Beckham Returns & Baker Mayfield’s Regression Begins

After Week 2, Baker Mayfield was the most-accurate QB in the NFL. Then Odell Beckham, Jr. returned to the lineup for Week 3 and Baker sunk to #5. Baker completed 75% of his passes against the Chiefs, and 90% against the Texans, but only 61% versus the Bears, with OBJ on the field.

Everybody knows that Baker has historically played poorly with OBJ present. The two superstars have never been able to get on the same page. When Baker’s play improved so dramatically in 2020 after OBJ was injured, many of us assumed that Baker could not be the culprit of the dysfunctional duo because he was so blatantly talented.

And indeed, during the off-season, the Browns drew up a set of routes for OBJ and tasked him with running them with technical precision. He and Baker practiced those routes and seem to have implemented them in the Bears game. In this video, you can see OBJ running a timing route to perfection, and the ball from Baker arriving with laser-like precision. So, well done all around: Baker, Odell, and Coach O’Shea. But…

OBJ had 5 catches on 9 targets for 55.6% versus the Bears. The rest of the team had 14 catches on 22 targets which is 63.6%.

Okay, it’s only one game, and a small amount of data, but still…shouldn’t OBJ have been higher than the average? Especially with all the extra work he did with Baker?

Not only that, but the 63.6% rate the rest of the team had wasn’t so great either. In other words, Baker had an off day, and while it might be a coincidence that his play regressed on the very same day OBJ returned, what if it isn’t? What if the Baker-Bekham duo is still broken somehow?

Perhaps Baker forced a couple of balls to OBJ that he should not have? But if he did, why would he do that? Yes, OBJ could have pestered him in the huddle for more targets. But it could also be that Baker, alone, feels the massive weight of OBJ’s stardom, and of his own accord, tries to get a few more balls to OBJ.

That would be a problem. That alone would constitute a regression from the superb play Baker achieved in the second half of last year. Analysts have been assuring us that it is impossible for Baker to regress because he has full command of the team now, but they may be wrong.

The fact is that commanding a squad of regular players is one thing, and Baker has indeed mastered that. But, even a fully cooperative OBJ still comes with a social-media following massive enough to bend anybody’s mind. In other words, leading a team that includes OBJ is a completely different skill than leading a regular team.

While it might seem to be too early to raise a red flag, there is no such thing as “too early” when it comes to a possible regression of your franchise QB. So, here are two things that need to be done:

#1 – The coaches need to find out if OBJ is pestering Baker for more targets. And if he is, he needs to be made to stop.

#2 – Baker must be examined to see if he is putting undo pressure upon himself. I imagine a sports psychologist might be useful here.

I would also bring in Eli Manning as a consultant to learn from his experience of playing with OBJ.

NFL players have always played in front of huge audiences. However, a social-media audience is inherently different because they can interact more with players.

If the Browns can’t get a handle on this problem, then further options would be to bench OBJ until a fix is found, trade OBJ, trade Baker, or maybe limit the number of OBJ’s targets. So, if Baker were only permitted to throw 5 balls to OBJ, he would have to be more judicious with his decisions to make sure all 5 counted. In fact, I like this idea so much that the Browns should implement it on Sunday against the Vikings while also working on the two points above.

With his contract negotiations coming up, Baker has incentive to get to the bottom of this problem and get it fixed. He should look at it as a challenge; as an opportunity to acquire an important leadership skill.

Let’s face it: the Browns should have knocked quite a lot more stuffing out of the Chicago Teddy Bears. The fact that Baker only threw 1 touchdown pass is just plain wrong. Four field goals? Get the fuck outta here with that bullshit. Seriously, is that how a Super Bowl team plays? What if Kareem Hunt couldn’t play? What would the score have been? A 10-6 squeaker? Trust me; something has gone wrong.