideal home for OBJ is a team with a seasoned QB who will not let his will be bent by OBJ’s celebrity. And a coach, like Bill Belichick, who would not be a-feared to pop the thick bubble of narcissism that surrounds OBJ. Ironically, I would bet that OBJ’s numbers would improve if he became a humble cog in a well-oiled offensive scheme simply because narcissism has no place in a team sport.

Note: I calculated Baker’s passer-ratings with an Excel spreadsheet. If you would like a copy, just let me know and I will email it to you.

Note: Remember when Steelers coach Mike Tomlin yawned at OBJ last year? He was right.

Note: Baker’s longest pass this year was a 43-yard touchdown throw to OBJ in Week 2 against the Bengals. Baker tied that record with another 43-yard throw to Rashard Higgins against the Eagles. If it hadn’t been pouring rain, Baker might have gotten a slightly better touch on the ball allowing Higgins to catch it in stride for another 17 yards and a TD. But Hig had to dive for it. In any case, the point is that Baker can throw the long ball to any of his other receivers.

Rashard “Deep Threat” Higgins

Last week, Joe Thomas suggested that Rashard Higgins could be the deep threat that the Browns allegedly need to replace Odell Beckham, Jr. Then, in the very next game, this happened:

That was a 43-yard bomb. And with a tiny bit more precision on the throw, Higgins would have probably scored.

Did Joe Thomas nail that, or what? Don’t forget, it was Thomas who selected (unofficially) Jedrick Wills as the Browns’ first pick in the 2020 draft. And it appears that he knows about other positions beyond the o-line.

Baker also hit Khadarel Hodge for a 42-yarder. And both bombs were launched in heavy rain.

In case you haven’t noticed, the Browns are 3-1 without OBJ. And that projects out to 12-4, a record for which any Browns fan would gladly ditch OBJ. Baker has also not thrown an interception since that last one where OBJ got hurt.

Coincidence? I don’t think so. Like I have been saying for a long time, the way you fix Baker is to ditch OBJ. The last three games were played in monsoon-like conditions, so I am looking forward to see how Baker does in sunny Jacksonville this week.

Now, look again at the video above and notice how much separation Hig had on Eagles CB Avonte Maddox, who is faster than OBJ. With a 4.39s 40-yard dash time, Maddox is considerably faster than Hig who runs a 4.64, and yet Hig still beat him. How is that possible?

Well, according to Paul DePodesta’s analytics, it’s not. And that’s why (I believe) Hig rode the bench for most of this season and nearly all of 2019.

But Hig did indeed beat Maddox. If you look at Hig’s route here, it looks like Maddox was expecting him to head for the sideline, and when Hig turned to the middle, it was too late. Maddox’s superior speed didn’t help him because Hig is wily, and knows how to get open.

So, considering how the Browns are winning, how well Baker is playing, and how he is hitting Hig & Hodge deep, I think we can declare the whole “replace OBJ” issue as settled. And instead of wasting resources on bringing in another prima-donna speedster to badger Baker for the ball, we can think about getting more help on defense where the team actually needs it.

On another subject…as fun as it is to watch Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb hurdle tacklers, Coach Stump should discourage them from doing so.

Here is what Tony Dorsett had to say on the subject:

“That’s one thing that I don’t like. When you get airborne, you’re at the mercy of the hit, and sometimes you can’t protect yourself.”

In the video below, we see an example of what can happen. This kid was miraculously unhurt, but he could have easily snapped his spine. This is Bijan Robinson of the Texas Longhorns:

Olympic high hurdles are 3.5 feet tall; NFL players are considerably taller. So, the math is working against you. Now, if you are on the goal-line, and want to jump over the d-line to get into the end zone, that’s a little different because there are bodies below you that reduce the height of your drop. So, that looks less risky to me. In any case, injuries in the NFL are far too common as it is, and even players like Kareem Hunt who think they are indestructible should heed the advice of the legendary Dorsett.