With Beckham Out, the Browns Need a New Scheme

As I discussed in my previous post, the Baker/Beckham duo stank up the NFL so bad last year, Coach Stefanski had to develop a special “Baker & Beckham are Bums” scheme to reduce their roles. Instead of throwing incompletion after incompletion to Odell, Baker Mayfield’s new job was to hand the ball to Nick Chubb & Kareem Hunt, and throw short passes to his tight-ends, while Beckham’s new role was to get in the way of his cornerback as Nick Chubb steamed by.

It worked pretty well, and I congratulate Coach Stefanski on being able to work around such rotten players. But now that the OBJ “reality distortion field” is no longer warping Baker’s mind, he is free to go back to his 2018 self. We saw proof of this in the Cincinnati and Oakland games, so now it’s time for a new scheme where Baker gets to air it out a bit more. He’s earned it.

Also, now that Nick Chubb is back, I, and plenty of other fans, would love to see him and Kareem Hunt on the field at the same time. That’s just crazy exciting for fans. Commentators are raving about how wonderful it is to have Kareem “spelling” Chubb, but does Nick really get tired? Somehow, I doubt it. In fact, if you needed 25 carries a game, both Chubb & Kareem would be more than happy, and capable, of giving them to you. I don’t want to see either player doing the punishing work of a fullback, so why not have Kareem as your slot receiver?

No receiver on the Browns has more touchdown catches than Hunt (4) and he is way more reliable than OBJ ever was. Hunt has caught 72% of his targets compared to OBJ’s 53.5%. Defenses should be more afraid of Hunt than they were of OBJ. Throwing the ball to Hunt in the defensive backfield should keep defensive coordinators up at night. Hell, linebackers have trouble bringing down Hunt, let alone DBs.

One of the most eagerly anticipated developments of the preseason was how the new coach would use Chubb & Hunt. Then, when Stefanski announced that Hunt would be spelling Chubb, fans felt let down. They wanted both guns blazing, but instead were told that Chubb needs to nap between possessions. It came across as a terrible lack of creativity.

So, here’s a play: Landry is wide-out left, Higgins is wide-out right. There is one tight-end on the left. Chubb is in the backfield, Kareem is in the slot on the right. Chubb goes left, Baker fakes it to him, bootlegs right and throws a short pass to Hunt. Next play, same thing only Baker pump fakes to Kareem, and throws downfield to Landry or Higgins. Next play, same thing, only now the defense has gone to sleep on Chubb, and Baker hands it off to him. Next play, same thing only Baker stops short on his bootleg, and throws it back to the tight-end. Depending on the defense, Baker could choose any of these options.

So, there’s some ideas about how to use the team’s two super-star running backs simultaneously.

In case you were wondering, Rashard Higgins is the team’s most-reliable receiver, with OBJ being the worst. This is: “percent of targets caught”:

80.0% – Rashard Higgins
72.0% – Kareem Hunt
71.4% – Harrison Bryant
66.7% – Austin Hooper
66.0% – Jarvis Landry
61.5% – David Njoku
53.5% – Odell Beckham, Jr.

Honorable mentions:
Chubb only has 3 targets but he caught all of them.
DPJ is off to a good start, catching 3 of his 4 targets for 75%.

Who is Responsible for the Baker/Beckham Boondoggle?

Back in September, I wrote: “the way to fix Baker is to ditch Odell.” And now, thanks to ESPN Stats & Info, we have the statistical evidence to verify my prophetic statement. 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).”

And, of course, the very moment Beckham was knocked out of the game against Cincinnati, Baker started balling out of control, completing a franchise record 22 passes in a row and five touchdowns. At the time, people mocked Baker’s achievement by saying it was against the lowly Bengals. But the very next week those same Bengals beat the playoff-caliber Tennessee Titans 31-20. So, maybe Baker’s achievement can’t be discounted after all, right?

After the Bengals, Baker threw very well against the Raiders, but was plagued by dropped balls. But, make no mistake; Baker is back, baby!

What I want to know now is how this debacle was allowed to continue for so long. You could blame Baker for not running the plays as-designed, and caving-in to OBJ’s demands for the ball. You could also blame the quarterback coaches for not putting a stop to something that was blatantly not working. Personally, I blame Odell Beckham, Jr. and his celebrity “reality distortion field” for blinding Baker and the coaching staff.

Ultimatelly though, the coaching staff is responsible. Freddie Kitchens’ pal, Ryan Lindley, was the QB coach for last season, and didn’t have much coaching experience, though he did play the position in the NFL. Coach Stefanski replaced Lindley with the much-more-qualified Alex Van Pelt. But Van Pelt, either didn’t try, or was not able to reign in the Baker/Beckham Axis of Evil Football-Playing.

So! Let the record show that the coaching staff didn’t have a fucking thing to do with Baker’s revival. Baker doesn’t get credit either. It’s pretty amazing that he couldn’t figure out the problem. I mean, he was a stellar QB all his life, and then he hits this brick wall and didn’t even notice! How does that even happen?

Nobody gets credit! Baker’s revival was just plain, dumb, and I mean very dumb, luck!

It will be virtually impossible for the Browns to not play better over the rest of the season. But the big question is, will these idiots bring Odell back next season and let him ruin Baker again? Is that level of buffoonery even possible? Yes; yes it is. So, Browns fans, enjoy the old Baker while you have him, because 2021 just might be another year in Odell Hell.

Also, let the record show that Browns’ analytics “whiz” Paul DePodesta didn’t figure out what was wrong with Baker. How could he have missed the fact that Baker is half the player he normally is when throwing to Odell? I mean, the stats cited in the ESPN article (linked above) are mind-boggling, and DePodesta couldn’t see that gigantic statistical anomaly? What the fuck? When you combine this debacle with his persecution of Rashard Higgins and David Njoku, it’s obvious the DePodesta needs to be ousted. Without his idiotic calls, and the OBJ trade, the Browns would probably be a Super Bowl contender now.

No, No, No! Odell Beckham Jr. is NOT a Big YAC Guy

Since OBJ’s injury, a lot of Browns commentators have been saying something along these lines: now that the Browns no longer have a big yards-after-catch (YAC) guy to strike fear in the hearts of opponents, defensive-coordinators can focus on thwarting the Browns’ rushing attack. But if we look at the stats, we see that OBJ was nearly the worst pass-catcher in the league when ranked by YAC. You have to scroll all the way to the bottom of this chart to find him:

That’s right; OBJ ran for an average 2 yards after catching the ball. People probably have in mind OBJ’s 50-yard touchdown run against Dallas, but that was a rushing attempt, not a pass-reception. And that was a fluke. First, OBJ did his “running backwards” thing and was almost tackled for a big loss. Now, you might think that I’m being uncharitable by saying that, but the fact is that OBJ has never had a big running play like that. His previous best was a 13-yard run back in 2014. How many times could he have taken an end-around like that before defenses caught on? Probably not many.

Odell did better in 2019 with a 4.47 YAC, but that is still about half of what the elite guys do.

A couple of things to consider about YAC: if you catch a ball in the end-zone, your YAC is zero for the catch because there are no more yards to be gained. If you catch a toe-tapper at the sideline, your YAC will also be zero. If you have to dive, jump, twist around, etc. to catch the ball, then your YAC suffers as DBs are able to close on you. The ideal scenario is to catch the ball on the run with some separation on the DB. And that’s why YAC is computed for quarterbacks too.

In 2019, Baker Mayfield ranked at a stellar #8 in the league with an Average YAC of 5.7. See this page. However, here in 2020, with Coach Stefanski’s new “short ball” offensive scheme in place, Baker ranks near the bottom with an Average YAC of 4.0. So, OBJ is affected by that also. You could argue that this new scheme was a punishment for Baker and OBJ because they did poorly in 2019. Consequently, they were subsumed in a run-oriented scheme where Baker would be limited to short passes, and OBJ would be regulated to blocking for Nick Chub and Kereem Hunt.

Nevertheless, OBJ’s YAC for 2020 was still the worst on the team except for that of Rashard Higgins who only has one-third of OBJ’s targets. Hig also has a high proportion of TDs and toe-tappers.

YAC – Player
5.94 – Kareem Hunt
4.73 – Austin Hooper
4.42 – Jarvis Landry
4.38 – David Njoku
2.04 – OBJ
1.33 – Rashard Higgins

So, if YAC is what you want, Kareem Hunt is your man. I’m sure Chubb would do well too if he got more targets.

Methodology: I compiled this data on November 3, 2020, which was the Tuesday after NFL Week 8. OBJ played weeks 1-6 before he was injured right at the beginning of Week 7’s game versus the Bengals on October 25, 2020. In the table above, I selected the top 100 receivers by total yards. Then I sorted them by Average YAC.