Forget the loss to the Chargers because Baker’s back, baby!
Pop quiz: who had more snaps on Sunday? Odell Beckham or David Njoku? Odell has been called a “non-factor” in the game, and Njoku was all over the place making big plays, so you can be forgiven if you guessed that Njoku had more snaps; but he didn’t. OBJ had 58 snaps while Njoku only had 46.
Why is that significant? Because OBJ was double-covered the whole game, and Baker refused to throw the low-odds passes to the world-famous WR. So, in the second quarter, when OBJ lured away two Chargers DBs, and Rashard Higgins was left wide open, Baker just tossed the easy TD to Higgy.
Now, that might seem like common sense, but it has been something Baker has struggled with. And the whole world was talking about it. The Chargers game was the third game in a row where the network broadcast announcers discussed the mysterious lack of chemistry between the two Browns superstars.
Last week, the criticism of Baker hit a crescendo. So much so that Emily Mayfield took to Instagram to defend Baker. My theory is that this elevated level of pressure forced Baker to make the big breakthrough.
The Browns offense was a thing of beauty on Sunday, and the team now ranks at #6 for points scored per game at 28.4. I expect that number to go up – a lot – in the coming weeks.
So, what was Baker’s big breakthrough? Not being a mind reader, I don’t know. But my guess is that Baker finally realized that OBJ’s fame cannot confer preferential treatment on the football field. That if OBJ is double-covered, and only gets open three times a game, he should only get the ball exactly three times per game.
Which seems obvious, but what if Baker has been thinking: “I’ll throw to whoever I want; double coverage be damned. And I will force this Baker-Bekham duo to excel.” It sounds like something he might do, no? After all, Baker can, in fact, throw laser beams into the smallest openings.
Whatever the blockage, I don’t blame Baker. It was a difficult thing to master. While Eli Manning had no trouble throwing balls to OBJ, he got OBJ as a young pup, fresh out of college. By contrast, Baker got OBJ as a mega-star, while Baker himself was the pup in his sophomore year with the Browns.
And Baker had no help from his coaches. After all, dealing with a megastar like OBJ is a rare experience simply because OBJ is a rare individual. Sure, the stereotypical prima-donna WR is nothing new, but OBJ’s massive social-media following certainly is. I think that all those eyeballs weighed on Baker, and his coaches just didn’t know what to do about it. And it is likely that nobody could have helped Baker. Current and former QBs, receivers, college coaches, NFL coaches, sports psychologists, etc. have simply never encountered such a thing.
But Baker is a grizzled veteran now, and with this final high-hurdle leapt, he is poised to ascend to his ceiling, however high that may be. Actually, he is already ascending, as we witnessed on Sunday.
I’m sure that OBJ doesn’t like being double-teamed, but remember when Myles Garrett was complaining about being chipped before the Bears game? What happened next? 4.5 sacks, right? Myles now leads the league in sacks, and the same effect can apply to OBJ.
If double-covering OBJ allows David Njoku to run free, exactly how long are teams going to be able to stay focused on OBJ? Think of Njoku as OBJ’s Clowney. The Cardinals defensive coordinator is probably having nightmares about this right now.
So, OBJ was not a non-factor on Sunday. He helped his teammates by drawing coverage away from them, created some nice targets for Baker, and threw blocks downfield to help his teammates extend those plays. So, don’t be fooled. Don’t miss the gearshift into overdrive that happened on Sunday. (Actually, the overdrive gear lowers the RPMs of your engine in order to save fuel, but you get the idea.)
Last week, in light of Baker’s poor play, I recommended:
“What could politically be done is for the team to return to Stefanski’s original solution to this problem that he deployed when he took over in 2020: a strict Shanahan-Kubiak offense where Baker is the game manager handing the ball off to Chubb & Hunt, and throwing short passes to his tight-ends, as OBJ runs down the field as a decoy.”
And that is exactly what they did. In fact, Baker didn’t throw a long ball until the 3rd quarter; the one that Schwartz miss-played down the sideline.
I also wrote last week:
“One thing we KNOW about Baker is that he plays extremely well when Higgins, Landry, and Njoku are his primary targets. That is the only solution that we know of…”
And again, that’s what the Browns did. Landry didn’t play, but is was just like the glory days of 2018 with Hig & Njoku getting all those targets – and touchdowns! Switching focus from Hooper back to Njoku was a massive home run.
So, I recommend more of the same for the Cardinals game simply because Stefanski, Baker, Chub, Hunt, Njoku, and Hig are so damn good at it. As for the defense, I don’t know that they need to do much more than get healed-up, and work on those blown coverages.
I’m sure that the gloom is so thick up in Cleveland that you can cut it with a knife. But Browns fans should look beyond the loss to the Chargers and rejoice in the knowledge that they now possess an unstoppable scoring machine that can put up 40 points a game. With even a modest defense, the Browns will be unbeatable. Trust me; it’s going to be good; so good that the Browns might not even need to keep a punter on the roster. 🙂
Remember: Baker is cured, and you heard it here first.